In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Transnational Actors

  • Introduction
  • Journals and Reference Works
  • Nongovernmental Organizations and Social Movements
  • Multinational Corporations, Business, and Labor
  • Religious Actors
  • Terrorism and Rebels
  • Diasporas and Ethnic Ties
  • Epistemic Communities
  • Transgovernmental Relations
  • Crime and Illegal Flows

International Relations Transnational Actors
Peter Hägel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 November 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0016


Transnational relations are usually defined as regular cross-border interactions in which nonstate actors play a significant role. This opens a wide research area in the context of globalization where a great variety of actors participate in growing global exchanges. Of particular importance for international relations (IR) are transnational actors that wield considerable influence on politics across borders, such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), multinational corporations (MNCs), religious actors, terrorism rebels, criminal actors, and diasporas and ethnic actors. The social and cultural consequences of globalization are being explored under the heading of “transnationalism,” a burgeoning research area shared by several disciplines from across the humanities and social sciences, paying special attention to migration and hybrid identities. Some of this research is clearly relevant for IR, especially as it contributes to questioning the nation-state as the basic unit of world politics. The juxtaposition of society versus states, a concern of the early transnational relations debate during the 1970s, is still shaping a lot of “contentious politics” and “social movements” research on transnational actors. But in many cases, the relationships between domestic politics, transnational actors, and international affairs are more complex, e.g., when states sponsor terrorism or when NGOs, MNCs, states, and international organizations engage in global public policy networks.

General Overviews

Most general overviews of transnational actors in world politics have been published either in the form of short journal articles pushing the research agenda or as edited volumes. One reason for this might be that the research area contains so many different topics that it is difficult for any single author to write a thorough book about it. The Contemporary Monographs subsection, containing mostly journal articles, is therefore good for entering the debate, but for comprehensive overviews one should turn to the Contemporary Edited Volumes subsection.

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