Institutions, Innovation, and Grassroots Change: Alternatives to Transnational Governance in the Global South

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Weinthal, Erika S

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Transnational governance has been advanced as a viable option for regulating commodities produced in emerging economies—where incapable or unwilling states may undersupply institutions requisite for overseeing supply chains consistent with the quality, safety, environmental, or social standards demanded by the global marketplace. Producers from these jurisdictions, otherwise left with few venues for securing market access and price premiums, ostensibly benefit from whatever pathways transnational actors offer to minimize barriers to entry—including voluntary certification for compliance with a panoply of public and private rules, such as those promulgated by NGOs like the Fair Trade Federation or multinational retailers like Wal-Mart. Yet, such transnational “sustainability” governance may neither be effective nor desirable. Regulatory schemes, like third-party certification, often privilege the interests of primary architects and beneficiaries—private business associations, governments, NGOs, and consumers in the global North—over regulatory targets—producers in the global South. Rather than engaging with the international marketplace via imported and externally-driven schemes, some producer groups are instead challenging existing rules and innovating homegrown institutions. These alternatives to commercialization adopt some institutional characteristics of their transnational counterparts yet deliver benefits in a manner more aligned with the needs of producers. Drawing on original empirical cases from Nicaragua and Mexico, this dissertation examines the role of domestic institutional alternatives to transnational governance in enhancing market access, environmental quality and rural livelihoods within producer communities. Unlike the more technocratic and expert-driven approaches characteristic of mainstream governance efforts, these local regulatory institutions build upon the social capital, indigenous identity, “ancestral” knowledge, and human assets of producer communities as new sources of power and legitimacy in governing agricultural commodities.




Embargo extended by 36 months by mjf33 at request of author and approval of Graduate School and dissertation advisor--2018-05-10



Starobin, Shana Miriam (2016). Institutions, Innovation, and Grassroots Change: Alternatives to Transnational Governance in the Global South. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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