Original Article

Interest Groups & Advocacy

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 260-278

First online:

Swan song: Transnational advocacy networks and environmental policy in Chile – The case of the Cisnes de Cuello Negro

  • Michael G HuelshoffAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, University of New Orleans Email author 
  • , Christina KielAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, University of New Orleans

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Executive Summary

Transnational advocacy networks (TANs) are receiving increased attention in the international relations literature. One central interest has addressed the efforts of local activists to circumvent hostile domestic governments by appealing abroad (the ‘boomerang hypothesis’). When success in the domestic policy process is denied to civil society actors, they reach out to international partners who in turn pressure the local government. In the parlance of the policy making literature, they ‘venue shop’. These outsiders may be foreign governments, intergovernmental organizations or international non-governmental organizations. Previous studies indicate that international actors can be powerful advocates for local causes who make success of the TAN more likely. This article assesses the boomerang hypothesis by focussing on the network that arose in response to the near-extermination of black-necked swans in the Carlos Anwandter Natural Sanctuary (Chile) after the opening of a pulp mill. Specifically, it explores the complicated relationship of local ‘boomerang throwers’ and international ‘boomerang recipients’. We argue that securing international participants does not guarantee TAN success. In particular, we find that involvement of governmental actors in a TAN lend power to the cause, but at the same time may dilute the mission of the TAN, leading to less-than-optimal outcomes from the perspective of the local campaign initiators. Additionally, we consider how the content of network interactions may influence its structure, which in turn affects the outcome of transnational campaigns. Finally, our research points to the difficulty of assessing success. In the present case, many local Chilean activists were disappointed that the pulp mill they held responsible for environmental damages was not shut down. At the same time, the company in question has become more responsive to demands of environmental sustainability, and the campaign raised environmental awareness in Chile. This exploratory research has important implications for academic research of TANs, as well as for practitioners working on transnational campaigns. Our data suggest caution in employing the ‘boomerang’ mechanism, especially when the international actors are governments. What returns with the boomerang may prove unsatisfying to those throwing it. Relatedly, we find that potential TAN participants must weigh existing relationships with TAN targets against the benefits of joining the TAN. More generally, these findings support the constraints on venue shopping that arise from limited information and venue stickiness. Taken together, these findings suggest a caution for those examining the density of network interactions to measure strength. The content of interactions in a network may be as important as their frequency.


boomerang Chile environmental campaigns transnational advocacy networks