Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. April 2006

15.1. Transnational Activism, (Cyber-)Cultural (Re-)Presentations and Global Civil Society
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: On-Kwok Lai (Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Mobile Communication, Anti-Globalization Protests and Global Civil Society: Social Agencies in Transnational Advocacies Networks

Shizuka Abe (1) (Kyoto, Japan)


1. The Trajectories of Globalization-driven Polarization

Globalization processes are problematic and tend to polarize socio-economic life chance of people - this has been confirmed by the Report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization (2004).(2) Two contesting views on the globalization project: globalization is regarded as a benign and automatic force that fosters better economic benefits for everyone, even the poorest group can be better off. This is in strong contrast to the political extremes of the Left and Right, that for the Left: unbridled capitalism does produce effects of exploitation of the weak and socio-ecological degradation, and for the Right: the malignant forces of globalization engender xenophobia, the destruction of local people’s jobs, culture, language and hence identity.(3) Globalization processes hence have put state-society in a very peculiar position, as exposed to the challenges of ‘external’ forces capitals, goods, labor (and jobs) are more mobile than in any previous regime of global order. The globalization processes are not smooth, voluntary and benign; more often than not, they are full of contradictions, confusions, chaos and power struggles.... Among the multifaceted and complex manifestations of tensions between local and global forces, this paper examines the economic and social logic of communicative actions in (anti-)globalization processes. More importantly, the ideologically driven neo-liberal global project, i.e., the creation of a global free market and the dominance of Anglo-American capitalism within all the world’s economic regions, has been cemented by the networks of Transnational Corporations (TNC). In addition, free market capitalism is reinforced within the framework of global economic institutions, such as the WTO, IMF, World Bank and G8, which enable the further deregulation, privatization, structural adjustment programs, and limited government.

Since early 1990s, most of the nation states have to champion the project for economic liberalization, and of embracing global free market capitalism. They adopt the international financial institutes’ (IFI, the World Bank and IMF) recipe for reform in macro economic policies, in order to make their economies more competitive. Their strategies are the deregulation of international capital flows and trades, and the re-making of (the once protected or socially guaranteed) labour market into a deregulated (less rigid, more dynamic and more flexible) one. The socio-economic consequences of these reform initiatives are widely different among different countries. With the exception of the Asian Industrializing Economies (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) and China, most developing economies are not adjusting well to the globalization project. On the other hand, most of the developed capitalist economies suffered from sluggish economic growth, ironically resulting from the deregulation of capital markets (which weakened the relationship between banking and industry).(4)

Taking the globalization discourse seriously has also reinforced the political ideologically driven reform of the so-called welfare state in the developed economies, but most of the reforms are not successful as judged by their fellow citizens.(5) Whilst for the greater part of the developing economies, the globalizing forces have not helped much either. With the exception of China, global poverty has not been improved during the globalization era (1980s and 1990s).(6) The number of poor (less than US$1 per day) has fallen in Asia, but risen elsewhere: it is roughly doubled in Africa - the figure is about one in three now (see Figure 1)!

Figure 1

( Source: WCSDG, 2004, p.45 )


2. Social Agencies Constituting Global Civil Society

The annual May 1st anti-globalization demonstration against global capitalism in major cities around the world marks the activism of social agencies, in constituting global civil society. Their message is loud and clear that the present model(s) of the WTO/G8/World Bank supported global project are not just and fair, for many people in the developing world, as well as those underprivileged in the developed ones - most of these social mobilizations are mobile and Internet network coordinated.

The ‘Battle in Seattle’ (demonstrations against the 1999 WTO ministerial meeting) marked the beginning of a new epoch of global activism, aided by the ICT in general, and mobile communications in particular. Since then, the global activism has shaped the location decision for IFI meetings, attempting to move away from cities and transportation hubs. Yet, e-mailing or increasingly mobile phone text messaging has become a central tool for the e-mobilization of global social protests against capitalist globalization. Just before the Seattle meetings, about 1500 of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had signed the anti-WTO declaration using e-mails and SMS text mail.(7) A more recent example is the global peace campaign against the American imperialist calling for a war against Iraq: with the fully-fledged utilization of ICT, the Internet/Web and mobile multimedia, over 12 millions of protesters were on the march in hundreds of cities around the world on 15 th February 2003. All these global activisms are facilitated by mobile communicative networks, the net /web and mobile communications, and therefore give leverage to ordinary people, resource-poor activists and protest agencies to fight against the establishments - governments, big businesses and the mass media. All kind of ‘anti-‘ information and ideas in cyberspace, bypassing the mass media, turn into global real time social actions.(8)

On the other front but in the same vein, the developing countries are gathering momentum to fight for a more equitable and fair regime of trading - highlighted by recent rebellious move of the Group 22 to walk out from the Doha Round of the WTO trade negotiation in Cancun (September 2003).(9) The Group 22 represents half the world population and two-third of the world’s farmers; their agenda for further economic liberalization (globalization project for WTO and developed economies) is a fair and equitable trading regime that at the very least, rich countries should make a bigger effort to cut subsidies and free the farm products trade - this is in line with the call for a reinvention of global governance for fair globalization.(10)

Retrospectively, as the rich world’s concessions for the poor countries were too limited, NGOs’ communicative actions in mass and cyber media are highly successful and are instrumental to the collapse of the WTO Cancun negotiation. Shouting loud and long enough in various media enables a strong provocative communicative power to ‘re-frame’ the anti-rich-country sentiments, which eventually moved the Group 22 trade negotiators to take a decisive and radical stand against the present global project run by the WTO and the rich countries.

Obviously, the WTO has been learning much from the communicative global actions of NGOs - and recently the WTO (like the World Bank) initiated activities for NGOs’ participation, mainly on consultative sessions, prior to important trade summits. But these are more or less a form of public relation campaign, as the real multi-lateral trade negotiations are the prerogatives of nation states.(11) And the consequences of the lack of direct engagements between global civil society and the WTO are shown in the two logics of communicative actions: NGOs tend to articulate their demand through non-institutional politics of protest movements, whilst the WTO still sticks to its multi-lateral summit inside a conference resort (protected by a strong police force). But the media coverage (for the wrong yet obvious reasons for the mass media) of confrontational protest, mostly with violent footages, enables global civil society to make a moral and ethical appeal against the globalization project. For this, it is rightly pointed out that ICT (mobile communicative networks in particular) are a crucial factor to empower the (presumably) powerless NGOs, and global civil society has learned quickly to adopt wire and wireless communication to champion their project in cyber space and mass media.(12)

For social agencies and NGOs at both local and international levels, there are two major issues (or more specific, the dynamics) of anti-globalizing processes. They challenge the unfair and unjust economic order , as well as the consequences of global poverty and environmental degradation resulting from the globalization project; and the ideological struggles against the hegemony of the global power (of the US-led Western countries in the North).

Actions are against transnational corporative symbols like the McDonald and international banks - that we can normally watch over television - but there is also a new politico-cultural praxis of the anti-globalization campaign as expressed through the fine and the performing arts, as well as multi-media representations. Contrasting traditional politicking of the established institutional politics and the suboptimal utilization of the Internet, the new media definitely enhance the dissemination of the alternative agenda for the anti-globalization project - in some way, the mobile communicative actions constituted the creation of the new social capital of networking.(13) Hence, the mobile and fluid messages, (re-)presentations and symbolisms in and beyond the cyberspace of the NGOs’ (the social agencies at large) anti-globalization communicative actions deepen and extend the struggles against global capitalism in many geo-temporal arenas and domains.


3. A local Response to Globalization: The Case of Kyoto

The local forces are also critically engaging the globalization project differentially; taking the case of the Japanese city of Kyoto - as a local strategy to embrace globalization, attempting to reduce the developmental risks and problems (exposure to the rise and fall of jobs available for the local, restructuring labour market), and the improvement of the life chances of the people at large.

After Japan’s economic slump with a stock market crash in 1989, its economy had experienced ‘the lost decade’ in 1990s. Not until recently, was the Japanese economy recovering.(14) Exceptionally, Kyoto has boasted an impressive array of smaller high-tech firms, making materials and components for the global electric industry, juxtaposed to the national economic recession.

Kyoto is in the Kansai region encompassing Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, three of Japan’s largest cities, the nation’s second-largest economic block, and the main cultural and economic counterweight to Tokyo.(15) On its own, the Kansai would be among the world’s ten biggest economies, smaller than Italy’s but bigger than Spain’s or Canada’s.(16)

Kyoto has two faces: tradition and innovation. On the one hand, there are lots of traditional industries, such as Nishijin-brocade, Kiyomizu-ceramics, Yuzen-dyeing, Buddhist objects, bamboo ware, traditional Japanese confectionery, Kyoto dishes and so on and so forth,; on the other hand there are lots of innovative enterprises.(17) Both traditional industries and innovative enterprises run on the traditional Kyoto’s style of management, based on local culture which attempts to adapt to the global economy.(18)

Kyoto’s high-tech companies are global blue-chip firms,(19) whereas the performance of major enterprises like SONY and Toshiba, representing Japan’s economy has faltered recently,(20) the growth rate of the sales of Kyoto’s high tech companies is nearly quadruple that of large enterprises; Kyoto has tripled its business profit while Japan’s has barely maintained its level; Kyoto’s profit margin of sales is also quadruple the nationwide ones. There is striking difference of Return on Asset (ROA) between the Kyoto and the nationwide ones: ROA of Japan ’s producers was lower than the Nikkei 225 in 1998-2000.(21)

The Kyoto high-tech companies draw attention as recession-proof in Japan; this means that they are tough enough in a global economy. Kyoto’s high-tech companies share some characteristics: they build open business relationships with various companies in a global market and occupy a high share of the global market;(22) they are independent from government and corporate groups, and maintain a high capital rate; they specialize in one or the key technology; they have individual founders who have their own philosophy, mostly they are engineers; they run rational managements such as cash flow accounting and ability-ism; they value originality in particular.(23)

These high-tech companies run an applied Kyoto style management: its main points are independence and emphasis on innovation for compartmentalization. Kyoto’s local culture made these uniquely Japanese firms,(24) contrasting against Tokyo’s firms and their full adoption of Western style corporate praxis; Kyoto has been a preserve of an extremely alien culture within Japanese society. One of the characters of Kyoto’s style management, independence, originated from anti-power-oriented Kyotoan-ism as the wisdom to survive in Kyoto.

There is historic-cultural basis for unique Kyotoan-ism. Kyoto had been the capital of Japan for more than one millenium, and an unstable place plagued by political struggle. For instance, Nishijin is a place-name where Nishijin-brocade flourishes and Nishijin means "Western armed camp" in Japanese.(25) This is part of the evidence that there were lots of battles in Kyoto in history. In this unstable situation, people tried to retain independence for the sake of keeping their life. Furthermore, after relocating the capital to Tokyo in 1869, Kyoto people have been the antithesis to Tokyo and have kept their pride: Kyoto is the cultural center of Japan, and has strengthened critical thinking like anti-establishment, anti-centralization, anti-government and anti-affiliated. This independence seems to be risk-taking behavior in Japan; however it actually suits the global free market.(26)

In addition to this independence, Kyoto’s successful companies have pioneered new products to keep a differentiated, segregated market. Newcomers need innovation to produce differential products to enter the market.(27) If companies sell the same products in a small market, they have to engage in a price-cutting war that means cutting each other’s throats, and no one survives in the end. The characteristic of successful companies in Kyoto is to make high value-added products using advanced technology and materials which are not sold elsewhere, and running their business in their own responsibility. Their scales are not large, but they stand out in some fields or niche markets, make highly valued products, and get a high share in that market. This is the wisdom to avoid the rat race in Kyoto’s business world. This strategy is the key to survive in a world market which becomes smaller and smaller under rapid globalization.(28)

Kyoto has a unique culture, idiosyncrasy, as well as ambiguity. Kyoto people had lived with changing power-regimes, and they had to protect their survival, so they don’t show their stance clearly and don’t attack others openly. That brings about individuality and diversity. While normally Japanese society and organizations value harmony and no differentiation of individuality, Kyoto’s individual-minded entrepreneurs have been able to go their own way in their own turf,(29) thanks to ICT, Kyoto’s traditional management style, and the compartmentalization, moving to an open horizontal division of work. In the fierce competition in a global market, where winner takes all, Kyoto’s high-tech companies became the only ones in Japan to the only ones in the world with an external network.


4. Envisioning a Global Civil Society for a Good Future?

People’s quality of life in a globalizing world is dependent on the (de-)coupling from the permanent economic restructuring at local, regional and global level. Take China’s Economic Miracle (over 7% GDP annual growth since the late 1970s, a favorable candidate for the pro-globalization discourse) as an example, there is widespread poverty within affluent urban localities, in addition to a strong a rural-urban divide. The success of China (the so-called: pro-globalization economy) has consequences of social polarization, too: the per capita income of city dwellers in China increased by 8.4%, compared to rural residents of 2.5% (first half 2003), and labour in cities accounted for 70% of the total annual increase.(30) More problematically, it is the mis-matching of education-skills, working experience and ageism with the moving-flexible demands in the labor market; regionally speaking we witness over 25% of unemployment in the Northeastern China (which used to be the economic power house of communist China with predominantly heavy industries) in the provinces of Jinin, Liaoning and Heilongang.

In short, social dualism, resulted from economic liberalization, is further reinforced by the deregulatory policy initiatives that favour the private sector, commodification or privatization of social services. Globally speaking, the present form of informatization of people’s work and societal (virtual) encounters has reinforced a divided society: the information-based formal economy is juxtaposed by a down-graded labor-based informal economy resulting in a spatial structure: a city that combines segregation, diversity, and hierarchy.(31) The ICT enhance a flexible production regime, generating more wealth and global economic activities. Yet, far from developing an equitable and better society, our ICT driven post-material society has produced more social calamity than ever: the digital divide and the formation of the almost permanent under-class, multiple unemployment, early retirement for workers at their forties, within the realm of the advanced high tech and knowledge based new managerialism (See Figure 2). All these are part of the globalization processes. Not exceptionally, all developing economies have been integrated hierarchically into the global system of capitalism, and the process of integration widens the gaps and divisions among communities, countries and regions. By exploiting the socio-economic gaps, TNC and developed countries further promote their domination over developing localities and causing the destruction of cultural diversity and community identity.

Figure 2:

(Source: WCSDG, 2004, p.44. )

At this historical conjuncture, it should be pointed out that, the further deepening of ICT application in general and the mobile technologies in particular will less likely foster a better outlook for those regions which are torn between globalization demands for further reducing the protection for labor, in the name of labor market deregulation, and the under-investment of capital and the shifting of jobs (off-shoring effects) outside the regions. Obviously, there is an urgent need to call for a normative development agenda for the humanization of the ICT - the alternative project of global civil society: equity, participation and social justice in the system of global/local communications.

Yet, the mainstream view of the pro-globalization camp, as articulated in publicity and media campaigns of the IFI (the World Bank and IMF) and their global partners (like WTO, G7/G8 and World Economic Forum), paints a rosy picture for the idea that ‘openness is good for you and the world economy’. Undoubtedly, this presents the orchestrated efforts of the global power (USA), TNC, and nation state governments to pursue their holy crusade for extending and deepening their globalization project.

But the reality of global capitalism is more chaotic and les good than the neo-liberal economic discourse tries to make us believe: the permanence of global poverty, regional economic problems, social exclusions coupled with vulnerable social protection, plus ecological degradation... all these underline the demands for ethical and normative terms for the globalization processes, highlighting the quest for equitable, fair and just trading and economic exchange regime. For this, transnational advocacies networks (TAN) for the empowerment of people at large (the global civil society) should be championed;(32) and the role ICT (mobile communicative actions in a progressive mode) in supporting these initiatives is particularly important, as mobile communicative actions have been, and will be, providing the leverage for the resource-poor and/or under-privileged groups in articulating their justifiable demand for a fair and equitable chance in life.

Fuelled by market and state forces, ICT development by default brings about the necessity for all people to have access to the internet and to mobile communication. Yet, the same process brings about the inevitabe digital divides, along the existing social contours of various fragmentations, segmentations and stratifications such as income, gender, ethnicity and language. The new global project should therefore not just be economics, but for the reinvention of cultural specificity, promoting social equity and safeguarding people’s control over socio-cultural development. The ICT enhanced (wired and wireless, stationary and mobile) communications are a double-edged sword: the net and mobile networks can be a good facilitating agent for global, cross-cultural communications but at the same time, reinforcing the existing fault-lines between the lingua franca and the demising indigenous languages.

For the 20 th century, the predominant development model was pro-growth but not sustainable, regardless of the politics, of capitalist or socialist mode of governance of society and economy. But for the 21 st Century, the real challenge for government and society in the post Cold War era are not just the economic crises and ecologically sustainable development, but also the survival and rejuvenation of cultural diversity in a globalizing world. In the hyper-flexible globalization processes, two differential logics to embrace (challenge) global free market capitalism are obviously shown by the IFI sponsored regime of economic liberalization, and the ICT enhanced global / transnational activism of the TAN. They will be confronting each other in the global / international politics, as long as the struggles for an equitable, fair and just regime of global governance continue. Needless to note that there is a normative dimension for the development: equal opportunity, social justice, E-equity, e-inclusion. It is therefore incumbent on both IFI and TAN to work out feasible way(s) for the humanization of the globalization project - recent attempts by IFI and WTO to take TAN into their developmental dialogues is one to be welcomed!

© Shizuka Abe (Kyoto, Japan)


(1) This paper is derived from an on-going project on Globalization, Social Change and Transnational Activism, headed by Prof. Dr. On-Kwok Lai, funded by Kwansei Gakuin University. The author is an independent researcher and was a research associate at School of Policy Studies, Kwansei Gakuin University.

(2) World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization (WCSDG), Report: A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All, Geneva: International Labor Office, February 2004.

(3) Branko Milanovic, The Two Faces of Globalization: Against Globalization as We Know It. World Development, vol.31, no.4 (2003), pp.667-683.

(4) Vicente Navarro, John Schmitt and Javier Astudillo, "Is Globalisation undermining the Welfare State?" Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol.28. (2004), pp.133-152,

(5) Evelyne Huber and John D. Stephens, Development and Crisis of the Welfare State. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2001.

(6) Branko Milanovic, op.cit. p.679; Martin Ravallion, "Pessimistic on Poverty?", The Economist. 10.April 2004. p.65.

(7) W.L.Bennett, "Communicating Global Activism: Strength and Vulnerabilities of Networked Politics", Information, Communication & Society, vol.6, no.2 (2003), pp.143-168; Jeremy Brecher, Globalization from Below: Power of Solidarity. Toronto: South End Press; David Held and Anthony McGrew, Globalization / Anti-Globalization. Cambridge, Polity Press, 2002.

(8) Details of the anti-globalization protest networking, see:, and

(9) Group 22 includes developing countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Venezuela.

(10) Report of the WCSDG (2004), op.cit.

(11) Heidi K.Ullrich, "Expanding the Trade Debate: The Role of Information in WTO and Civil Society Interaction" in Peter I. Hajnal (ed.) Civil Society in the Informational Age. Aldershot, Ashgate, 2002.

(12) Peter I. Hajnal, "Civil Society Encounters the G7/G8, in Peter I. Hajnal (ed.), op.cit.; W.B. Van de Donk, Brian D. Loader, Dieter Rucht (eds.) Cyberprotest: New Media, Citizens and Social Movement, London, Routledge (2004).

(13) James E. Katz and Ronald E. Rice, Social Consequence of Internet Use, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.

(14) "Japan’s Economy", The Economist, 6 January, 2006, online edition.

(15) Kansai region consists of 6 prefectures in Japan’s 47 prefectures: Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Shiga and Wakayama.

(16) "Kansai comeback", The Economist, 1 April, 2004, online edition.

(17) Hitoshi Mashita, Bencya-Kigyou to Kyoto (The Venture Business and Kyoto), Tokyo: Doyusya, 1999. Innovative enterprises include Nintendo Co., Ltd., Wacoal Corporation and so forth as well as high-tech companies.

(18) Tadao Kagono, "Sekai Sizyou de Ikinokoritakereba Kyoto no Chie ni Manabe (If you want to survive in the global market, learn from the wisdom in Kyoto)", President, 1 October 2001; Chihiro Suematsu, Koichiro Hioki, Naoki Wakabayashi, "Kyoto no Kougyou Syuuseki no Tokusyoku to Cyousen (The Feature and Challenge of Industrial Accumulation in Kyoto)", Sosiki Kagaku (Organizational Science), Vol.36 No.2: 52-63, 2002, pp. 54-63.

(19) Kyoto high-tech companies include Kyocera corporation; Rohm Co., Ltd; Nidec corporation; Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd; Horiba, Ltd; Omron corporation; Tose software co., Ltd; Nichicon Corporation; Japan Storage Battery Co., Ltd; Samuco Inc.

(20) Japan’s producers include Hitachi, Ltd.; Toshiba Corporation; Mitsubishi Electric Corporation; NEC Corporation; Fujitsu Ltd.; Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.; Sony Corporation.

(21) Chihiro Suematsu, Kyoto Kigyou ga Motu Cyou-Nihonteki na Tsuyosa (The Super-Japanese Strength of Kyoto’s Companies), Economisuto (The Economist), 15 th April 2003, pp.54-58; Chihiro Suematsu, Kyouyousiki Keiei (The Kyoto’s style of management), Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shinbun, Inc, 2002.

(22) For instance, Murata holds 80% of ceramic electric components in the world market; Horiba does 80% of the instruments of engine exhaust gas; Nidec does 70% of spindle motors, etc.

(23) Akira Ishikawa and Koji Tanaka, Kyoto Model (The Kyoto Model), Tokyo: Piason Education, 1999; Hiroshi Horiuchi, Kyoto dakara seikousita (The firms could be successful as they are in Kyoto), Kyoto: Yanagihara Syoten, 2001; Chihiro Suematsu, 2003, 2002, op. cit.; Tadao Kagono, 2001, op. cit.

(24) Atsushi Horiba, "Gurobaru Sizyou deno Syousya heno Michi (How to win in the Global Market), Gizyutu to Keizai (Technology and Economy), September, 2000.

(25) Toshihide Akamatsu and Shiro Yamamoto (ed.), Kyoto-fu no Rekisi (The history of Kyoto), Tokyo: Yamakawa Shuppansya, 1982.

(26) Chihiro Suematsu, 2003, 2002, op. cit.

(27) Akira Ishikawa and Koji Tanaka, 1999, op. cit.

(28) Tadao Kagono, 2001, op. cit.

(29) Nihon Keizai Shinbun (ed.), Kyoto (Kyoto), Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsya, 1998; Chihiro Suematsu, 2003, 2002, op. cit.

(30)The Economist, 25 September 2003, online edition.

(31) Manuel Castells, The Rise of Network Society, Oxford, Blackwell, 1996; Manuel Castells, The Internet Galaxy, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001; On-Kwok Lai, op.cit.

(32) Margaret E. Keck and K. Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Nicola Piper and Anders Uhlin (Eds.). Transnational Activism in Asia, London, Routledge, 2004; Van de Donk, Brian D. Loader, Dieter Rucht (eds.), op.cit.

15.1. Transnational Activism, (Cyber-)Cultural (Re-)Presentations and Global Civil Society

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Shizuka Abe (Kyoto, Japan): Mobile Communication, Anti-Globalization Protests and Global Civil Society: Social Agencies in Transnational Advocacies Networks. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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