Transnational Civil Society Essay

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‘Civil society’ has been through a series of definitions since the eighteenth century. In Soviet bloc countries in the final years of the bloc’s disintegration, and in Latin America as military dictatorships declined, the term denoted the hopeful shoots of democratic process emerging. By 2000 the term came to denote projects undertaken by grassroots political interests, in particular, citizens’ actions against globalized neo-liberal economic policies, i.e. ongoing movements from below.

However, the term remains vague. One major response is to define nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as civil society’s tangible expression. Yet, NGOs across the planet held very diverse agendas, even diametrically at odds (e.g., over abortion). What then is the effect of using ‘global’ or ‘transnational’ to define it? Keck and Sikkink (1998) wish to retain a strong sense of agency, indeterminacy, and conflict, so prefer ‘transnational’ civil society over ‘global’ civil society. They read ‘globalization’ as inexorable economic, transport, and communication change. Kaldor (2003) attacks the ‘NGO definition’ of civil society. She proposes that there is a longterm process underway toward “multi-lateralist law-making states,” where global meetings offer increasing participation at global levels.

While these definitions may convey the scope, fluidity, and contradictoriness of global/transnational civil society, they never or only briefly engage with the media communication process as central to these activities. In particular, little or no attention is given to social movement media. Juris’s (2008) ethnography of the global social justice movement’s communication activities in the early 2000s offers one contribution to fill this gap. He brings together a series of dimensions: face-to-face practices in largely consensus-based planning meetings, Internet uses, performative tactics in marches, as well as the communicative terror induced by harsh policing tactics.


  1. Cammaerts, B., Mattoni, A., & McCurdy, P. (eds.) (2013). Mediation and protest movements. London: Intellect. Juris, J. (2008). Networking futures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  2. Kaldor, M. (2003). Global civil society: An answer to war. Cambridge: Polity.
  3. Keck, M. E. & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists beyond borders: Advocacy networks in international politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

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