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  • CIVIL SOCIETY PROTEST AND PARTICIPATION: Civic Engagement Within the Multilateral Governance Regime *

    Dana R. Fisher

    This paper was commissioned by the United Nations University Institute for Advanced

    Studies and the Kitakyushu University as part of the What is the Missing Link? The Multilateral Environmental Governance Regime, Structural Integration and the

    Possibility of a World Environment Organization Project.

    Cornell University Workshop on Transnational Contention Working Paper #2002-04

  • INTRODUCTION In recent years, civil society protests have taken place around the world in response to the

    meetings of international institutions and international regimes. These protests, which

    are responses to aspects of globalization and expressions of civic dissatisfaction with

    global governance, bring about a relatively new type of citizen mobilization:

    international demonstrations that focus on different aspects of globalization. Although

    significant differences exist between demonstrations against economic institutions and

    those in support of the formation of multilateral environmental regimes, they are similar

    in that they include participants from many countries who are affiliated with international

    non-governmental organizations and, in many cases, the participants of these protests are

    mobilized around issues related to the global environment.

    As a result of such international protest, questions arise about the role that civil

    society can play in the global agenda-setting process. Although scholars have pointed to

    civil society as the social sphere from which pressure must come for the state to develop

    the political will to create successful multilateral environmental governance regimes (e.g.

    Bhagwati 2001; see also Charnovitz 2002), it is unclear whether civil society is capable

    of that level of mobilization. In order to understand the role that it can and should play in

    the possible formation of a World Environment Organization, this paper explores civil

    societys involvement in the recent meetings of international institutions and multilateral

    regimes. By developing an understanding of the relationship between protesters who

    have demonstrated outside of specific international meetings and the representatives of

    non-governmental organizations that have participated inside these particular meetings,

    we can learn about opportunities for civil society engagement with international

  • institutions and identify ways that a World Environment Organization should interact

    with civil society actors.

    In the sections that follow, I explore the relationship between civil society protest

    and NGO participation in the international meetings of economic institutions and

    multilateral regimes by looking at civil society engagement at particular meetings in

    recent years. First, I present a brief summary of the dynamics of civil society and the

    growing literature on the multiple civil society actors who engage in social protest at

    these international meetings. Second, I look at the overall relationship between the size

    of the protests and level of NGO participation at particular international meetings: those

    of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Framework

    Convention of Climate Change. Third, I explore the organizational affiliation of the

    citizens protesting outside of specific international meetings. Finally, I suggest

    opportunities for Multilateral Environmental Governance Regimes and a World

    Environment Organization to engage with civil society, rather than isolating it.

    UNDERSTANDING THE DYNAMICS OF CIVIL SOCIETY

    As a first step in comprehending the multiple roles that civil society actors are playing at

    the meetings of international institutions and multilateral regimes, it is necessary to

    describe the social sphere that has come to be known as civil society. Originally, civil

    society was seen as a relatively residual category within which social actors outside of

    the state and the market were placed. With an increased concern for democracy and

    social movements, the sphere of civil society became of central interest to scholars. In

    fact, the notion of civil society has its roots in some of the mainstream theories of

  • contemporary sociology (see, e.g. Calhoun 1992; Cohen and Arato 1994; Dewey 1927;

    Gramsci 1971; Habermas 1989, 1998). Within this vast literature, the notion and roles of

    civil society is derived and discussed. Much of the literature focuses on conceptualizing

    the evolving role of the citizen in society. To date, civil society continues to be seen as a

    social sphere that is separate from both state and economy (Cohen and Arato 1994:

    ix).

    Not only do civil society actors continue to be considered distinct and outside of

    other social spheres, but civil society is viewed as consisting of a separate and distinct

    institutional complex. Emirbayer and Sheller contend that the state, economy and civil

    society are realms of social life whose relative independence from one another constitutes

    one of the principal hallmarks of modernity. Many of the dynamics of contemporary

    society are captured in the relations among these empirically interpenetrating and yet

    analytically distinct institutional domains[civil society is] the institutional sector that,

    metaphorically speaking, lies in between the state and economy (1999: 151). Perhaps

    in its most general form, civil society has come to be defined as involving a self-

    organized citizenry (Emirbayer and Sheller, 1999, page 146; for a complete discussion,

    see Cohen and Arato, 1994; see also Hann and Dunn, 1996). Inside this social sphere lie

    social movements, civic associations, international non-governmental organizations, and

    citizens who voice their political preferences through their demonstrations, votes, and

    pocketbooks. In other words, the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that

    participate in international meetings and the citizens who demonstrate outside of them are

    both specific civil society actors.

  • The recent literature on civil society has centered around two main themes. On

    the one hand, scholars have looked at civil societys role in newly emerging democracies

    (see e.g. Arato 2000; Cohen and Arato 1994). Much of this work has focused on the

    contributions of civil society to the democratic legitimacy of the nation-state. On the

    other hand, research has tended to focus on understanding and explaining the levels of

    civic engagement in advanced nations, with the majority of the focus being on

    engagement within the United States (see e.g. Putnam 2000; Skocpol and Fiorina 1999).

    This work tends to pay less attention to the role that civil society can play in

    overthrowing governmental regimes and more on the role that citizens play through

    traditional democratic avenues in industrialized countries. Within this paper, both of

    these conceptions of civil society are appropriate: citizens have responded to the

    meetings of international institutions and multilateral regimes using the tactics that can be

    seen in the literature on newly emerging democracies, but they have also joined in the

    conversations taking place at these meetings by using more institutionalized action forms

    such as lobbying inside the actual conference halls as NGO observers.

    International Non-Governmental Organizations, Transnational Social Movements,

    and Protest

    In addition to the growing literature on the complex of civil society, in recent years,

    scholars have begun to study the role that civil society organizations are playing within

    transnational social movements (see for example Hanagan 1998; Keck and Sikkink 1998;

    Lewis 2000; Meyer and Tarrow 1998; Risse-Kappen 1995; Rothman and Oliver 1999;

    Smith et al. 1997; Tarrow 2001). Perhaps Smith (2001: 5) best describes the extensive

  • array of work conducted by international non-governmental organizations that are

    involved in transnational social movments today: By facilitating flows of information

    across national boundaries, organizations with transnational ties helped cultivate

    movement identities, transcend nationally defined interests, and build solidary identities

    with a global emphasis. This summary aptly describes the work of many NGOs at

    international meetings. These organizations communicate the interest of their

    constituents to the representatives of governments and economic institutions, and report

    the progress of the meetings to their members. In addition, many civil society

    organizations involved in international meetings have also played a role in organizing

    protests that take place outside the conference halls during the meetings.

    With the increasing frequency of large protests at international meetings, scholars

    have looked toward these international and transnational social movements to understand

    citizen resistance to globalization (see e.g. Ayers 2001; Caniglia 2001; Keck and Sikkink

    1998; Maney 2001; Nepstad 2001; Reimann 2001; Smith 2001; Tarrow 2002; see also

    Ayres and Tarrow 2002). These authors look at many different types of social movement

    organizations and protest. One such example can be seen by the stark differences

    between the 1999 anti-gl