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International Sociology
http://iss.sagepub.com/content/27/5/661
The online version of this article can be found at:

DOI: 10.1177/0268580912452372c
2012 27: 661 International Sociology
Cesar Guzman-Concha
Social Movements for Global Democracy Jackie Smith,

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Reviews: Social movements old and new 661
global crises that have been denounced since their beginning. However, Pleyers goes
beyond those who announce a death-knell to the movement and states that the post-
Washington Consensus era has brought with it a reconfiguration through more decentral-
ized networks, new geographies of action and a focus on more concrete alternatives.
Rather than speculation, the challenges of the historical potential of the alter-globalization
movement will only be revealed through new in-depth studies on the alter-globalization
militants and their initiatives, new social practices that are focused on the local without
being strictly localist, the continuities and ruptures of their dynamics in current move-
ments like the Indignados or Occupy Wall Street, grassroots rural social movements, the
Arab Spring and the diverse networks. Several theoretical and methodological issues,
such as the social construction of scales, multireferential identities, the construction of
knowledge within grassroots social movements and not only by experts and intellectuals,
and the similarities and differences of political cultures between activists of different
origins are still pending in social movement studies in the global era. All these analyses
are welcome and will have as an essential reference Pleyers outstanding global ethnog-
raphy of social actors.
References
Keck M and Sikkink K (1998) Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International
Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Klandermans B and Roggeband C (eds) (2010) Handbook of Social Movements Across Disciplines.
New York: Springer.
McAdam D, Tarrow S and Tilly C (2001) Dynamics of Contention. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
McDonald K (2006) Global Movements: Action and Culture. Oxford: Blackwell.
Tarrow S (2005) The New Transnational Activism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Breno Bringel is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Social and Political Studies, State
University of Rio de Janeiro (IESP-UERJ), Brazil. He also teaches at the Faculty of Political
Science and Sociology, University Complutense of Madrid, Spain. He is member of the Board of
the ISAs Research Committee on Social Classes and Social Movements (RC-47), and author of
several works on social movements and the spatialities of transnational activism, with a focus on
the Global South. Address: IESP-UERJ, Rua da Matriz, 82, Botafogo, CEP: 22260-100, Rio de
Janeiro, Brazil. Email: brenobringel@iesp.uerj.br
Jackie Smith,
Social Movements for Global Democracy, The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore,
MD, 2008; 312 pp.: ISBN 9780801887444, US$25.00
Reviewed by Cesar Guzman-Concha, Freie Universitt Berlin, Germany
Keywords
Globalization, international relations, political sociology, social movements
Jackie Smiths Social Movements for Global Democracy is a comprehensive study of
transnational social movements, or, more precisely, of social movements in their
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662 International Sociology Review of Books 27(5)
transnational dimension, and their struggles to change the course of global affairs. The
authors goal is twofold. On the one hand, she examines the ways in which ordinary
people collectively contest neoliberal or capitalist globalization, and how they have
come out with alternative proposals that aim at increasing popular control over interna-
tional institutions. On the other hand, Smith highlights those key findings which can
serve activists to be more effective in terms of transforming mobilization into actual
outcomes.
In order to achieve these goals, Smith analyses the constitution of transnational power
and how economic globalization has created its own field of contention, which has
become increasingly relevant. The global polity is presented as the product of three ele-
ments: the development of transnational capitalism, the constant and increasing flux of
information and communication and the political protest that stems from the former and
is facilitated by the latter.
Smith develops her argument in three sections. In the first, she discusses the concep-
tual implications of the emergence of this global society, and advances a theoretical
framework to explain the interactions between the different actors of the global system.
Two main concepts are put forward here: rival transnational networks and complex mul-
tilateralism. With the first concept, the author intends to stress that both those promoting
the neoliberal agenda and those promoting the democratization of international institu-
tions are, in reality, networks that put together actors of diverse nature, whose access to
resources and political opportunities are variable. Networks are, by definition, diffuse.
Their boundaries are often difficult to establish. The idea of network emphasizes, thus,
that actors are interconnected and that their ties diverge in intensity and direction,
depending on the circumstances. What is interesting here is the idea that actors are
embedded in different polity layers, through which they are able to participate at the local
or immediate level, and at the same time engage in campaigns of global scope. The idea
of network, also, underlines that these actors should not be considered as homogeneous
blocs. The defection of notorious persons from the neoliberal network is presented as
evidence of the fluidity of these networks.
Within the global democracy network, one can find NGOs, labour unions, churches,
Indigenous communities, intellectuals, but also political parties (either institutions or
individual members) and officials of international institutions. They have converged in
campaigns that aim at counterbalancing the disproportionate power held by transnational
corporations, global financing institutions and the political leaders and governments of
the most influential countries in the world, led by the United States.
The concept of complex multilateralism, in turn, is advanced in order to include eco-
nomic and civil society actors in the global system. Traditional approaches in interna-
tional relations have often focused on the state, downplaying the relevance of
non-institutional players. But complex multilateralism means that the course of world
affairs is not simply determined by the state. Also, international institutions are not sim-
ply hierarchies but consensus-seeking bodies (p. 41). Given that these institutions have
to create consensus around several issues, an arena of contestation emerges. This situa-
tion creates opportunities for groups normally excluded from the agenda to influence on
several topics. Civil society groups enter into alliances with different players, including
state officials, politicians from poor countries or members of international institutions,
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Reviews: Social movements old and new 663
whose influence varies across different scopes, creating a situation of multilevel govern-
ance. The outcomes of these efforts are ambiguous, as they depend on complex decision-
making processes in which several stakeholders are involved. In this section, the author
convincingly describes how international institutions and the globalization of capitalism
have shaped the struggle for global democracy.
In the second part of the book, Smith extensively depicts how these rival networks
work, how they have evolved and their main resources of influence. While the first two
chapters of this section are rather descriptive, the author presents in Chapter 6 an original
empirical analysis that demonstrates how changes in the international scenario have
determined the evolution of the civil society international organizations. Their number
has increased over time, and they have adopted a more decentralized and coalitional
shape, at the expense of the rather centralized and federated structures that prevailed in
the past. New technologies of information and communication have favoured this evolu-
tion towards decentralized or rhizomatic modes. Also, the author finds that since the late
1990s, many leaders of the global democracy movement have come from national and
local organizations. This pattern mirrors similar changes in governmental and corporate
forces (p. 129). According to Smith, this suggests that the network form is an important
feature of contemporary political and social organizations.
In the third section of the book, Smith presents case studies that illustrate how civil
society participation in global politics has contributed to effectively transform multilat-
eral institutions, by introducing principles of democracy and accountability. This part is
intended to provide evidence that, by getting involved in the functioning of these institu-
tions and by promoting multilateralism as chief rule for international issues, activists
impede neoliberalisms advocates to hegemonize international institutions. Also, active
participation limits the ability of transnational corporations to set the international
agenda. The main lesson of this section is that activists should engage in international
institutions and participate within them in order to promote true multilateralism.
Having said this, it should be acknowledged that, both the theoretical and practical
moral of this book have already been outlined in other similar works that, to a great
extent, paved the way for Smiths. For example, Sidney Tarrows The New Transnational
Activism (2005), or Donatella Della Porta et al.s Globalization from Below (2006). In
fact, Smith draws extensively on the notion that the political context determines the
resources and opportunities that challengers have at their disposal, which is at the core of
the mainstream approach for the study of contentious politics. In that respect, this book
simply extends this framework by demonstrating that it also works in the transnational
context. Another debatable aspect of the theoretical framework concerns the concept of
transnational rival networks and their confrontation. The problem here is that if one
maintains that capitalism has evolved from its original national base to a global phenom-
enon, then it follows that social classes exist at a global level. What are the implications
of globalization of capitalism in terms of class analysis? Does the neoliberal network
described in this book represent the political face of a global capitalist class? One of the
consequences of this criticism is that one could come to the conclusion that the move-
ment for global democracy, as it is labelled by Smith, is mainly the expression of the
worlds middle classes. They are, in fact, those that share, due to their educational level
and culture, the global ethos that allows the emergence of the transnational thing. To
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664 International Sociology Review of Books 27(5)
some extent, it seems that the concept of transnational network is useful to describe this
emergent reality but, on the other hand, it eludes a number of problems that come with
the idea of global capitalism or global economy. Further empirical research and theoreti-
cal reflection should address this. These important questions are left unaddressed in
Smiths book.
The main contribution of this book is the thorough account of both the neoliberal
network and the global democracy network, and how the latter challenges the former by
promoting values such as multilateralism, human rights, sustainable and green develop-
ment and democracy. Case studies describe how these networks contentiously interact
but, additionally, they serve Smith to make the point that engagement in institutional
politics in international institutions, and the construction of broad coalitions are critical
factors to achieve democracy in global issues. Overall, the book can be extremely useful
for activists and civil society organizations: the authors analysis provides practical cues
to orientate the options and decisions that these actors face when they engage in cam-
paigns and confront international institutions, corporations, governments and lobby
groups. Finally, this work contributes greatly to the debate on the characteristics and
consequences of globalization and its political effects.
References
Della Porta D, Andretta M, Mosca L and Reiter H (2006) Globalization from Below: Transnational
Activists and Protest Networks. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Tarrow SG (2005) The New Transnational Activism. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Cesar Guzman-Concha is postdoctoral researcher in the Centre for Area Studies, Freie Universitt
Berlin. He is also affiliated with the Institute for Management Research, Radboud University
Nijmegen (The Netherlands). His research interests are social movements, political conflict and
democratization. Address: Freie Universitt Berlin, Centre for Area Studies, Golerstr. 2-4, 14195
Berlin, Germany. Email: c.guzman@fu-berlin.de
Susan Olsak,
The Global Dynamics of Racial and Ethnic Mobilization, Stanford University Press:
Stanford, CA, 2006; 288 pp.: ISBN 9780804778626, US$24.95
Reviewed by Stphanie Cassilde, Centre dEtudes de Populations, de Pauvret et de Politiques
Socio-Economiques, Luxembourg and Centre dEtudes et de Recherches sur le Dveloppement
International, France.
Keywords
Conflict, ethnic mobilization, ethnic studies, racial mobilization
A huge body of literature deals with racial and ethnic mobilization. Whatever the disci-
pline (sociology, political science, economics), much of the existing research relies on
case studies. On the one hand, this leads to a deep comprehension and knowledge of
ethnic movements, ethnic protests and ethnic conflicts. On the other hand, there is no
generalized theoretical framework. Susan Olsak offers such a generalized framework
with The Global Dynamics of Racial and Ethnic Mobilization. The main element of this
new framework is to take into account the processes associated with globalization. First,
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