Social Movements and Globalization since 1945

AHA Session 272
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Wellesley Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Erez Manela, Harvard University
The Audience

Session Abstract

The proposed session offers new ways of understanding the origins and impact of transnational social movements in the post-war period. This session will act as a forum for historians to debate questions surrounding (a) the proliferation of transnational social movements after 1945; (b) the relationship between transnational actors and local movements or institutions; and (c) the legitimacy and viability of social movement strategies for social change in a particular historical context. The central themes in this session include: the role of religious organizations and religious ideas; the popularization of rights discourse as a rhetoric for social change; and competing strategies for social change.

Most historians who study social movements focus on a specific nation-state and rarely place their study in an international context. And historical studies of transnational movements since 1945 are even more rare. Our interdisciplinary panel will bring leading experts on the history of social movements from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom to the AHA meeting in Boston to share their ideas on the formation of transnational social movements in the post-war period. The historians who constitute this panel are developing innovative methodological approaches to the study of social movements: our contention is that transnational movements emerged within a web of relationship between domestic movements, international institutions and transnational actors in an emerging global civil society. Sociologists and political scientists dominate the existing literature on social movements and too often present globalization and transnational movements as a product of recent events. As our session will demonstrate, transnational social movements have a much longer history than is commonly accepted. This is one example of how historians can offer a valuable and important contribution to the study of social movements.

The papers in this session explore the origins of three transnational social movements that emerged in the post-war period: international aid and development; human rights; and climate change. A combination of local and international developments after 1945 facilitated the formation of a unique space: a global civil society in which a new type of social movement thrived. These movements were not restricted by national boundaries but nonetheless existed within a web of local, national and international relationships.

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