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Keck and Sikkink: Activists beyond borders

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Keck and Sikkink. 1998. Activists beyond borders. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


[from PlSc 444] Keck and Sikkink attempt to correct scholars' lack of attention to the role of transnational advocacy networks in domestic and international politics.

  • [MEMBERS] Advocacy networks consist of research and advocacy groups, local social movements, foundations, the media, churches, unions, intergovernmental organizations, and parts of local governments. As these diverse groups communicate, share information and services, circulate personnel, and exchange funds, they work together to influence policy. [ISSUE AREAS] Networks most commonly form to address issues of (1) violence to vulnerable people and (2) gross inequality of legal opportunity.
  • [WHEN TANS EMERGE] A transnational network is most likely to emerge when (1) channels between domestic groups and their government are closed, (2) when "political entrepreneurs" believe that networking will help them advance their campaigns, and (3) when conferences and other contacts create arenas for forming networks.
  • [HOW TANS FUNCTION] Networks function by employing (1) information politics [providing info], (2) symbolic politics [framing], (3) leverage politics [calling on a stronger actor, e.g. a foreign state, when the affected group is weak], and (4) accountability politics [holding politicians accountable for what they have said].
  • [WHEN TANS WORK] Networks have the most influence on (1) issue creation and agenda setting, (2) influencing state's discursive positions, (3) changing institutional procedures, (4) changing policy, and (5) influencing state behavior.

BOOMERANG effect: Groups in one country appeal to citizens of another through a TAN; these citizens pressure their own government to pressure the offending regime. See figure on page 13.


Environmental activism presents a certain challenge to transnational advocacy networks: advocacy campaigns generate the greatest support when they seek to protect sensitive groups, such as women and children. The environment, on the other hand, lacks a human face. In addition, environmental degradation is often the result of structural forces. Thus, environmentalist networks must not only recognize these structural problems, they must also devise strategies to place blame on powerful actors (such as states and multilateral banks). This blame provides a target for TAN propaganda. Thus, the most important aspect of environmental advocacy isn't so much the environment as leverage. It appears that environmentalist groups have had some good results. However, differences in outcomes in the different cases examined in this chapter reflect more than the nature of the separate campaigns: "domestic political structures, political cultures, and coalition behavior are important factors" as well.


Transnational women's networks rapidly grew in strength once they seized on violence against women as a human rights issue. Earlier focuses on suffrage, circumcision, discrimination, and equality had never been able to arouse such attention or results. However, once activists reframed the issue in terms of human rights, several changes followed. First, Keck and Sikkink argued in chapter 1 that networks have an easy time generating support when they focus on "practices that result in bodily harm to vulnerable individuals" (195). They suggest that this may be an instinctive, transcultural value. Second, framing women's rights as human rights allowed women's rights activists to take advantage of what Charles Tilly has called an "adjacency principle." States have already recognized the normative value of human rights; if activists can persuade them that women's rights are a corrolary of human rights, persuading them to protect women should not be difficult. Third, framing violence against women as a human rights violation allowed activists to overcome regional/cultural/ethnic differences, thus avoiding the criticism that women's rights are merely Westerners' way of imposing foreign values. For example, earlier campaigns against "female genital mutilation" met fierce resistance from Africans claiming that efforts to stop the practice were merely cultural imperialism. However, Keck and Sikkink argue that pulling this practice under the same umbrella as rape and domestic abuse "defused" cultural criticisms and legitimized opposition to circumcision. Keck and Sikkink conclude by pointing out that pursing a legalistic approach to women's rights has forced networks to rely on lawyers more than they would like to, so some activists are beginning to frame violence against women as a health issue.


STRENGTH and DENSITY make networks more effective.


Network theory argues that individuals and groups may influence not only the preferences of their own states via representation, but also the preferences of individuals and groups elsewhere, and even of states elsewhere, through a combination of persuasion, socialization, and pressure.

Many activists see the erosion of sovereignty as a good thing (breaking down the stone wall blocking the spread of desired principles and norms). Others, however, realize that sovereignty = self-determination, which is desirable. Networks are valuable as a space for negotiation; it is the state and non-state actors' interactions. From this network of negotiations comes the possibility of change: interaction between societies and states in the formulation of international policies. This approach suggests a view of multiple pathways into the international arena, a view that attributes domestic actors a degree of agency that a more state-centric approach would not admit.