Linking power vertically
While one approach to understanding power focuses on the different levels of power, others focus on their interaction. In this approach the vertical dimensions of power should also be seen not as a fixed set of categories, but as a flexible, adaptable continuum, in which each layer interacts with the other, sometimes opening and other times closing opportunities for action.
Some theorists argue that power and ‘territory’ are increasingly delinked. Power holders can move from place to place, and conversely challenging power means being able to operate outside our own immediate geographical location. Rosalba Icaza, Peter Newell and Marcelo Saguier in ‘Democratising Trade Politics in the Americas’ argue that powerful actors and special interests are often able to ‘forum-hop’, that is to choose the arena in which they are regulated, thereby weakening the challenges from others. For instance, in the area of trade, the North American Free Trade Agreement brought a focus on regional rules and regulation, and a lot of civil society groups focused their movement on this level. However, later as public pressure grew at this level, the focus shifted to ‘bi-lateral agreements’ and civil society trade campaigns had to adapt. Read IDS working paper Democratising Trade Politics in the Americas: Insights from the Women’s, Environmental and Labour Movements (in related resources section).
The delinking of power and territory can also open up possibilities for those who are mobilizing to change from below as well. Local campaigners may first go to global bodies in order to put pressure on their national or local governments. Or members of a diaspora community may organize from outside their country in order to make change at home. Keck and Sikkink call the process of putting pressure on one state via mobilizing pressure through other states or networks the ‘boomerang pattern’ of advocacy (Keck and Sikkink,1998: 13).
Because power and authority can move across levels, some argue that the most effective strategies for change are ones that mobilize across levels simultaneously, linking action at the supra-national (global), national and local levels. But, this in turn has posed other problems, of power issues within campaigns, especially between global, national and local organizations. There are risks that campaigning at the global level, for instance, obscures local voices in their own claimed spaces. On the other hand, when campaigns are grounded in local realities yet are able to link across these levels effectively, change can have a greater impact, as a recent case study by John Gaventa and Marj Mayo on The Global Campaign on Education illustrates (seer related resources). By building a coalition at all levels, and by linking it together through a series of strategies, campaigners were able to fight for the right to education at every level. Read more about working across levels to gain the right to education.
References for futher reading
Keck, Margaret, E. and Sikkink. Kathryn (1998) Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Cornell University Press.