Transnational political action and ‘global civil society’ in practice: the case of Oxfam

[Co-authored with Clive Gabay] My article for the journal Global Networks on the role of ideas about global civil society in transnational political action, focusing on Oxfam.

The term ‘global civil society’ has taken on increasing significance within scholarly debate over the past decade. This paper seeks to understand transnational political agency via the study of a particular transnational actor, Oxfam. It argues that the various schools of thought surrounding the global civil society concept, in particular the prevailing liberalcosmopolitan approach, are unable to conceptualise transnational political action in practice – due largely, in the case of liberal-cosmopolitanism, to a shared normative agenda. It also assesses the contribution of the literature on development and civil society to the analysis of groups such as Oxfam. In investigating Oxfam’s own perceptions of its context and the meanings of its agency, we discover an anti-political perspective, derived from an encounter between Oxfam’s long-standing commitment to liberal internationalism, and globalization discourse. The local or parochial nature of global civil society actors’ identities has not been sufficiently identified by existing scholarship.

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Image: Chris Reynolds