Globalization and Social Movements


Globalization as a complex economic, political, cultural, and geographic process in which the mobility of capital, peoples, organizations, movements, ideas,

and discourses takes on an increasingly transnational or global form. The Internet, a “gift” of globalization, has made possible rapid communication, transfers, and mobilizations. And yet, the type of economic globalization that has emerged is neoliberal capitalist, with its features of denationalization, privatization, flexible labor markets, and deregulated capital markets.
Among its deficits is attention to labor rights, human rights, women’s rights, and environmental protection. It thus devolves upon activists, mobilized in local or transnational networks, to form movements for change. Thus just as globalization has engendered the spread of neoliberal capitalism across the world, it also has stoked opposition and collective action.

Tacking stock of the existing global economic and financial difficulties, we are living in times of insecurity, instability, and risk, but equally in times of opportunity and possibility. Climate change, war, and economic recession loom large, while increased militarization by states and violent contention by non-state actors contribute to a seemingly dangerous world.What is the connection between globalization and social movements? How have people collectively responded to globalization? Have social movements changed to better confront globalization’s economic, political, and cultural manifestations and challenges? And how are contemporary social movements and networks affecting the progression of globalization?
These are the principal questions posed and currently at global level. Undoubtedly, the transnational social movements that emerged under the conditions of late capitalism/neoliberal globalization are among the most vocal and visible of transnational movements and networks. Each constitutes a transnational social movement inasmuch as it connects people across borders around a common agenda and collective identity. They mobilizes large numbers of supporters and activists, whether as individuals or as members of networks, groups, and organizations. They also engage in sustained oppositional politics with states or other power-holders.
Political Islam appeared on the international stage in the late 1970s in the context of specific national and global opportunities and includes an array of locally based groups and transnationally active networks. Some groups attempt the overthrow of local regimes; others are long entrenched in cooperative relations with them; yet others seek social, political, and legal reforms.
Moderate Islamists take part in the electoral process and promote democracy to widen their social base and advance their interests; radicals rail against national and international injustices and call for strict adherence to Islam; extremists spread their message and assert themselves through violence, often spectacular. To date, no Islamist movement has been instrumental in the transition from authoritarianism to democracy and civil liberties.
Cultural values and norms are emphasized as pre-eminent, and seen to be at stake. In the Huntington perspective, the world of Islam is at odds with Western notions of democracy, tolerance, and pluralism. The solution is to keep a distance, close ranks, and protect Western values. In the Islamist perspective, the West is responsible, through such ills as secularism, feminism, gay liberation, and support for repressive regimes, for undermining Muslim societies and exerting control over them.
The solution is to reject Western values and institutions and adhere strictly to Islamic laws, norms, and institutions. Both arguments essentialize religion and culture, and cast the religio-cultural differences between Islam and the West in sharp relief. Globalization processes have provided both grievances and opportunities for the emergence and growth of Islamist movements.
The women’s rights movement has been the subject of considerable scholarly analysis. Feminist theorizing has focused on national-level factors such as the growth of the population of educated women with grievances about their second-class citizenship; varieties of feminism; the evolution of women’s movements and campaigns; and cross-regional similarities and differences in mobilizing structures and strategies.
Since the 1990s a growing literature has connected women’s movements and organizations to global processes such as the role of international organizations or the United Nations Decade on Women, and it has examined the ways that women’s organizations engage with the world of public policy. While not all feminists agree on the matter, many argue that “the women’s movement” is a global phenomenon, and that despite cultural differences, country specificities, and organizational priorities, there are observed similarities in the ways that women’s rights activists frame their grievances and demands, form networks and organizations, and engage with state and intergovernmental institutions.
Some of these similarities include adoption of discourses of women’s human rights and gender equality; references to international agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action; campaigns for legal and policy reforms to ensure women’s civil, political, and social rights; solidarity and networking across borders; and coalitions with other civil society groups.
Another observation is that women’s rights activists – whether in South Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, or North Africa – are opposed to “fundamentalist” discourses and agendas and espouse feminist discourses and goals, whether explicitly or implicitly. Feminist action is an appropriate term to define that in which the participants explicitly place value on challenging gender hierarchy and changing women’s social status, whether they adopt or reject the feminist label.
Global feminist activism is also an international feminist mobilization involving women in more than one country or region who seek to forge a collective identity among women and to improve the condition of women. Feminist mobilization are transnational feminist networks that advocate for women’s participation and rights while also engaging critically with policy and legal issues and with states, international organizations, and institutions of global governance.
The global justice movement has been in formation since at least the late 1990s and has become the subject of many new studies. It is being analyzed as a reaction to neoliberal globalization, an expression of “globalization from-below,” a key element of global civil society. It is an exemplar of the transnationalization of collective action. It comprises NGOs, social movement and civil society organizations, transnational advocacy networks, unions, religious groups, and individual activists opposed to neoliberalism and war. The global justice movement exists in varying degrees of coordination and activism across regions.
It is arguably most active in Europe. It convenes at the annual World Social Forum, regional forums, and on the web. It plans and coordinates activities and it takes part in various forms of public engagement to spread its ideas and recruit new supporters. Its campaigns include debt relief or cancellation as well as ending poverty in developing countries; taxing of financial speculations and movements; fair trade and labor rights; environmental protection; and reform or transformation of institutions of global governance.
The existence of the global justice movement, known as “the movement of movements,” confirms that issues of class, inequality, and redistribution do not belong to a bygone era. Some have counter posed the so-called old social movements of class-based mobilizations and economic demands to the more recent “new social movements,” which focus on identity and lifestyle.
In fact, the global justice movement is the inevitable result of the capitalistic features of the contemporary world-system and its attendant globalization processes. And while advocacy and lobbying certainly are part of the collective action repertoire of the movement, some activists are also highly likely to engage in direct action against what they see as the symbols of neoliberal capitalism.