Wars of Words: An Explication of the Complex Interface between Transnational Advocacy Networks and the Contemporary International System
Lockeyear, Cynthia Noelle
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Abstract Transnational advocacy networks (TANs) are a rapidly proliferating phenomenon in international contentious politics. Widely known for waging headline-grabbing wars of words, TANs remain under-theorised on important levels of analysis. Unsurprisingly, they have been termed ‘elusive’ in the political literature. Typically portrayed as vital service-providing agencies that by-pass official controls to relay civil society concerns to the world’s media and international policy-makers, TANs are commonly assumed to be the vociferous, Internet-enabled, offspring of traditional NGOs and, thus, heirs to the reputational capital of NGOs. However, despite this respected provenance, it is evident that TANs frequently fail to achieve their goals. Knowledge of why some TAN strategies succeed while others fail is contested and inconclusive. This empirical thesis attempts to build on the international political literature by showing why the emerging NGO typology of TANs cannot be explained without paying attention to the systemic complexity of their environment and the essentially communicative functioning of these globe-spanning advocacy cooperatives. It seeks to demonstrate also the analytical value of applying complex realism in IR praxis. Hence, the thesis explicates a real-world conundrum: What is the place and function of transnational advocacy networks in the contemporary international system and how effective are they in achieving their aims? To identify macro-structural conditions and indicators of relationship quality — primarily involving state and non-state elements in the context of the United Nations — the thesis study reclaimed macro-sociological perspective as a first stage, ‘top-down’ approach to this complex, multi-dimensional problem space. The resultant data and patterns were then tested by way of a second-stage, micro-sociological, ‘bottom-up’, case study exploration of the UN’s interface with three iconic TANs — Greenpeace, Oxfam and Human Rights Watch. By conceptualising these relationships as intersections between systemic elements constituted on different social levels and scales of complexity, the scalable methodology enabled the study to transcend the micro-macro problems inherent in the primary research question. The results indicate that TANs are a distinctive typology of NGO that the international system is struggling to evaluate and accommodate within existing arrangements for NGO engagement. Unexpectedly, the study found plausible indications that the barriers many TANs encounter are endogenously produced. The results challenge prevailing assumptions about the place and function of grassroots diplomacy in the international arena; the ability of communications strategies to remedy global problems; and the reality and limitations of ‘people power’. By highlighting under-exposed features of the contemporary international relational landscape, the thesis argues, we might better determine whether many contemporary TANs are, in fact, evolving as the best-suited champions for the urgent, political quests they adopt.
PhD in Politics