A Tale of Two Lakes: Transnational Activism and Imagined Agency
Scholarship on transnational activism examines how activist groups build coalitions across borders, raise funding from abroad, and operate in political opportunity structures that transcend the nation-state. Such studies stay close to the theoretical paradigms that dominate the social movements field as a whole – resource mobilization, political opportunity structure, framing, and collective identity – without elaborating the specific theoretical value-added that comes from transnational cooperation. I examine environmental activism at Lake Baikal in Russia to ask: what effect does globalization have (in this case through transnational activism) on local civil society? I compare local activist interventions in the village of Bolshoye Goloustnoye before and after the involvement of transnational partners from Lake Tahoe in California. Previous attempts by Russian environmentalists to rally villagers to their cause were met with skepticism and apathy. The villagers dismissed the very idea that they could change their circumstances. But over the course of a series of webinars between residents at Baikal and Tahoe, villagers began to gain a new sense of personal efficacy. The radical difference represented by the activists abroad allowed the Russian villagers to see their own circumstances in a different light, opening for them the very possibility of producing change.
Kate Pride Brown is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment. She received her PhD in Sociology from Vanderbilt University in May 2015. Her research interests include political sociology, social movements and civil society, globalization, and environmental sociology. Her dissertation research examined the effects of globalization (in its social and economic forms) on local environmental activism around Lake Baikal in Russia. In this work she develops a new theory of civil society as a player in a field of power. Her book manuscript, Saving the Sacred Sea, is currently under review at Oxford University Press. In her present research as a postdoctoral fellow at the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment, she has been studying the politics of energy and water conservation policy in U.S. cities and states. She has published in peer-reviewed journals, including Energy Research and Social Science and Memory Studies, and in the Encyclopedia of American Reform Movements.