Craig M. Kauffman’s Grassroots Global Governance is an exceptionally good book, and an excellent example of the conceptual, theoretical, and empirical value to be gained in “global” environmental politics research by taking local and national contexts and dynamics – indeed comparative politics – seriously.

The book emerges from a coherent, complex, and nuanced comparative and international research agenda, grounded equally in detailed local fieldwork and multiple streams of global environmental politics scholarship. In equal measure, it contributes to and benefits from a growing body of environmental politics work on Ecuador, in Latin America, and across the developing world, as well as much research on global governance. The book’s goals, structure, methods, and theoretical and conceptual content are quite ambitious, earning it a place among the best books in the growing subfield of comparative environmental politics (e.g., by Pamela Martin, Paul Steinberg, Tammy L. Lewis, and Kathryn Hochtstetler).

Kauffman did extensive fieldwork over many years, and the book demonstrates the value of doing so. It is exactly this pairing of place-based, national, and regional expertise common in comparative politics and regional studies with the theories and concepts from international relations and research on transboundary politics that yields some of the richest research. As a result, Grassroots Global Governance combines several streams of theoretical and conceptual international relations and comparative politics research, including research on networks and network-based organizations, mobilization, public sector and civil society capacity building, stakeholder participation, knowledge construction and framing, and policy and organizational experimentation. These streams are well integrated in Kauffman’s theory of grassroots global governance. Likewise, they are well demonstrated in his empirical research, which finds contestation between the local and global, and institutional and agent-centered outcomes around water management, public and civil society institutions, and various groups of actors.

Likewise, Kauffman’s book seamlessly accounts for interacting global governance structures that accumulate in environmental cases. To achieve this he uses an innovative approach called “nodal” governance theory to show how ideas and resources transfer through a network. Kauffman demonstrates how the interaction of stakeholders can lead to a learning process that affects the dynamic and interactive process of normative and institutional development at both local and international levels. This approach illustrates how socioeconomic problems unfold in developing societies. Global governance structures around complex issues like poverty, human health, deforestation, and climate change are all more holistically understood and actions to address these problems are better specified though the resulting research.

The work is persuasive in its examination of the diffusion of ideas and practices from global to local over time; the local adaptations of global norms, ideas, and practices; and the subsequent altering and reshaping of the global via engagement with local agents and social institutions. By tracing these important interactions, Kauffman shows some of the ways that Ecuadorian civil society and local communities are able to shape—or indigenize—global governance ideas and institutions, rather than just being passive recipients of them.

While this book provides powerful examples of grassroots actors agency, Kauffman’s framework should be applied to other important cases to see when and how it is replicated. As we have seen in the literature on grassroots movements for some time (Brysk 1996), such movements may have a variety of case-by-case characteristics that make it difficult to generalize to other issue areas. For instance, grassroots movements are easily hijacked by egocentric or weak leadership. They may also fall prey to the classic collective action problem (Olson 1965), which sometimes make them less successful at maintaining the necessary momentum to reach a truly consequential tipping point. Most importantly, as Kauffman points out, grassroots movements are characteristically reflective of local ideas and identities, and many translations of languages and practices go into building such processes at the grassroots level. Subsequently, in local populations where large parts of society have been historically held back and degraded, we may not find an exact parallel to the indigenous communities of Ecuador.

Despite this, perhaps the most important implication of Kauffman’s work is that the endless either/or debates around top-down versus bottom-up politics are quite stale in comparison to this work’s more dynamic, nuanced, and empirically informed theorizing of ongoing and dynamic relationships between interconnected locally and globally framed actors and institutions. This study can and should be replicated in other countries and across other environmental and non-environmental areas of politics and policymaking.

Kauffman also demonstrates that political science—and social science research more broadly—has much to teach some of the often technocratic and closed environmental management literatures. Integrated water management research and practice is certainly one of these rather insulated communities, and it would benefit greatly from paying close attention to Kauffman’s theorizing and empirical research. In short, research such as this serves to expand our theoretical and empirical understanding of critically important, complex issues in environmental politics, but it also serves to improve the lives of critical stakeholders who have largely been excluded from the equation for some time.

Turning Weakness into Strength: The Internationalization of Indian Rights
Latin American Perspectives
Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups
Cambridge, MA
Harvard University Press