Sub-national movements and the framing of regional trade agreements: Evidence from the EU and NAFTA

Publication Title

Social Movement Studies

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Department or Program


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Framing, International political opportunity structures, Regional trade agreements, Sub-national movements


How have secessionist and autonomous movements reacted to regional trade agreements (RTAs)? Existing research focuses on the European Union (EU) and, taking a top-down perspective, argues that the EU has done little to help those movements affirm themselves. Adopting a more bottom-up and comparative approach, we propose that RTAs have functioned as political opportunity structures at the international level and that movements have skillfully framed them to define for themselves and their audiences, their grievances, identity, and vision for the future. Movements have followed two basic approaches. Some have embraced RTAs to denounce the debilitating grips of national governments on their people, project an image of themselves as cosmopolitan and modern players, and depict a future in which their communities thrive as successful players in the international community. Others have rejected RTAs to make clear what is wrong and corrupt about the world, present themselves as protectors of local identities and traditions, and promote a vision of the future in which their communities flourish while shielded from excessive interference from the outside. Movements from the left and right ends of the political spectrum have adopted each approach according to their own specific profiles. Evidence comes from the Lega Nord in Italy, the Zapatistas in Mexico, Convergència i Unió in Spain, and the Quebecois nationalists in Canada. This article concludes with reflections on the relationship between movements and international political opportunity structures, and lines for future research. © 2011 Taylor & Francis.


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