“…Painstakingly researched and beautifully written, this is a must-read for anyone interested in global governance today…”

—Martha Finnemore, University Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, The George Washington University.

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Craig M. Kauffman, Grassroots Global Governance: Local Watershed Management Experiments and the Evolution of Sustainable Development (Oxford University Press, 2017).

When international agreements fail to solve global problems like climate change, transnational networks attempt to address them by implementing “global ideas” like sustainable development—policies and best practices negotiated at the global level—locally around the world. Grassroots Global Governance not only explains why some efforts succeed and others fail, but also why the process of implementing global ideas locally causes these ideas to evolve.

Drawing on nodal governance theory, the book shows how transnational actors’ success in putting global ideas into practice depends on the framing and capacity-building strategies they use to activate networks of grassroots actors influential in local social and policy arenas. Yet, grassroots actors neither accept nor reject global ideas as presented by outsiders. Instead, they negotiate whether and how to adapt them to fit local conditions. This contestation produces experimentation with unique institutional applications of a global idea infused with local norms and practices. Local experiments that endure are perceived as “successful,” allowing those involved to activate transnational networks to scale up and diffuse innovative local governance models globally. These models carry local norms and practices to the international level where they challenge existing global approaches. Grassroots global governance theory explains why this process endures or breaks down at different points. In doing so, the book’s theory and process model provide new insight into: (1) how global authority is structured and exercised in response to many of the world’s most pressing problems; (2) how national and local systems intersect with and push against these global structures; (3) how power is distributed and exercised across the local, national, and international levels; and (4) how these global governance systems change.

To demonstrate this, the book compares transnational efforts to implement local Integrated Watershed Management programs across Ecuador and explains why some efforts broke down while others produced experimentation with innovative watershed management practices and institutions. It then traces the process through which these local experiments altered the global debate over what sustainable development means and stimulated a new global movement dedicated to changing the way it is practiced.

In explaining this process, Grassroots Global Governance shows how grassroots actors normally left out of global governance analysis—from municipal bureaucrats to smallholder farmers and rural community organizers¾play key roles in global environmental governance. They contest, translate and adapt global ideas to fit local realities; mobilize pressure to overcome local apathy and opposition; experiment with new institutional arrangements; and engage international actors in negotiation and learning processes. By guiding the way global ideas are applied at the local level and consequently evolve, grassroots actors in turn reshape international actors’ thinking, discourse, and the strategies they pursue globally. This makes them grassroots global governors. By explaining how this occurs, the book reveals the grassroots level as an important but often overlooked terrain where global governance is constructed.

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