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Appreciating "Generative Power" in Transnational Activism

Sat, September 2, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton Union Square, Continental Parlor 3


Scholars of transnational activism have answered the question of how activists exert influence in world politics despite their relative lack of military and economic resources by turning to the idea of "communicative power." Powerful activists are those who set or influence institutional agendas by practicing various forms of persuasion in the global discursive democracy. While the concept of communicative power helps us understand transnational activists' impact in part, it fails to illuminate the full variety of ways in which activists exert power to realize the changes they want to see in the world. Republican and neo-Marxist thinkers (specifically, Hannah Arendt and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri) attune us to a form of power that arises from the dedication of collectively-organized mental and physical capacities to world-building – a form of power I call "generative power." The concept of generative power, I argue, allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the actions of important transnational actors and their impact. I demonstrate the value of this concept in an analysis of the Zapatistas, bringing activities and successes underappreciated by those who focus on "communicative power" into relief.