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The mental toolbox: what’s a “transnational advocacy network”?

Question 4a. Please use the following phrase in a sentence: transnational advocacy network.

Answer 1
Yesterday, I took my swimsuit with me to work, and stopped for a dip in the transnational advocacy network on the way home.
Answer 2
At first I thought he was really sweet, but when he kissed me I could tell he had a transnational advocacy network, so I panicked and ralphed on his shoes.
Answer 3
One good way to understand the way ‘geeks’ try to influence politics is to think of them as a transnational advocacy network. When social scientists talk about transnational advocacy networks, they mean something a lot like a Free and Open Source Software movement.

First off, it looks like a duck. The nebulous group of people we’re calling ‘geeks’ get together by generating “dense and constant information flows”. That’s what a network is in social science, as Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink point out in their 1998, book, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. That’s an excellent study, by the way: densely academic, but comprehensive, and a great help at understanding advocacy campaigns.

Do geek networks share “principled ideas or values”? Check. Is there a lot of “international voluntarism”? Oh, you betcha! And who takes part? How about,

“(1) … nongovernmental research and advocacy organizations [like the EFF]; (2) local social movements [LUGs for example]; (3) foundations [like Apache, Mozilla, and the Linux Fund]; (4) the media [the TWIT network]; (5) … consumer organizations, and intellectuals; parts of regional and international intergovernmental organizations [open source at UNESCO]; and (7) parts of the executive and/or parliamentary branches of governments [see Brazil, the US Department of Defense].”

Yes, the ‘geek’ / FOSS / internet liberties network is, you know, a network, in the transnational advocacy network sense.

It quacks like a duck, too. These networks “monitor compliance with international standards” (GPL enforcement, open standards). They “influence discourse, procedures, and policy” (our Internet does all these things by itself). Through the coding, the arguing, the convincing, and the documenting, “what was once unthinkable becomes obvious.” That seems to describe Wikimedia pretty well, and HTML, and every programming language ever designed. In other words, FOSS does advocacy.

So it’s a network and it does advocacy. Transnational just means “things that aren’t national governments working across the boundaries of sovereign states,” which geeks do, which FOSS projects do, which the Internet does all the time.

There are other ways to describe geeks (people with a shared moral imagination of technology) working together. “Social movement” is a good term. It means something not too different from “transnational advocacy network”. One guy also came up with the appellation “technology and product oriented movement.” That seems a bit clumsy to me, but his analysis is good.

What’s the point, you ask? The advantage of thinking about the FOSS movement, or the community of geeks, or whatever you want to call it, as a transnational advocacy network, is that there’s been a lot of writing about what networks like that do, how they function in politics (national and international), how to judge success and failure, etc. That means instead of re-inventing the wheel, people advocating for a Free and Open web can stand on the shoulders of social scientists, and use tested methods to get their (our) message across.


About Ambjörn Elder

I'm a social scientist in embryo, a permanently resting actor, a half-hearted cosmopolitan, and now a blogger. More concretely, I'm a candidate for a masters in international affairs at the American University of Paris currently looking for work that involves advocacy or negotiation, or somehow concerns technology or intellectual property issues, especially on the internet.


3 thoughts on “The mental toolbox: what’s a “transnational advocacy network”?

  1. All this talk about transnational things makes me think you should hook up with Jan Wildeboer to discuss the Transnational Republics. He’s always keen to talk about that stuff, you can find him on G+ and Twitter:


    Posted by Fab | 19 September 2011, 08:25
  2. Thanks for the reference, Fab, I’ll check it Mr Wildeboer and what he has to say. The idea of a “transnational republic” sounds distinctly cosmopolitan. By coincidence, I’m reading a new book about cosmopolitanism called Cosmopolitanism and International Relations Theory by Professor Richard Beardsworth.

    If it sounds like I’m speaking Greek to someone who isn’t Greek, cosmopolitanism is the general proposition that:
    “all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, do (or at least can) belong to a single community, and that this community should be cultivated.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

    There’s a debate about cosmopolitanism between the author of the book I’m reading and another faculty member this Wednesday at 6, rue du Colonel Combes. 75007 Paris, at 18h30.

    As for me, at this point I obviously believe in transnational things, as you say, Fab. The title of this blog expresses my cosmopolitanism. At the same time, the transnational space is a disorderly space. It’s governed by different laws in different jurisdictions. Corporations contend or co-operate with governments at various levels, looking for advantage over each other. Various and conflicting norms and traditions have effect in different places and/or different times.

    While I love the Internet, which is maybe the closest thing that exists to a global community, it doesn’t actually unify the world. I want to see big global problems like the recurrence of wars and widespread poverty solved, but I don’t have much confidence in global solutions, Cosmopolitan solutions, to get us there. This is why I call myself a “half-hearted cosmopolitan” in my blurb.

    Posted by Ambjörn Elder | 19 September 2011, 10:12


  1. Pingback: Get the down and low before I stand up to be counted at FOSDEM « netizen of the world - 3 February 2012

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