Pressure from Beside

Changing local rules, institutions, and practices is an inherently conflictual process. Coalitions of local, national, and foreign policy advocates identify individuals engaging in “had” behaviors and pressure and persuade them to change. Inevitably, some individuals resist these efforts. To overcome resistance, transnational governance networks must he able to project power across network ties. This requires expanding governance networks (through network activation) to include organizations with the ability to influence resistant stakeholders.

As discussed earlier, the power available to governance networks depends on the mix of member organizations. There are multiple pathways for exerting influence, and different actors have access to different kinds of power. Transnational networks seeking to influence local policies and practices are more successful to the extent they incorporate a diverse array of local actors able to exercise multiple forms of power. One reason is that this allows governance networks to steer events locally by leveraging influence in multiple local arenas, including legal- political and social arenas, in both rural and urban parts of a watershed. A second reason is that applying global ideas locally requires the exertion of pressure from multiple sources in multiple arenas simultaneously. To understand why, it is useful to consider where pressure comes from in phase 2 and how this differs from conventional models of pressure in transnational politics.

Existing models of transnational politics focus on policy change at the national and international levels, and therefore stress the importance of pressure from “above” and “below.” Pressure from “above” comes from more powerful external actors like states and IGOs, or the structural forces of globalization. For example, political and economic pressures from powerful states are credited with compelling governments in Latin America and elsewhere to adopt global human rights policies in the 1980s (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Lutz and Sikkink 2001; Risse et al. 1999). Integration into the global economic system compels governments of countries and megacities to embrace global policies associated with “good governance,” including high levels of fiscal discipline and accountability (Kaplan 2013; Kaufmann et al. 2004; Mosley 2003). Pressure may also come from “below,” for example when subnational groups mobilize to pressure national leaders or representatives of international organizations. Picture the antiglobalization rallies in front of World Bank offices around the world.

As chapter 1 discussed, however, global efforts to solve many local-cumulative problems seek policy change at the local level. These efforts often target grassroots actors with relatively weak connections to the global system, which make conventional models based on pressure from above and below inappropriate. Efforts to reform local watershed management are illustrative. Watershed stakeholders are typically grouped into three broad categories: members of local government (e.g., politicians and bureaucrats), landowners (e.g., those owning or using the land in the watershed—particularly in catchment areas), and water users (e.g., households, irrigation councils, and hydroelectric companies). In rural communities (the kind that exist in and around most watershed catchment areas), these individuals’ connections to the global system are at best weak and indirect. Unlike leaders of states, megacities, or international companies, these actors are much less vulnerable to the forces of globalization or the political and economic pressure from above described in the literatures on transnational advocacy networks and norm diffusion. Threats of sanctions from foreign governments would ring hollow to smallholder farmers, if they were ever heard. Most poor farmers are unaware of the effects of capital flight from banks in faraway capital cities.

Sure, international organizations can provide and then threaten to withdraw economic aid and other “carrots" But the rural poor are skillful at exploiting outside resources for a time while maintaining the status quo or reverting back to it when these resources disappear. In the case of IWM reform, threats to withdraw funding do not pose serious consequences since a primary goal is to develop local revenue sources rather than rely on external donations (see chapter 3). Local stakeholders are often dismayed to find that there are few opportunities to extract external rents.

As chapter 1 noted, pressure from above by national governments is also frequently limited, whether due to a lack of political will, conflict among national policymakers and bureaucrats, weak state institutions, and/or neoliberal norms advocating third-party outsourcing of many government functions. Since local stakeholders exist at the most local level, there is also no pressure from below.

Under these conditions, when faced with resistance, transnational governance networks must rely on local supporters (i.e., local stakeholders who join the governance network) who can access local sources of power and are better situated to exploit resistant stakeholders’ local vulnerabilities. Through the network activation strategies described earlier, local coalitions expand their governance network by recruiting members from each targeted stakeholder group and persuading them to pressure resistant members of both their own and other groups.

When successful, this creates a mutually enforcing circle of pressure, as illustrated in Fig. 2.3. In the case of IWM reform, for example, supportive local government representatives use their authority to pressure resistant landowners and water users to change their use of natural resources. They leverage coercive power through the use of ordinances, sanctions, and threats to expropriate land.

Pathways of Pressure from Beside in IWM Reform

Figure 2.3 Pathways of Pressure from Beside in IWM Reform.

Supportive landowners use their control over natural resources to pressure resistant water users and local politicians to provide the material resources necessary for reform. At the same time, supportive water users use their economic clout and power of mobilization to pressure resistant politicians and landowners to improve their access to water-related services. In short, the pressure on resistant targets does not come from “above” or “below,” but from “beside.”[1] The leverage for exerting pressure from beside comes from the interdependence of local stakeholders and the fact that each can draw on different sources of power to exploit particular vulnerabilities of others.

Given these mutual, self-reinforcing pressures from beside, the cogs in a clock provide a useful metaphor for the pathways of pressure in the second stage of grassroots global governance. In this metaphor, the clock represents the process of institutionalizing a global idea locally (e.g., implementing a local IWM regime) and the cogs represent the local stakeholder groups (e.g., those in each watershed). The main insight of this metaphor is that, like cogs, each local stakeholder group has to push the others to make the reform process advance. So long as each cog (stakeholder group) is in place and exerts pressure, the “clock” runs, meaning the IWM reform process continues. If one of the cogs is unaligned or stops working (i.e., one stakeholder group is not mobilized and fails to exert pressure), the reform process breaks down.

A coalition of local, national, and foreign policy advocates is like a clockmaker that synchronizes the cogs and winds the clock by creating the motivation and capacity to reform among influential members of all local stakeholder groups. There are two important lessons of the clockmaker metaphor. First, policy advocates must leverage the interdependencies among local stakeholder groups to exert influence. Second, the delicate balancing act required to maintain pressure from beside means advocates cannot focus on one stakeholder group at the expense of others. Mobilizing different groups sequentially is also risky because one of the groups may not yet be mobilized to exert pressure from beside at crucial points of the policy process, particularly the implementation phase. This is akin to throwing the proverbial wrench into the cogs and leads to a breakdown of the reform process.

  • [1] By “beside,” I am referring to the fact that the actors exerting pressure on one another exist atthe subnational level, rather than at the national or international levels. This does not deny differences in power that create hierarchies, particularly among individuals. It simply acknowledges thateach of the targeted groups exists within the same level of analysis. While they may not be perfectlyequal, they each draw on different sources of power that allow them to pressure the other groups. LilyTsai (2007; 2002) similarly notes the importance of local, horizontal pressures by citizens, who uselocal social norms to hold local politicians accountable. The Ecuadorian cases of IWM reform buildon this insight by examining the effects of multidirectional pressures among multiple local stakeholder groups that employ material as well as normative sources of power.
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