Transnational Activist Networks: Mobilization between Emotion and Bureaucracy

Publication Title

Social Movement Studies

Document Type


Department or Program

Environmental Studies

Second Department or Program

Latin American Studies

Publication Date



bureaucracy, emotion, NGOs, Transnational activist networks


Over the past 30 years, transnational space has emerged as a key locus of social transformation. Activist networks and movement coalitions span the globe in an attempt to build an alternative politics. Many transnational activist networks (TANs), however, are meeting sites of two very different entities-movements and organizations-and must thus contend with a crucial divide in the political arena. While social movements usually act extra-institutionally and are often bound together by strong emotions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), by virtue of their legally encoded form, often proceed within prescribed channels and must remain accountable to outside stakeholders. What happens when social movements encounter organizations? Can the tensions between social movements and NGOs be harnessed to create a lasting convergence aimed at building a more equitable democratic politics? My aim in this article is to contribute to a further texturing of our ideas of transnational space by raising some questions and concerns regarding the 'actually existing democracies' being enacted there. I focus on the tension between the more emotive aspects of mobilization and the inevitable day-to-day bureaucratic procedures meant to ensure transparent and equitable democratic practice. These two forces, though complementary parts of any well-functioning TAN, are also forces of attrition. How close they are, and how they can both focus activists' energy and grind that energy to a halt, is shown by the example of the Amazon Alliance, a network of indigenous activists and conservation, human rights and environmental justice organizations, working to protect indigenous territories and the Amazonian ecosystem. © 2013 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.


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