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The theme of transnational governance has become again a hot topic at this years’ conference of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE). The SASE’s 24th Annual Meeting is taking places at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge on June 28-30, 2012. It brings together academics from various disciplinary backgrounds to discuss the issue of “Global Shifts Implications for Business, Government and Labour”. One of the mini conference themes within SASE (“Regulating Labor and Environment: Beyond the Public-Private Divide“) explicitly deals with the dynamics and impacts of transnational governance arrangements and their relationship towards national regulation (see also  other recent blog entry).

This mini conference brings together a variety of contributions dealing with the question of how transnational standards are effectively enforced locally. While several contributions discuss the “top down” implementation of rules one panel in particular looks at the domestic mobilization of private and state regulation. The panel “mobilization of private and state regulation” addresses the question of the relationship between state and other forms of regulation by examining how citizens and communities make use of and try to mobilize national and extraterritorial judicial, non-judicial and/or voluntary mechanisms in order to seek redress for local grievances: Scholars present ample empirical evidence from different countries and continents including China, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Brazil and discuss the following questions:

How do local societal actors make use of and employ transnational and national regulation? When do local actors fail in their attempts to mobilize domestic and transnational regulation, and why? And in general, what do we learn about the role of domestic citizens, workers or non-governmental organizations for putting regulatory regimes into practice and broader contextual conditions which either enhance local redress mechanisms, or undermine their capacity to address grievances?

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I would like to use our blog to draw our readers’ attention to a mini-conference that I organize together with Tim Bartley, Nicole Helmerich and Chikako Oka titled “Regulating Labor and Environment: Beyond the Public-Private Divide”. The mini-conference will take place in the framework of the 2012 Annual Conference of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) at MIT (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) on June 28-30, 2012.

The central question that we would like to address during the mini-conference is what the implications of global shifts and transnational standards for domestic regulatory projects in labor and environmental fields are. On the one hand, we invite papers that seek to explain how local contexts shape implementation and effectiveness of labor and environmental regulation in a globalizing world. On the other hand, our focus is the intersection between public and private forms of environmental and labor governance. To sum up, we seek to examine transnational-domestic and private-public links in transnational labor and environmental governance. Read the rest of this entry »

You use it whenever you need it. You want it to be clean. You sit down, you stand, or you squat. You use paper, or maybe water. You flush… and whatever your business there may have been, it disappears. You leave, you wash your hands. So simple… you take it for granted.

If you’re lucky.

Any traveler to another continent soon learns that the toilet is a highly cultural thing. Sanitation is a cultural practice. Sometimes even a trip from one country to another is enough to cause mild shock and awe – for instance, how every German holiday-maker in France feels when they (re-)discover the French squat toilet. Or how a French traveler feels when discovering the German “Flachspüler“. Or the Irish, when voting on the Lisbon Treaty. Toilets are deeply culturally embedded, so much that Slavoj Žižek has a special theory about their differences and their effects on national mindsets, politics, and philosophical traditions.

Westerners have a lot to learn

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In late May, the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies published my paper on the implementation of transnational voluntary forestry standards in Russia in its discussion paper series (From Transnational Voluntary Standards to Local Practices: A Case Study of Forest Certification in Russia. MPIfG Discussion Paper 11/7). In the paper, I attempt to deconstruct the process of implementation and suggest that the current literature has paid little attention to two social processes that accompany – or even constitute – the implementation of transnational voluntary standards: collective learning and stakeholder interest negotiation. Basically, I argue that previous research examines carefully various factors that explain why certain companies in certain countries commit to voluntary environmental standards, but has so far mainly assumed that once standards are adopted, the improvements in practices will occur (if there is a gap between standards and practice, which is most often the case, as some research shows). Instead, I suggest that implementation should not be taken for granted and propose a framework for understanding how companies and activists translate transnational voluntary standards into on-the-ground practices, particularly in a difficult context of non-advanced industrial countries. Empirically, I apply this framework to the analysis of the implementation of the Forest Stewardship Council’s forestry standards in Russian forest enterprises. Read the rest of this entry »

Interdisciplinary workshops are always a good opportunity to discuss and exchange differences and shared perspectives on a common empirical research field. Such a workshop (“Transnational private regulation in the areas of environment, security, social and labor rights: theoretical approaches and empirical studies”) took place in Berlin, at the Freie University, at the end of January. Researchers of various backgrounds including sociology, international relations, industrial relations,  organizational studies and political science came together to discuss global developments and its local implications of transnational private governance in various empirical fields (labor standards, environmental standards and security)

The role of transnational companies and private actors in governance beyond borders is approached and conceptualized from a variety of theoretical and empirical angles. A shared language and common understanding has not yet fully emerged. To start this interdisciplinary exchange across different governance fields three set of questions have been discussed at this workshop: Read the rest of this entry »

Interregionalism  – multi-lateral meetings between different regions – has become an important aspect of governing global economic, financial and political issues. One such interregional exchange is the Asia-Europe Meeting, (ASEM). The 8th meeting just has been taking place in Brussels 5th-6th of October. ASEM is an informal dialogue bringing together Heads of Governments of the 27 EU Member States and 16 Asian countries, the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat.

The first ASEM meeting took place in Bangkok in 1996 in order to foster economic development and counterbalance the US influence in the Asian region. While these meetings are informal and non-binding, they are nevertheless aiming at strengthening economic and political relationships between countries. This year’s summit was dominated by the  financial and economic crisis. Under the heading ”More Effective Global Economic Governance” European and Asian officials agreed upon closer economic cooperation as well as financial coordination, and stressed the importance of sustainable growth and climate protection goals.

Such meetings – as international trade politics in general – suffers from the lack of democratic participation and support of citizens. Negotiations take place behind closed doors, the negotiation processes are intransparent and the parliaments are largely shut out of such processes. Consultative bodies and advisory committees are dominated by business interests or business affiliated lobbying groups.

As a response to the lack of transparency and democratic checks and balances, unions and NGOs found counter summit, the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (ASEF) where labor unions and social movements across Asia and Europe expressed their concerns about marketization and demanded  a “social and market regulatory dimension” of trade negotiations.

But in how far does challenging this global economic governance institution contribute to any kind of change?

At first sight it looks like a success story: Labor, environmental and human rights issues play a promomient role in the final ASEM declaration and the ASEM leaders promised a people-to-people approach. But the disappointment about the discrepancies between words and action is huge.

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I’ve recently been reading through the thought-provoking  (albeit somewhat attention-grabbingly titled) book Participation: The New Tyranny?. The authors from a broad range of disciplinary backgrounds take on the paradigm of participatory development from various angles, from failing to account for local power asymmetries and élite capture, to the technicalist perfunctory nature of many participation processes.

Part of Bill Cooke’s chapter entitled “The Social Psychological Limits of Participation?” caught my eye because of his consise elucidation of groupthink and its relation to development policy-making and practice, both at the transnational and the local level.

In a debate I had last month on this blog with David Roodman of CGD about Milford Bateman’s book, I levied what I thought was a rather strong charge against the (so-called, self-proclaimed) microfinance community: that its world-view is skewed and closed-off by mechanisms of groupthink. That was because I was trying to defend Milford Bateman’s argument against a misconception of  his critics, that he held a conspiracy theory of microfinance and neoliberalism. I begged to differ by explaining Bateman’s analysis of the microfinance community as a transnational epistemic community plagued by group-typical groupthink.

So I thought I’d put my allegation to a brief test here against Irving Janis‘ eight symptoms of groupthink as summed up by Bill Cooke:

Sypmptom 1: The illusion of invulnerability “An over-optimism about the power of the group and the lack of any real threat to the status quo.”

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This post is provided by our guest blogger Peggy Levitt. Peggy Levitt is Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College and a Research Fellow at The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University where she co-directs The Transnational Studies Initiative. Together with by Sanjeev Khagram she has published the transnational studies reader, in which they among other things criticize methodological nationalism and present different ways on how to conceptualize transnational phenomena. Her entry is part of a series in which we discuss concepts and phenomena in the field of transnational studies and follows previous discussions we had on transnationalism and methodological nationalism.

Methodological nationalism is the tendency to accept the nation-state and its boundaries as a given in social analysis. Because many social science theories equate society with the boundaries of a particular nation state, researchers often take rootedness and incorporation in the nation as the norm, and social identities and practices enacted across state boundaries as the exception.  But while nation-states are still extremely important, social life does not obey national boundaries.  Social and religious movements, criminal and professional networks, and governance regimes, to name just a few, regularly operate across borders.

In a 2004 article, Nina Glick Schiller and I proposed a notion of society based on the concept of social field and drew a distinction between ways of being and ways of belonging.  Social fields are multi-dimensional and encompass structured interactions of differing forms, depth, and breadth that are differentiated in social theory by terms like “organization,” “institution,” “networks,” and “social movement.”  National social fields are those that remain within national boundaries, while transnational social fields connect actors, through direct and indirect relations, across borders.  Neither domain automatically takes precedence; rather determining the relative importance of nationally restricted and transnational social fields is an empirical question.

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This post is provided by our “guest blogger” Bernhard Brand. Bernhard Brand works as research assistant at the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne. This contribution is the first of a series of critical reviews of transnational economic governance arrangements, based on an analysis of policy reports undertaken by graduate students of Sigrid Quack’s seminar on Transnational Economic Governance during the summer term 2010.

The Siemens corruption scandal of the year 2007 was one of the largest bribery cases in the economic history of Germany. It ended with a number of (suspended) jail sentences for high-ranking executives and a painful €2.5 billion penalty to be paid by Siemens for running an extensive worldwide bribery system which helped the Munich-based company to win business contracts in many foreign countries, as for example in Russia, Nigeria or Greece. Interestingly, if the bribery case just had happened a few years before, there wouldn’t have been any sentence at all for Siemens: Until 1999, the practice of bribing officials and decision makers in foreign countries was not considered a crime in Germany. And even worse: The German law allowed companies to deduct bribes from their tax declarations – under a tax law provision ironically termed “useful payments” (in German: “nützliche Aufwendungen”). This incentive for the German industry to perform corruption in the international business became abolished under the pressure of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. The convention criminalizes the so-called ‘foreign bribery’, the act where a company from one country bribes officials of a ‘foreign’ country.  Germany, as well as the other OECD members had to align their legislation to the new OECD standards, enabling their courts to punish the person or entity who offers the bribe – even if the bribing action originally took place somewhere else in the world. Read the rest of this entry »

In his recent paper, Tim Bartley (unpublished working paper, see references) argues that implementation of transnational standards, particularly in developing countries, often remains a black box. He starts by showing that some scholars imply that local conditions do not matter, while some others suggest that the effects can be read off programs’ principles and design. Using a case study of certification of forests and labor conditions in Indonesia, Bartley convincingly shows that neither is the case. Motivated by his contribution, I would like to reflect on why it is important to open up the black box of implementation. I focus on four aspects here: mechanisms, politics, implementation gap, and local actors. In part, I use forest certification as an example to illustrate how the study of the implementation of certification standards can enrich our knowledge of transnational governance. Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
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