International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs or INGOs) are studied from a wide range of academic disciplinary perspectives, and the perspectives and literature are diverse and growing rapidly. This article approaches the topic from a political science perspective and, in particular, from the perspective of the international relations field in political science. It also includes a range of sources from helpful instructional readings to more sophisticated works that have been influential among scholars in the field. The list incorporates both some of the newest work of theoretical and empirical importance and older works that have been important to the development of this topic of study. The scholars who study international NGOs use a variety of conceptual categories for their analysis. Hence, anyone searching for literature on this topic will find fruitful results by searching for a number of terms, including, for example: “transnational civil society,” “transnational advocacy networks,” “transnational social movements,” and “global civil society.” NGOs are also variously called “civil society organizations,” “social movement organizations,” or “nonprofit organizations.” In European literature they are often discussed as “interest groups.”
The seminal work in political science on the topic of international NGOs is undoubtedly the pathbreaking book Activists beyond Borders (Keck and Sikkink 1998). Keck and Sikkink were the first to argue comprehensively that NGOs are consequential in international politics and to show exactly how the networks in which they work transnationally act strategically to create political change. Tarrow 2005, a work that followed, is clearly influenced by Keck and Sikkink’s work and the author builds upon much earlier theory on comparative social movements that he had developed. Charnovitz 1997 (cited under INGOs in Global Governance) and Davies 2014 provide long historical views of INGOs in global governance from as far back as the 1700s in the form of the Roman Catholic Church. Salamon and Anheier 1994 is more of a catalogue of characteristics of NGOs from different countries, useful for researchers seeking hypotheses and typologies. Price 2003 is a review article that is helpful for understanding the state of the literature on transnational civil society at the time it was published and how the literature has developed over time. Florini 2000 provides an overall argument and case studies in assessing the power of transnational civil society, while Khagram and Sikkink 2002 similarly provide a discussion of the impact of INGOs in world politics and includes a number of diverse case studies.
Boli, John, and George M. Thomas, eds. Constructing World Culture: International Nongovernmental Organizations since 1875. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.
This book, using a sociological world-polity perspective on the spread of global cultural principles, provides a helpful history of the shape of proliferation of INGOs around the world since 1875. Chapters by contributors document the spread over time of organizations in various issue areas. Useful for teaching students to think about explanations for the rise of INGOs.
Davies, Thomas R. NGOs: A New History of Transnational Civil Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
A much needed new history of the transnational activities of various forms of nonstate actors since the early Christian era, meant to challenge the pervasive view that transnational NGO activism is a new phenomenon.
Florini, Ann M., ed. Third Force: The Rise of Transnational Civil Society. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2000.
A widely cited book assessing the capability of transnational civil society to tackle challenging global problems, and largely answering with enthusiasm their ability to do so. Case studies by distinguished authors on transnational network activism related to corruption, nuclear arms control, mega-dams, democratization, land mines, and human rights. A useful teaching book.
Keck, Margaret E., and Kathryn Sikkink. Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Probably the most widely cited work on international NGOs, this book was groundbreaking in its focus on NGOs in international politics, through the concept of “transnational advocacy networks.” It inspired and informed much of the work that followed.
Khagram, Riker, and Kathryn Sikkink, eds. Restructuring World Politics: Transnational Social Movements, Networks, and Norms. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
The authors begin and end with conceptual overview chapters that provide helpful definitions and discussion of the roles and impact of INGOs, taking a constructivist international relations perspective focused on the influence of ideas and norms in global politics. Case studies follow from contributors in the issue areas of human rights and women’s rights, development, environment, and labor.
Price, Richard. “Transnational Civil Society and Advocacy in World Politics.” World Politics 55.4 (2003): 579–606.
A review article of a number of works (included several listed in this article) on the impact of transnational civil society and the implications for international relations theories.
Salamon, Lester, and Helmut Anheier. The Emerging Nonprofit Sector: An Overview. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1994.
Taking data from early in the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, Salamon and Anheier examine the characteristics and impact of nonprofit organizations in twelve countries (six developed, five developing, and one post-Communist country). The analysis is useful for generating hypotheses on factors that can shape NGO behavior and characteristics.
Tarrow, Sidney. The New Transnational Activism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Although somewhat dated now, a comprehensive and seminal work on transnational activism, tempering the overly rosy enthusiasm exhibited by much of the early transnational INGO activism literature. The author emphasizes that transnational activism is rooted in and constrained by the domestic contexts in which organizations, movements, and networks develop.
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