(Un)Globalizing Civil Society: When the Boomerang Rebounds. Transnational Advocacy Networks and Women Groups in Post-conflict Burundi and Liberia

Maria Martin de Almagro

LUISS Open Access. Sep 2015 [Link]

Supervisors: Jean-Frédéric Morin (ULB) & Raffaele Marchetti (LUISS)


To date, few scholars have addressed the internal dynamics of transnational advocacy networks (TANs) and their impact on the production of international norms. The lack of research on the topic seems rather surprising at a time when constructivists produce literature on the significance of global civil society and the role networks play in processes of recruitment and collective identity construction (Crugel 1999; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Boli and Thomas 1999; Anheier et al. 2001; Taylor and Rupp 2001; Keane 2003; Bob 2005). I cover this gap by looking at how power struggles between the international and the local members of a TAN shape the implementation of international norms in post-conflict settings. The purpose of the thesis is twofold: firstly to contribute to a broader literature on global civil society and secondly, to propose a new, more dynamic account on the life-cycle of international norms.

The campaign for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security presents an ideal case study. First, it is one of the most successful stories of global norm creation and diffusion thanks to the advocacy efforts of non-state actors. Second, it also shows a case of policy gridlock, where the international efforts to bettering the situation of women in non-Western settings through an implicit liberal normative teleology have shown their limits by the socializee’s formal acceptance of the framework and informal resistance to the dominant norm. Based on extensive fieldwork, my approach combines feminist research methodology (Bar On 1993; Devault 1990; Pillow 2003; Taylor 2000), with the reflexive approach advocated by qualitative researchers in post-colonial and post-structuralist studies (Said 1978; Butler 1990; Escobar 1995). I conducted 60 semi-structured interviews with women activists during 4 field visits in Bujumbura (Burundi) and Monrovia (Liberia) between 2012 and 2013. Following discourse analysis theory (Shepherd 2008; Hansen 2006) and using NViVo8, the interviews were systematically analysed with regard to the reasons they put forward to explain their engagement in the women’s movement and the type of rights they sought to accomplish.

The research is conducted through a relational approach in which the interactions of agents are affected by 1) a diversity of structural opportunities through three mechanisms: brokerage, gatekeeping and diffusion and, 2) a compound of ideas forming the master-frame. Those two, in turn, modify interests and identities, both understood as outputs and not as variables determining the interactions of agents. I show how a certain discourse on gender security became accepted as the master frame of the campaign, and how other discourses were left out. That is, I show how discourses created boundaries and identities amongst actors, and how these actors used their agency to stretch those boundaries and identities in order to steer other activists to move towards certain behaviour. Building upon my empirical findings, the thesis sets out a theoretical model of identity boundaries stretching and adaptation in order to analyse the discursive construction of identity and subjectivity as political action. It develops the concept of rebound effect, that is, the point where the ideational boundaries between the thrower of the boomerang (issue entrepreneur) and the receiver (issue follower) are so impervious that the boomerang bounces back and never reaches its destination. I found out that norms based on a liberal peacebuilding approach such as UNSCR1325 are created and maintained by a failure to engage with local and grassroots movements (Richmond 2013). This, in turn, contributes to a process of de-legitimization of NGOs and local associations who form the TAN vis-à-vis the affected population. My findings have important implications for international relation theories of global governance and global activism since they provided a critique of the mainstream norm’s cascade model by introducing new temporalities and geographies in the analysis of the life-cycle of international norms.

This project receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 722826.