Multilateral trade governance as social field: Global civil society and the WTO

Kristen Hopewell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The 1999 Seattle protests, which brought thirty thousand people to the streets in opposition to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and set off a series of other protests against the multilateral economic institutions, helped spark significant academic interest in global civil society and its potential to act as a transformative force in global economic governance. In this article, however, I argue that many of the civil society actors that have sought to engage with and influence the WTO have been transformed in the process. They have both become more technocratic and increasingly moved toward advocating positions that accord with the neoliberal trade paradigm. I draw on Bourdieu's field theory to explain why and how this transformation has occurred. I argue that, in order to understand these changes among parts of civil society, we need to see multilateral trade governance as a social field, which civil society actors enter into as they seek to impact outcomes at the WTO. The case of the WTO challenges existing theories that conceive of global civil society as an exogenous force that acts upon the institutions of global governance, showing instead that global civil society is not in fact independent or autonomous but shaped and influenced by the institution it targets.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1128-1158
Number of pages31
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number6
Early online date28 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • global civil society
  • World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • global governance
  • Bourdieu
  • field theory
  • legitimation


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