Legalizing Transnational Activism: The Struggle to Gain Social Change from NAFTA's Citizen Petitions

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The integration of national economies through the ongoing process that has come to be known as globalization has stirred much controversy, including outright resistance by activists who are concerned about globalization’s negative impact on a variety of human values, such as protection of the environment and decent working conditions for labor. The political activism and social movements that have given rise to protests—like the violent demonstrations in Seattle at the WTO meeting in 1999—have been the subject of study by scholars, but less well known is the role that some institutional mechanisms associated with international trade agreements have played in providing “political opportunity structures” for activists to use in promoting their causes and gaining more support for them. In this book, Jonathan Graubart draws our attention to the citizen-petition mechanisms that form part of the neoliberal package of reforms known as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) implemented by Canada, Mexico, and the United States. He provides a comparative case study of the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) and North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) and shows how they have functioned as avenues for activists to publicize their domestic grievances and bring more pressure on their governments to institute needed change.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A welcome contribution to the study of NAFTA, providing original insights into the operation and political significance of the agreement’s ‘side accords’ on labor and the environment, and a rich empirical appreciation of how transnational social justice actors have struggled to leverage these controversial institutions. Graubart’s ability to weave together the legal and the political, and the domestic and the transnational, brings to life a story of contentious politics that will be of keen interest to political scientists, legal scholars, and engaged citizens trying to understand NAFTA beyond the polemics.”
—Stephanie R. Golob, Baruch College–CUNY

“Within the pages of this densely argued and richly documented book, Graubart has effectively challenged both international lawyers and social movement scholars (not to mention political scientists) to take more seriously the incremental effects of soft-law on state legal autonomy in the hard times of international globalization. That is an achievement that social movement scholars who doubt the importance of the political process in the emergence and outcomes of contentious politics will need to contend with.”
—Sidney Tarrow, Mobilization

Legalizing Transnational Activism is an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of NAFTA and social policy. It presents important new findings based on original research and uses them to advance the broader debate on the social impact of NAFTA. The work will interest anyone seeking to understand transnational legal issues, especially in the area of labor and the environment.”
—Maxwell A. Cameron, University of British Columbia

“This short, provocative study is a valuable contribution to the literatures on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), labor and environmental law, and transnational activism.”
—M. E. Carranza, Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271033624
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 184
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Graubart is Associate Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University.

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Table of Contents


Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction: Transnational Activism, Soft Law, and Nafta’s Social Model

1. Legalizing Politics

2. Politicizing Law

3. The Rise and Decline of Nafta’s Labor Petitions

4. The Importance of Institutional Support: Nafta’s Environmental-Petition Mechanism

Conclusion: Lessons Learned



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