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Local Campaigns Are Building Transnational Movements, But Global Citizenship Remains A Challenge

The Internet and other communications technology are helping to speed up international mobilisation to causes and campaigns and are contributing to changes in governance structures.

A new booklet entitled From local to global, published today by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), examines the implications for civil society organisations and other activists. It was produced following the fifth in a series of special seminars entitled ‘Engaging Citizens’, organised by the ESRC in collaboration with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

Individually and collectively, citizens in the UK, along with those of many other nations, respond to calls for support of global causes and appeals. Often, local initiatives are part of a wider response seeking to address issues that have a global impact (eg collective action to cancel third-world debt). This booklet explores how links between local and global groups are forming effective social movements for campaigning and advocacy. In addition, it highlights why social movements benefit from a better understanding of the inter-relationships between the different forms of political and economic power.

From local to global draws on presentations at a seminar given recently by John Gaventa, professor and research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, and Christopher Rootes, Professor of Environmental Politics and Political Sociology at the University of Kent. Their research has identified the challenges and benefits of achieving international engagement and global citizenship.

John Gaventa outlines the need for civil society organisations and other activists to understand the changing nature of governance worldwide. His research highlights the importance of acting at multiple levels and forming vertical alliances to achieve effective global outcomes.

He says, “The key to understanding the changing nature of governance lies in the interactions between the local, the national, the regional and the global – and the way in which each impacts upon and is in turn affected by the other. It’s not so much a question of either the local and the national or the global, but of both the local and the national and the ways in which these interact with the global.” As citizens do engage in such transnational forms of action, John Gaventa’s research suggests new identities as global citizens may begin to emerge.

To illustrate his point, he points to research he carried out with colleagues in India about local activities to support the Global Campaign for Education. He observed that, as a result of the success of the campaign, non-government organisations and trade unions from around the world, as well as India, have gained recognition as legitimate voices in the development of national education plans.

Christopher Rootes concludes from his research that, despite advances in communications, the obstacles to the realisation of global citizenship are considerable. Increasingly, the public engage strongly with global issues (eg local groups contributed substantially to Make Poverty History). However, building organisations that are genuinely global in scope, or that effectively embrace global issues, is constrained by limited resources, cultural differences and the under-development of political structures to assist the process.

He says, “There is growing popular concern about issues such as global social justice and climate change. Civil society organisations are increasingly effective in bridging North-South differences, and contribute to a more encompassing social movement. But, in the absence of a global state, it is premature to speak of ‘global citizenship’. Rather than risk a backlash by people who fear an influx if people from the South exercise their rights as ‘global citizens’, we would do better to emphasise our common humanity and embrace collective action to tackle global problems at their roots.”

Annika Howard | alfa
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