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1 Transnational communities and
Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
The dichotomy of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, as coined originally by
Ferdinand Tönnies, has profoundly shaped the use of the concept of “com-
munity”in the social sciences (Tönnies 2002 ). As shown by Renate
Mayntz in this volume, the term “community,”when used alone and not
qualiﬁed, still tends to suggest close-knit if not primary groups with rich
emotional ties. It also conjures up geography and bounded space, local con-
nectedness and physical proximity.
As such, the concept of community often stands in an awkward position in
the study of contemporary, diﬀerentiated, andindividualist societies. It has been
mobilized descriptively to suggest the resilience of certain traditional ties, even
in the context of rapid individualization and diﬀerentiation (Park and Burgess
1921; Park 1952). It has also been used normatively to argue for the need to
preserve such forms of close-knit social organization in the face of progressive
social anomie and disintegration (Bellah et al. 1985; Putnam 2000). On the
whole, however, the decline of community (Gemeinschaft) has tended to be
contrasted with the progress of Gesellschaft –understood as an association of
individual and diﬀerentiated members coming together more or less perma-
nently, mostly to serve their own interests. In contemporary literature, an urge
to reconcile the term “community”with the evolution of our world –including
the progress of Gesellschaft as a dominant form of social organization more or
less everywhere –is palpable. This urge often manifests itself in the use of the
term in a qualiﬁed fashion –as in “communities of limited liability”(Janowitz
1952), “communities of interest,”“epistemic communities,”or “communities of
practice”(Wenger 1998; Haas 1992a, 1992b; see also Mayntz in this volume).
Exploring the notion of community
We propose that there may be a need to go one step further and to question
altogether the stark dichotomy and evolutionary polarity theorized by
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
Tönnies. In fact, we already ﬁnd support for this proposition in the work of
some of Tönnies’s best known contemporaries.
Moving beyond dichotomies . . .
In a review of Tönnies’book Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (Tönnies 2002
), Emile Durkheim made it clear that he did not follow the logic
advocated by the author to its conclusion. He stopped short, in particular, of
systematically opposing modern society and a sense of community.
Durkheim’s argument was as follows:
I believe that the life of large social aggregates is entirely as natural as that of small
aggregates ... Beyond purely individual movements, there is in our contemporary
societies a genuinely collective activity that is as natural as that of smaller societies of
former times. It is diﬀerent, to be sure; it is of a diﬀerent sort but between these two
species of the same kind, as diﬀerent as they might be, there is no diﬀerence in nature.
(Durkheim 1889: 8)
In his own work, Durkheim contrasted societies regulated by “mechanical
solidarity”on the one hand and those characterized by what he called “organic
solidarity”on the other (Durkheim 1984 ). The latter type of societies
reﬂected the progress of diﬀerentiation and individualization, as well as
organic complementarities symbolized by an intense division of labor. Still,
according to Durkheim, even in the most modern of our societies the social
link normally should not disappear. That is, it could, but in that case we would
be on the way towards social pathology –characterized in particular by
anomie and revealed by increasing rates of suicide (Durkheim 1997 ).
The social link, the collective consciousness, the totem that brought group or
society members together was naturally bound to change its form in those
societies. Its profound nature and function, however, essentially remained
unchanged. As Durkheim argued:
no society can exist that does not feel the need at regular intervals to sustain and
reaﬃrm the collective feelings and ideas that constitute its unity and personality.
(Durkheim 2001 : 322)
A complete reading of the work of Durkheim thus suggests the persistence
of community in the midst of society, not as an archaic remnant but as a
reinvented and adapted form of social connection.
If we look closely, we ﬁnd that Max Weber reached similar conclusions, also
taking his distance, as it were, from Tönnies’s strong dichotomy. Weber
4 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
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contrasted communal social relations and associative ones. A social relation-
ship he called “communal”(Vergemeinschaftung)“if and so far as the orienta-
tion of social action is based on a subjective feeling of the parties, whether
aﬀectual or traditional, that they belong together.”In contrast, he labeled
“associative”(Vergesellschaftung) those relationships where “the orientation
of social action rests on a rationally motivated adjustment of interests or a
similarly motivated agreement, whether the basis of rational judgment be
absolute values or reasons of expediency”(Weber 1978: 40). Weber’s level of
analysis was the relationship and not society as a whole. This allowed him to
bypass the evolutionary polarity proposed by Tönnies. This level of analysis
made it possible to acknowledge and allow for the permanent coexistence –to
diﬀerent degrees and in diﬀerent forms, naturally –of a sense of community
and associative diﬀerentiation. According to Weber,
[t]he great majority of social relationships has this characteristic [communal] to some
degree, while being at the same time to some degree determined by associative
factors. ... Every social relationship that goes beyond the pursuit of immediate
common ends, which hence lasts for long periods, involves relatively permanent
social relationships between the same persons and these cannot be exclusively con-
ﬁned to the technically necessary activities. (Weber 1978: 41)
What we can draw from this is that any social aggregate coming together around
a common end, objective, or project for a certain period of time could eventually
come to exhibit a sense of community. This would naturally vary in degree,
intensity, and forms of expression. Weber provides us with further tools to
recognize community when we see it. The simple existence, he tells us, of a
common situation, common modes of behavior, or a common feeling is not
enough to allow us to talk of community. A communal relationship implies, ﬁrst
of all, a relationship. This means that individuals in a similar situation or
predicament should come to do more than simply coexist. They should engage
with each other and reciprocally around that situation or predicament. The social
relationship that emerges in the process can become “communal”if this reci-
procal engagement generates “feelings of belonging together”(Weber 1978: 42).
Georg Simmel proposed a slightly diﬀerent but compatible approach to the
issue, also distancing himself somewhat from the strong dichotomy suggested
by Tönnies. Simmel saw the progress of individualization as coming together
with a transformation (and not the disappearance) of social bonds. Individual
diﬀerentiation came together, in fact, with an opening up of narrow social
circles and with the emergence of new forms of social belonging. In reality,
individualization opened up the possibility of and created the need for
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belonging to a multiplicity of more or less interconnected social groups or
communities. In the words of Simmel,
diﬀerentiation and individualization loosen the bond of the individual with those who
are most near in order to weave in its place a new one –both real and ideal –with
those who are more distant. (Simmel 1971: 256)
The use of a counterexample allows him to clarify this argument further:
The insularity of the caste [in India] –maintained by an internal uniformity no less
strict than its exclusion of outsiders –seems to inhibit the development of what one
has to call a more universal humanity, which is what makes relationships between
racial aliens possible. (Simmel 1971: 256)
In other words, social links, group belonging, and community feeling do not
disappear with the progress of diﬀerentiation and individualization –far from
it. The meaning and form associated with these notions is certainly bound to
change in the process. But in the event we might even witness an intensiﬁca-
tion of the possibilities for social belonging and hence a multiplication of
Norbert Elias makes a diﬀerent and quite interesting contribution to this
discussion (Elias 1974). He also moves away from the stark dichotomy
theorized by Tönnies, while calling for a recontextualization of the study of
communities. The development and transformation of communities, he
argues, cannot be understood in isolation from the development of society
as a whole, particularly in relation to state formation. Communities exist, Elias
tells us, in less or more diﬀerentiated societies alike but their features and
structures vary markedly, depending on the degree of diﬀerentiation of the
society. In more diﬀerentiated societies, communities tend to be less diﬀer-
entiated. The process is the following. As societies become more complex and
diﬀerentiated, many of the prerogatives and decision-making powers tradi-
tionally exercised at the community level move upwards and are taken up at
higher levels of integration (that is, at the level of the region or of the nation-
state). In Elias’s own words: “The scope and diﬀerentiation of functions at the
community level decreases as those at other levels of integration [national in
particular, authors’comment] increase”(Elias 1974: xxxi–xxxii).
. . . to a focus on process
These types of contingency perspectives on communities turn our attention to
dynamics and processes. Seen from this angle, communities are no longer static,
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essentialist structures. They are ﬂuid, relational constructs, constantly on the
move and in process. We should consider, rather than communities, processes
of community formation, maintenance, decline, and even disintegration.
Weber has underscored the importance of “time”in community-building –
a“time”that could be reduced to more or less “long periods,”but did not
suggest eternity. According to Weber, social aggregates coming together
around common ends, objectives, projects, or identity-building can poten-
tially become communities –and one of the conditions for this is their
inscription in time (Weber 1978: 40–43). Community-building and mainte-
nance are very much processes set in time. Weber did not take the next step,
but one can easily extend the argument to consider community decline or
disintegration. A community that has been built up and sustained over time
could certainly become threatened, weakened, or even destroyed, too, under
certain conditions and pressures. Hence, any kind of community should be
understood as a time-bound entity and construction, and not as a necessary,
permanent, timeless, or essential collective.
Simmel provides a slightly diﬀerent perspective on this question of tempor-
ality. In less diﬀerentiated societies, community-belonging has a tendency to
be quite stable and limited to a small number of proximate groups that the
individual, on the whole, does not “choose.”In a diﬀerentiated and indivi-
dualized society, every single one of us enjoys much greater freedom to
associate with or, on the contrary, to leave or dissociate from diﬀerent social
circles or communities. Hence, individual involvement in particular commu-
nities could turn out to be only temporary –naturally with a great deal of
variation. Morris Janowitz (1952) comes up with a vivid image of what this
implies. He coins the term “community of limited liability”to describe the
temporal inscription of community involvement and belonging. The notion of
“community of liability”
emphasizes that in a highly mobile society, people may participate extensively in local
institutions and develop community attachments, yet be prepared to leave those
communities if local conditions fail to satisfy immediate needs or aspirations.
(Suttles 1972: 48)
Janowitz originally coined this term to describe the partial and temporally
bound involvement of individuals in local communities. However, the notion
can apply more broadly to communities in general, even when they are not
associated with local territory or physical proximity. According to Janowitz,
the notion of “community of limited liability”also suggested the possibility
that members were diﬀerentially involved and invested at any point in time.
7 Transnational communities and governance
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A community did not imply, nor did it require, the same type of intense
involvement on the part of all its members. In fact, a community could even
survive with only a small minority of “active custodians.”The rest of the
membership could be connected in a more passive manner (Janowitz 1952;
Suttles 1972: 9).
The contingency perspective can be taken one step further. We can think of
communities as being actively constructed and shaped over time by members
or individuals involved in one way or another. The web of multiple group
aﬃliations, as described by Simmel (1955 ), suggests a multiplicity of
latent identities that can all generate community mobilization. Out of their
situated interactions with many diﬀerent “others,”people select and give
priority to certain relations and connections. Over time, naturally, we should
not forget that orders of priority may change. Hence, a particular individual
may give priority through time to diﬀerent relations and connections. If
reciprocated, the orientation to particular relations can become the founda-
tion of community construction. Processes of community construction imply,
in turn, the stabilization of collective identities. These collective identities, at
any point in time, unite but also diﬀerentiate a given member set. The
construction of communities hence also implies in parallel the setting up
and structuration of social boundaries. Exclusion and separation are the
other face of community inclusion and belonging.
The notion of social boundaries is an old one in sociology, at the core of the
classical contributions of Durkheim, Weber, and Marx. Social boundaries are
“called into being by the exigencies of social interaction”and become estab-
lished as “communities interact in some ways or others with entities from
which they are, or wish to be distinguished”(Cohen 1985: 12). The collective
identity of a community thus becomes constituted through the dialectical
interplay of processes of internal but also external deﬁnition (Jenkins 1996;
Lamont and Molnár 2002). Simmel went a step further in the exploration of
the notion of social boundaries when he placed the individual at the center of
multiple group aﬃliations. Boundary-making and boundary-spanning activ-
ities should be conceived, then, as happening in parallel, across and between a
multiplicity of communities. This obviously generates signiﬁcant complexity
and ﬂuidity, and calls for a focus on dynamics and processes.
The symbolic construction of community
Simmel’s argument that diﬀerentiation and individualization mean both a
weakening of local links and a greater likelihood of community bonds at a
8 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
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distance points us towards the symbolic dimension of communities. This
symbolic construction is attributable both to the members of those commu-
nities and to those standing outside, all the more as they exchange and
interact. Cliﬀord Geertz deﬁned man as “an animal suspended in the webs
of signiﬁcance he himself has spun”(1975: 5). For a number of contemporary
social anthropologists and sociologists, communities are best understood as
being progressively turned or woven into symbolic constructs. As such, a
community becomes for individual members “a resource and repository of
meaning, and a referent of their identity”(Cohen 1985: 118).
The notion of symbolic construction makes communities conceivable even
in the absence of direct and regular contact or interaction. Benedict Anderson
argued as much when he explored the emergence of nations as “imagined
communities”(Anderson 2006). In his words:
A community is imagined if its members will never know most of their fellow-
members, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the mind of each lives the image
of their communion. (Anderson 2006: 6)
Anderson describes the emergence of nation-states as reﬂecting the symbolic
construction of a unique type of political community. Towards the end of the
eighteenth century, the nation as a community developed out of the conﬂu-
ence and convergence of diﬀerent historical forces. The nation-state emerged
progressively as an imagined community bounded by well-deﬁned borders
and acting as a sovereign entity in –at least theoretical –independence of
others. The development of capitalism combined with the emergence of
publishing to allow for the emergence of those imagined communities.
Nation-states as imagined communities were then shaped in distinctive
ways by social groups in diﬀerent parts of the world. Local languages often
played an important if not determinant role in the mobilization of a perceived
common identity in those young nations. Once it had been established, the
nation as an imagined community attained the character of a model. It was
then diﬀused, applied, merged, and fused, across the world, with diﬀerent
political and ideological frames.
While the nation as an imagined community has in many respects unique
features, it nevertheless shares its symbolic character with many other types of
communities. Benedict Anderson acknowledges as much when he proposes
that “all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact
(and perhaps even these) are imagined”(Anderson 2006: 6). All communities
thus could be envisioned and redeﬁned as “imagined communities.”What
makes the nation unique and distinct as a community is that symbolic
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construction there largely transcends the social links connecting members.
Furthermore, the success of the nation and associated nation-state as a model
is quite unparalleled. This model has diﬀused and institutionalized success-
fully across the world as a core imagined political and social community.
Imagined communities are collective attractors but they are also polarizing
entities. The imagined community is constituted as much through shared
belonging and meaning inside as through diﬀerentiation and separation from
the outside. Social anthropologist Anthony Cohen summarizes this quite well
when he claims that
[t]he quintessential referent of community is that its members make, or believe they
make, a similar sense of things either generally or with respect to speciﬁc and
signiﬁcant interests, and, further, that they think that that sense may diﬀer from
one made elsewhere. (Cohen 1985: 16)
This should not be taken to mean that imagined communities are perfectly
homogeneous and tightly bounded spheres, however. In fact, imagined com-
munities do not necessarilysuggest the same things for all their members. Their
very nature as “webs of signiﬁcance”or “webs of meaning”leaves room for
variation. Even though a sense of belonging can be broadly shared, the parti-
cular meaning associated with the community, as well as the understanding of
community boundaries, can vary between members. While communities are
constituted by culture and function as culture, they also generate and deﬁne
“tool kits”that members –or for that matter non-members –can use to
strategize upon the further development and symbolic constitution of those
communities (Swidler 1986). An understanding of communities as being at the
same time relational, social, and symbolic constructs allows us to conceive of
communities as being diﬀerentially homogeneous with respect to shared mean-
ings. Some communities can be relatively uniform and exhibit“a common way
of thinking, feeling and believing”(Kluckhohn 1962: 25). Diﬀerentiated socie-
ties might be populated, on the other hand, by increasing numbers of internally
more pluralist communities, consisting of a mélange or variety of ways of
thinking, feeling, and believing that diﬀerent members attach to the community.
Of course, there are limits to such aggregation. The community can be a
container of diversities –but within bounds. At the same time as the com-
munity can accommodate diversities it also keeps them within limits. In the
words of Cohen:
The triumph of community is to so contain this variety that its inherent discordance
does not subvert the apparent coherence which is expressed by its boundaries. If the
members of a community come to feel that they have less in common with each other
10 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
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than they have with the members of some other community, clearly, the boundaries
have become anomalous and the integrity of the “community”they enclose has been
severely impugned. (Cohen 1985: 20)
Taking stock –what does it take to talk of “community”?
This exploration of classical and more current debates around the notion of
community allows us to draw up a number of propositions. The progress of
diﬀerentiation and individualization associated with modern and postmodern
societies neither destroys nor threatens the possibility of community feeling.
Traditional communities can survive even if they come to be transformed. But
what is more interesting is the increasing possibility for diﬀerent forms of
community-building. In more diﬀerentiated and individualized societies,
individuals have the possibility to enter into and belong to a multiplicity of
more or less open, more or less interconnected, more or less distant commu-
nities. These communities reﬂect and build upon social interactions but they
are also symbolic constructions. A rethinking of community along the lines
proposed here makes it possible to think of community-building even in the
absence of local territory and physical proximity (see also Mayntz in this
volume). It shows, furthermore, that an imagined community, once estab-
lished, is conceivable even in the absence of much direct and regular interac-
tion or social interconnection.
Hence, we can propose here that territory and physical proximity, not to
mention direct interaction, are neither necessary nor deﬁning components of
the concept of community. Territory, physical proximity, and direct interac-
tion deﬁne one particular form –important, but only one amongst others –in
which a sense of community has expressed itself and expresses itself in human
history. We suggest moving away from rigid evolutionary frames and from a
picture of social transformation that follows a linear sense of time –where, for
example, tightly knit and localized communities would precede in time dis-
tant, loosely tied, and more diﬀerentiated communities. Only then can we
understand and explain the existence, as early as the Middle Ages, of com-
munities that had little to do with a traditional sense of Gemeinschaft.
Anderson describes what he calls “classical”or “pre-national”communities,
which existed and thrived in spite of physical distance, “virtuality,”absence of
common territory, and even lack of direct interaction, and this well before the
kind of technologies we are familiar with today. The Roman Catholic Church,
its associated “European”universities, and the transregional commercial
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guilds are amongst the examples that Anderson identiﬁes and discusses
(Anderson 2006: 15).
Moving from there, it is easy to understand that similarity and homogeneity–
particularly those stemming from ascriptive characteristics –are not indis-
pensable either. They can naturally serve as the basis of community-building,
but community-building is also possible around a limited convergent object
with an only partial sense of belonging between individuals that remain
otherwise profoundly diﬀerent. Community-building in an individualizing
and diﬀerentiating society might increasingly be taking place through the
relational and symbolic connection of individuals, who might be extremely
diﬀerent from each other in many respects. Community-building might be
happening successfully in spite of these diﬀerences (Simmel 1971: 251ﬀ.).
Finally, a related reﬂection leads us to question also the absolute requirement
of long-term, if not permanent, bonds as the measure of community, as often
assumed in classical community studies (Bell and Newby 1974). The under-
standing of community as promoted in particular by Weber and Simmel, and
later on by Janowitz, points to much more ﬂexible conﬁgurations, in which
individuals can be connected to communities for only a limited period of time
and communities themselves are social forms changing signiﬁcantly through
To bring together and summarize this discussion, we would therefore
suggest that a number of attributes traditionally associated with the notion
of community are possible but not necessary. They deﬁne and characterize
certain types of community, but a community does not have to exhibit those
features in order to be one. Below is a list of those possible but non-necessary
!Direct and regular interactions
!Similarity and homogeneity
!Permanence and stability
If these attributes are not necessary to the concept of community, the next
question concerns which dimensions in fact structure and deﬁne that concept.
What does it take to talk of “community”? Building upon the discussion we
had above, at this point we can oﬀer a proposition.
We can talk of community when a social aggregate is characterized by the
mutual orientation of members. This mutual orientation is articulated around
a common –constructed or imagined –identity and/or a common project.
12 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
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This mutual orientation creates a form of dependence between members. The
common identity or project, furthermore, is constructed, sustained, or
defended through a form of active engagement and involvement on the part
of at least a minority of members. All this activity translates into and sustains a
sense of belonging. The bullets below are a summary presentation of those
constitutive dimensions or necessary attributes.
!Mutual orientation of members;
!Articulated around a common identity and/or a common project;
!A sense of reciprocal dependence;
!A form of active engagement and involvement from at least a minority of
!All this translating into and sustaining a sense of belonging.
Bringing the notion of community into the study
of transnational phenomena
In the notion of the nation as imagined community, the symbolic construct
reaches well beyond direct social relations and physical networks. The nation
as imagined community implies a sense of belonging to a social and political
formation much larger than the local and face-to-face communities that the
concept of Gemeinschaft traditionally summons up. The nation as a commu-
nity carries with it a symbolic meaning with potentially signiﬁcant scope and
reach. Anderson provided a convincing description of how, in the process of
nation-building, one particular social identity among others came to be carved
out and shaped as a collectively shared mindset (Anderson 2006 ).
Anderson also underscored the important institutional work involved in the
stabilization and diﬀusion of that mindset, in particular through the socializa-
tion and control of current members and future generations.
Our world, however, can no longer be understood –if it ever could –as
expressing an international “concert of nations,”where national sovereignty
combines with a Westphalian “balance of power.”Most spheres of economic
and social life, in most corners of the world, are not only constrained by
national communities and their associated institutions but also become
enmeshed in transnational dynamics. We live in a world in which order-
creating capacities are no longer reducible to nation-state power (Held 1995).
Transnational governance has been a reality of our world for quite some time.
The nation-state is not disappearing but it has to accept the signiﬁcance of
13 Transnational communities and governance
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transnational governance and adapt to it (Jordana and Levi-Faur 2004; Djelic
and Sahlin-Andersson 2006; Djelic and Quack 2008; Graz and Nölke 2008).
The current ﬁnancial and economic crisis will possibly only reinforce this
trend, and calls for global governance with more bite are being heard in all
policy-making circles (for example, Daily Telegraph 2008; Zeng 2008; G20
We need, as a consequence, to ﬁt our conceptual tools to the multi-
level nature of contemporary governance (Djelic and Quack 2008). We
suggest in that context that bringing the notion of community into the
study of transnational governance can be extremely useful.
Naturally, we do not have to start from scratch. First, we can draw inspira-
tion and insights from various contributions that have brought the notion of
community to the study of global processes –such as migration, social and
political activism, or expertise. Second, we can build upon a budding attempt
to consider transnational governance ﬁelds as social but also potentially
symbolic arenas (Morgan 2001; Djelic and Sahlin-Andersson 2006). In the
remainder of this section, we explore those diﬀerent contributions to see what
happens when we bring the notion of community into the study of transna-
Aﬁrst important strand of literature points to the increasing geographical
extension, across local and national borders, of “natural”communities, that is,
communities based on ascriptive characteristics such as ethnicity or kinship
(Wyman 1993; Soysal 1994; Portes 2000). In a seminal article, Alejandro
Portes (2000: 254) states:
What common people have done, in response to the process of globalization, is to
create communities that sit astride political borders and that, in a very real sense, are
“neither here nor there”but in both places simultaneously.
Transnational communities, in that sense, are composed primarily of
migrants and of relatives and friends of migrants. Those communities tend
to be seen as emerging from the aggregation of multiple grassroots initiatives.
They are cultural and social containers, reproducers and transformers. They
facilitate local integration while at the same time maintaining real and sym-
bolic connections with the original cradle of the community. They can
articulate themselves around political projects both in the home and the
host countries but also very much at the interconnection of the two.
Communities constructed around processes of transnational migration
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often also have an economic dimension and reality. They embed and generally
facilitate microeconomic initiatives. The latter tend to materialize around the
exploitation of structural advantages stemming from the existence of national
borders and/or from the capacity of members of the community to cross those
borders. According to Portes, transnational economic activity of this kind has
a cumulative and aggregative character, which means in the end
the transformation of the original pioneering economic ventures into transnational
communities, characterized by dense networks across space and by an increasing
number of people that lead dual lives. Members are at least bilingual; move easily
between diﬀerent cultures; frequently maintain homes in two countries; and pursue
economic, political, and cultural interests that require a simultaneous presence in
both. (Portes 2000: 264)
Not all migrants, naturally, can thus be labeled “transnational.”Portes sug-
gests instead that the term should be reserved for those activities that require
the involvement of participants on a “regular basis as a major part of their
occupation”(Portes 2000: 264). Nor does every migration network constitute
a community. Instead, mutual orientation and a shared sense of identity and
belonging may vary among the members of networks, and in some instances
may be absent altogether.
Recent migration studies have increasingly pointed to everyday practices,
artifacts, and ideas as making sense of the complexity of inter-related social
relationships in migration networks (Vertovec 2001). This body of work
suggests that migrant and diaspora communities are often “pluri-local”in
the sense that their members maintain multiple and overlapping ties to their
region or place of departure, as well as to their place of arrival. The malleability
and changeability of migrant communities becomes particularly apparent in
what Ludger Pries (2001: 67) identiﬁes as “transmigrants”.
Transmigrants are moving in new pluri-local transnational social spaces where
individual and collective biographical life projects, everyday life as well as the real
“objective”sequence of life stations span between diﬀerent geographical-spatial
The notion of “transnational social spaces”has, as Thomas Faist (2000: 13)
recognizes, broadened the scope of migration studies. Beyond the movement
of people, migration studies should also consider the transnational circulation
of ideas, symbols, and material culture. Faist goes on to propose a typology of
transnational social spaces. His ﬁrst type, “kinship groups,”is predicated on
ties of reciprocity. His second type, “transnational circuits,”is structured by
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instrumental exchange-based connections. For his third type he uses the label
“transnational community”in a way that is perfectly compatible with the
propositions we oﬀered in the previous section. According to Faist, “transna-
tional communities”are based on diﬀuse solidarity with a collective identity
(Faist 2000: 202–10).
The notion of transnational social spaces also raises questions about the
often presumed social and cultural homogeneity of transnational migrant
communities. The success of Chinese business networks, in particular, is
often portrayed as a by-product of a closely knit and culturally homogenous
diaspora community. Heidi Dahles (in this volume), in contrast, shows that
this community is both “socially constructed and mediated through institu-
tional and policy frames, and therefore better described as a loosely connected
patchwork of partly converging and partly conﬂicting practices and princi-
ples.”In other instances, transnational circuits of exchange between diﬀerent
ethnic groups might give rise to strategizing that leads to the formation of
trans-ethnic business communities. The case of the shuttle traders in Laleli,
Istanbul, studied by Mine Eder and Özlem Öz (in this volume) provides an
example of such a newly formed trans-ethnic and translocal community
which is nourished by its members partly for –but cannot be reduced entirely
to –economic reasons. Overlaps of multiple group aﬃliation and entangled
economic and social motivations can also be observed among Chinese- and
Indian-born engineers who have worked in Silicon Valley and use their
double-community aﬃliation to transfer technical and institutional know-
how back to the economies of their or their parents’home country (Saxenian
In sum, the most interesting recent contribution of transnational migration
studies is to make us go through the looking glass. Apparently homogeneous
and closely knit ascriptive communities in fact turn out to be socially con-
structed, hence malleable and open to transformations over time as interac-
tions of their members unfold across multiple group aﬃliations and locations.
A second strand of literature considers the progress of transnational social
formations that are activated by and around social or political issues, common
goals or interests. Interestingly, this literature has, on the whole, not used or
appropriated the term “community,”preferring terms such as “networks”or
“social movements”(Smith et al. 1997; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Katzenstein
et al. 1999; Guidry et al. 2000; Smith and Johnston 2002; Tarrow 2005).
16 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink (1998) come close to the notion of
transnational community, even though they do not use the word. Keck and
Sikkink propose that
a transnational advocacy network includes those relevant actors working interna-
tionally on an issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse,
dense exchanges of information and services. (Keck and Sikkink 1998: 2)
The authors talk of “networks”rather than of “communities.”Still, the descrip-
tion they propose of transnational advocacy networks as “communicative
structures,”as “political spaces, in which diﬀerently situated actors negotiate –
formally and informally –the social, cultural, and political meanings of their
joint enterprise”(Keck and Sikkink 1998: 3) suggests that they are, at least
implicitly, talking about transnational networks that, in certain instances, come
close to being communities. Keck and Sikkink focus primarily on how transna-
tional advocacy networks are able to aﬀect policy outcomes and implementa-
tion, in particular through the reformulation of issues and the reframing of
debates. This is directly applicable to our preoccupation with transnational
governance processes –including regulatory outcomes and their implementa-
tion. Still, Keck and Sikkink pay much less attention to the social interactions
that might in time transform networks into communities with actor-like qua-
lities. In contrast, Mark Schrad in this volume is interested in the process
through which a budding transnational activist network with a focus on tem-
perance could, in time and step-by-step, turn into what was eﬀectively a
transnational imagined community.
The work of Sidney Tarrow takes us in complementary and quite interest-
ing directions. Tarrow explores the role and importance of transnational
social formations that bring together around a common goal and/or common
values a multiplicity of heterogeneous members (Tarrow 2005). According to
Tarrow, transnational activists are
individuals and groups who mobilize domestic and international resources and
opportunities to advance claims on behalf of external actors, against external oppo-
nents, or in favor of goals they hold in common with transnational allies. (Tarrow
Tarrow focuses on the relational dimension of transnational activist groups as
networks of heterogeneous members. Like Keck and Sikkink, he is much less
explicit when it comes to symbolic interaction and to the development of
shared understandings and meanings within those groups. Tarrow tends to
understand cosmopolitan identities as mostly the products of social relations
17 Transnational communities and governance
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
and he suggests, as a consequence, a focus on the relational roots of those
identities. Åge Mariussen (in this volume) is also particularly interested in the
reconciliation of diversities and heterogeneities through a common project or
agenda with transnational reach. However, he proposes to explore, beyond
mere social and relational dimensions, the ways in which activist networks
come in time to exhibit community-like features in spite of great diversity.
Similarly, Leonhard Dobusch and Sigrid Quack, and Anca Metiu (in this
volume) focus their analyses on how locally rooted activists campaigning for
open content copyright licenses and free/open software by means of virtual
networking join like-minded groups from other locations in transnational
social movements with shared orientations, mutual dependency, and com-
mon sets of norms and goals.
Tarrow’s cosmopolitans are, interestingly, “rooted cosmopolitans,”and
undeniably this is one source of diversity or heterogeneity within transnational
social formations (see also Cohen 1992). This insight and the associated
qualiﬁcation of “cosmopolitanism”are important, we suggest, for our argument.
As we project the notion of community into transnational arenas, we should
not forget that potential members of transnational communities remain at the
very same time embedded and rooted in other, often national or more local
communities. In particular, as actors move their activities, experiences, and
cognitive references beyond and outside the boundaries of the nation-state(s)
to which they belong, they remain linked and connected to those nation-states
in various other ways. The degree, intensity, and nature of the links vary
and are essentially matters for empirical investigation. In the end, however,
we should not forget that transnational networks and communities have this
dual character. The members of transnational networks and communities
are simultaneously aﬃliated with (multiple) networks and communities of
national, regional, or local scope. Out of those multi-level forms of aﬃliation
and association, complementarities as well as conﬂicts in social roles and
identities are likely to evolve. We suggest that a focus on the interaction between
the local/national and the transnational is necessary to reach a better under-
standing of the nature and role of transnational communities. Only then can we
identify and theorize the mechanisms turning transnational networks into
transnational communities. Only then can we hope to understand and account
for the speciﬁc features and functions of transnational communities as they
broker across multiple boundaries. Most chapters in this volume provide clear
evidence of rooted cosmopolitanism –although there is considerable variation
as regards how deep the roots go. Most chapters also document the fact that
this is not incompatible with processes of transnational community formation.
18 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
Transnational knowledge and expertise
A third interesting strand of literature points to the constitution of transna-
tional networks or communities in the process of knowledge production and
diﬀusion. Relevant concepts are professional and epistemic communities, as
well as communities of practice.
Professional communities have typically been conceived as constituted
within modern societies bounded by nation-states, or as a “community within
a community”(Goode 1957). In this context, professions denote occupational
groups that, based on their abstract knowledge and practical expertise, pursue
what Margali Sarfatti Larson (1977) called a “common professional project”:
exclusive control over the exercise of particular knowledge and expertise in a
speciﬁc jurisdiction based on educational credentials and recognition by the
state (Abbott 1988). Professionalization in this sense inevitably involves the
formation and development of a community where members share common
professional norms and ethics, and orient their individual and group activities
towards a shared collective goal and feeling of solidarity. While cross-border
communication and exchange between professional communities has
occurred for a long time through international conferences and associations,
the contemporary period of globalization suggests the possibility of a more
profound transformation of professional communities, in particular through
Research on the growth and internationalization of professional service
ﬁrms in ﬁelds such as accounting, consulting, and law has pointed to the
emergence of international networks of professionals (McKenna et al. 2003;
Morgan and Quack 2005; Faulconbridge and Muzio 2007) and the increasing
authority of expert knowledge in many transnational governance ﬁelds (Cutler
2008) and world society in general (Meyer et al. 1997). The spread of this
transnational professionalism, however, is more often than not based on a
diﬀuse public recognition of knowledge and expertise in dealing with highly
specialized and complex matters rather than on the classical control over
licenses to practice exercised by professional associations or the state (see
Fourcade  on the global profession of economists, and Kuhlmann
and Saks  on new forms of professional governance of health). In this
volume, Glenn Morgan and Izumi Kubo, Asma Hussain and Marc Ventresca,
and Carlos Ramirez, explore the degree to which transnational professionalism
of this novel type gives rise to transnational communities of experts and
practitioners and how they impact on previously insulated national profes-
19 Transnational communities and governance
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
While professional communities start from a national base, epistemic
communities, as conceived by Peter Haas, are from the outset involved with
“problems of global concern”(Haas 1992a: 1) and therefore are transnational
in reach. In an attempt to explain the formation of policy preferences of state
actors in international politics, Haas has drawn attention to the notion of
epistemic community as
a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular
domain and authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within that domain or
issue area. (Haas 1992a: 3)
Epistemic communities may consist of professionals from a variety of dis-
ciplines, but they usually have a shared set of principled beliefs, common
causal beliefs, shared notions of validity, and a common policy enterprise.
Empirical studies of epistemic communities point to their inﬂuence in shaping
policy agendas at the international and national level (Drake and Nicolaïdis
1992; Haas 1992b; Verdun 1999). While most of the epistemic communities
studied by Haas and his colleagues involved only a small number of members,
transnational epistemic communities can be also “faceless”with members
having direct interactions only with small subsets of the community (see, for
example, the scientiﬁc epistemic communities discussed by Renate Mayntz in
this volume). They are also characterized by the absence of ascriptive bonds
and possibly even by a fair amount of diversity and heterogeneity within the
Nevertheless, epistemic communities have all it takes, eﬀectively to be
communities. They are characterized by the mutual orientation of their
members, one which is articulated around common cognitive and/or value
frames and generally translates into some form of reciprocal dependence.
They also exhibit a degree of engagement and involvement from at least a
minority of members. This combines with socialization mechanisms that have
a broader impact. In the process, this translates into and sustains a real sense
of belonging and collective identity. While epistemic communities are
increasingly transnational, their members are likely to retain some form of
local or national presence, embeddedness, inﬂuence, and even authority. As
the contributions by Dieter Plehwe, and Leonhard Dobusch and Sigrid Quack
(in this volume) show, this combination can allow those communities to be
powerful mechanisms at the interface between transnational and national
spheres of governance. While Dobusch and Quack in their study of an
epistemic community of copyright lawyers show how an originally US-
based community of experts gradually extended across borders and was
20 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
inﬂuential all along the rule-setting process, Plehwe points to the transna-
tional discourse community of neoliberal intellectuals that has generated the
principled beliefs underlying the activities and goals of many contemporary
“Community of practice”is yet another concept that refers to transnational
collectives occupied with the development of knowledge and expertise. Etienne
Wenger (1998) used the term to describe like-minded groups of practitioners
who are oriented towards a shared interest in learning and applying a common
practice. Communities of practice operate within a knowledge domain that
endows practitioners with a sense of a joint enterprise. People become a
community of practice through relationships of mutual engagement that bind
“members together into a social entity.”Shared practices, in turn, are main-
tained by a repertoire of communal resources, such as routines and discursive
patterns (Wenger 1998: 72–85). Communities of practice are in principle open
to outsiders because their main purpose is to introduce newcomers to the
practices of the ﬁeld, as well as to further develop the knowledge and capabil-
ities of their members. As knowledge accrues through interaction between
members, communities of practice become social entities of collective learning.
More than through direct and regular contacts, the social “glue”in such
communities is produced by a sharing of practices and discourse. Communities
of practice can have highly dispersed memberships across a multiplicity of
countries that are rarely in direct contact. Such communities of practice are
likely to exist in many knowledge domains, including technology, manage-
ment, ﬁnance, law and accounting, and education, but have rarely been
studied in their transnational dimension. In this volume, Anca Metiu explores
the potential of a virtual online community of free/open source developers for
knowledge transfer between industrialized and developing countries. She
ﬁnds positive spillover eﬀects that go beyond the transfer of mere program-
ming knowledge and foster social organization in regionalized subcommu-
nities of practice. Tim Bartley and Shawna Smith (in this volume) show how
originally localized small communities gave rise to transnational communities
of certiﬁcation practitioners and how initially separate certiﬁcation commu-
nities in the ﬁelds of forest certiﬁcation and labor are becoming increasingly
A slightly diﬀerent but related use of communities of practice can be found
among scholars of international relations. Building on the work of Karl
Deutsch and colleagues (1957) in Political Community and the North
Atlantic Area, which highlighted the importance of communication between
states and mutual responsiveness for the emergence of security communities,
21 Transnational communities and governance
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
more recent work draws attention to the role of deliberation and learning in
transgovernmental and transnational policy networks (Nye and Keohane
1971; Risse-Kappen 1994, 1995). Emanuel Adler, in particular, has investi-
gated communities of practice in international politics (Adler 2005). In his
work on the expansion of the NATO security community to states in Central
and Eastern Europe during the 1990s, Adler (2008) shows how political
practice among NATO oﬃcials fostered learning among old and new mem-
bers, transformed goals and identities, and helped to institutionalize a norm of
While the above cited literature points to variations in the internal cohesion
of communities in their norms, values, and practices, as well as to diﬀerent
degrees of openness to new members, studies on transnational elites, as
presented below, depict communities that are more exclusive in nature.
A number of interesting insights can be found in the literature on elites. The
work of Ulf Hannerz on intellectual elites is particularly interesting. We can
also proﬁt from the literature on power elites, though it tends to restrict its
scope to the national level and only rarely addresses the transnational.
Hannerz has studied a particular kind of transnational cosmopolitan. In his
book Cultural Complexity, written in 1992, he provides a description of
transnational intellectuals, insisting that they constitute a “community with-
out boundaries.”To make this more explicit, he cites George Konrad who
portrays the transnational culture of intellectuals as follows:
We may describe as transnational those intellectuals who are at home in the cultures
of other peoples as well as in their own. They keep track of what is happening in
various places. ... They have friends all over the world ... They ﬂy to visit one
another as easily as their counterparts two hundred years ago rode to the next town to
exchange ideas. (Konrad 1984: 208–9, cited in Hannerz 1992: 258)
The label “communities without boundaries”refers here to the relatively free
ﬂow of like-minded individuals engaged in intellectual production and recog-
nizing each other as equals in this respect. The focus here is on “ﬂows,”the
movements and interactions of a number of individuals across multiple
borders and “boundaries.”The focus is also on the mutual recognition of
those individuals as belonging to similar social and cognitive strata (Hannerz
1992). According to Hannerz, culture, meaning, and, as a consequence,
identities are all processual. In his words, he
22 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
wanted to emphasize that only by being constantly in motion, forever being recreated,
can meanings and meaningful forms become durable ... To keep culture going,
people as actors and networks of actors have to invent culture, reﬂect on it, experi-
ment with it, remember it (or store it in some other way), debate it and pass it on.
(Hannerz 1997: 5)
This processual picture emphasizes the multiplicity of possible ﬂows, the
crossing of many boundaries. It also gives a sense of permanent ﬂuidity. The
sense of community that emerges is compatible with Simmel’s take on
the issue. Individuals are enmeshed in a web of group aﬃliations; they belong
to multiple social circles or communities. The latter are ﬂuid constructs. The
collective sense of identity and belonging is in constant (re)construction. The
very boundaries of those communities are ﬂuid and under permanent rene-
gotiation (Hannerz 1996).
In 1956, C. Wright Mill, in The Power Elite, described the role, impact, and
power in the United States of a small group of individuals who controlled a
disproportionate amountof wealth, privilege, and leverage over decision-making
(Mills 1956; see also Domhoﬀ1967). Mills insisted that this elite brought
together individuals from diverse and heterogeneous spheres–business, politics,
the military, the media, and academia. In spite of this internal diversity, the
American power elite shared an “uneasy”alliance based on a “community of
interests”and even a common world view. Mills (1956: 283) described this as
Within the higher circles of the power elite, factions do exist; there are conﬂicts of
policy; individual ambitions do clash ... But more powerful than these divisions are
the internal discipline and the community of interests that bind the power elite
This power elite appears to be situated immediately upwards of –and is in fact
served by –professional, expert, and knowledge communities of diﬀerent
kinds, even if some of the most prominent professionals and experts belong to
The power elite are not solitary rulers. Advisers and consultants, spokesmen and
opinion-makers are often the captains of their higher thought and decision. (Mills
The notion of power elite certainly does not apply only to the United States (in
very diﬀerent contexts, see Lannes 1940; Djilas 1957). Furthermore, this notion
can be extended across national borders. In the 1980s, the“Amsterdam school”
pointed to the importance of transnational power networks. Kees van der Pijl
23 Transnational communities and governance
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
and his colleagues explored the sociology and political economy of a transna-
tional ruling class formation (van der Pijl 1984). Transnational in this context
denotes, as Leslie Sklair (2001: 2) states, “forces, processes, and institutions
that cross borders but do not derive their power and authority from the state.”
Studies have identiﬁed transnational interlocks in which directors serve on the
boards of two or more corporations from diﬀerent countries (Carroll and
Fennema 2002; Kentor and Jang 2004) and report an increase of the propor-
tion of non-domestic directors on the boards of transnational companies in
the period 1993–2005 (Staples 2006). Whether these networks give rise to a
sense of belonging and shared identities, however, remains an open question.
As Charles Harvey and Marie Mclean (in this volume) show in their in-depth
study of directors of the hundred largest British and French companies,
mindsets, dispositions, and predilections of corporate elites in spite of strong
national embeddedness, are opening up progressively to broader transna-
tional communities in the making. Given their multiple membership in
national and transnational communities, the impact of such power elites on
the structuring and regulation of human activity in various spheres is a
question of great relevance, particularly in the context of the current economic
crisis (Overbeek et al. 2007; Rothkopf 2008). In respect of the principled
beliefs underlying much of pre-crisis political economy, Plehwe (in this
volume) considers the community dimensions of a neoliberal transnational
intellectual elite, symbolized by the Mont Pèlerin Society, and the ways in
which it turned itself into a transnational power elite.
The transnational governance of business and the elusive
notion of community
Empirical and theoretical contributions on transnational governance all point
to the great multiplicity and variety of the actors involved (Morgan 2001; Djelic
and Quack 2003; Tamm Hallström 2004; Djelic and Sahlin-Andersson 2006;
Graz and Nölke 2008). Transnational governance processes bridge diﬀerent
divides and, in particular, bring together actors from the business, public, and
civil society spheres. On the business side, multinational companies, service
intermediaries, professional networks, and associations or business-oriented
non-governmental organizations (BINGOs) are more or less prominently
involved. On the public side, international organizations, supranational bodies,
national governments, departments, ministries or agencies, policy networks,
public think tanks, and quasi non-governmental organizations (QUANGOs)
24 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
can all be present. On the civil society side, ﬁnally, independent non-
governmental organizations, advocacy networks, academic experts, or the
media, to the extent that they can be detached from both the business and
the public spheres, are also potentially important actors (Boli and Thomas
1999; Florini 2003). Hence, insofar as the analysis of transnational governance
has been actor-centered, it has tended to focus on organizations as formal
structures and physical nodes in relational networks.
As Renate Mayntz shows in her contribution to this volume, the community-
like nature of social formations has rarely been a central focus in studies of
transnational economic governance. There are, of course, a number of inter-
esting exceptions that point the way towards useful explorations. In his
pioneering contribution, Glenn Morgan proposed that the structuring of
“transnational imagined communities”might be an important background
process in relation to the construction and monitoring of common transna-
tional rules for the economic game (Morgan 2001). Mayntz (in this volume)
also points to the partial but growing use, in the literature on transnational
economic governance, of concepts such as “epistemic communities”or “social
movements”that suggest more than formal connections or network interac-
tions. Discussion of the diﬀerent strands of the literature presented above
leads us to draw up a number of preliminary propositions on the nature of
communities as they play out in the transnational context –and more
speciﬁcally in transnational governance ﬁelds.
First, it appears that transnational communities can be seen as representing a
special instance of the “de-naturalization”of community-belonging described
by Simmel (Simmel 1971). Joining and becoming part of a transnational
community qualiﬁes the adherence and connection to an imagined national
community but it does not fully displace or destroy it. Transnational commu-
nities are bound to make the web of group aﬃliations much denser, at least for a
number of individuals (Simmel 1955). The multiple community aﬃliations
stemming from the involvement in transnational communities “de-naturalize”
perceptions of traditional community adherence and belonging.
Second, members of those transnational communities –and more particu-
larly those that are actively engaged and involved –are “cosmopolitans,”but of
the “rooted”kind (Hannerz 1990, 1992; Cohen 1992; Ackerman 1994; Tarrow
2005). The active membership of transnational communities spends a varying
amount of time in “horizontal”forms of involvement –pursuing the common
object of that community across and beyond a multiplicity of boundaries. Their
loyalty is strongly to that common object, project, cognitive or expert base,
or value system. In that sense, active members of transnational communities
25 Transnational communities and governance
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
are “strangers”(Simmel 1971: 143–49) or “cosmopolitans”(Merton 1948;
Gouldner 1957; Vertovec and Cohen 2002). In the words of Jeremy Waldron,
“cosmopolitans”are positively viewed as “individuals who do not take their
cultural identities to be deﬁned by any bounded subset of the cultural resources
available in the world”(Waldron 1992: 108). At the same time, the relevance
and impact of transnational communities as regardsdiﬀerent forms of activities,
debates, governance, or policy-makingimplies a certain form of “rootedness”in
local and, in particular, national groups or communities (Cohen 1992; Hannerz
1992, 1996; Tarrow 2005). Simmel’s“stranger”is also “an element of the group
itself; his position as full-ﬂedged member involves both being outside it and
confronting it”(Simmel 1971: 144).
Third, transnational communities are social and symbolic constructions.
While members of transnational communities may remain rooted, to diﬀerent
degrees, in local or national settings, transnational communities provide for a
common sense of belonging that is still compatible with a variety of inter-
pretations and the speciﬁcity of meanings stemming from this diﬀerentiated
rootedness. In fact, the active carving out of a common identity in private and
public discourse by both members and non-members is reminiscent of the
process described by Anderson involving the invention and propagation of
the nation as an imagined community. Exactly because transnational com-
munities are to be seen as imagined communities in addition to and, in a
sense, on top of a number of other group aﬃliations, members have the
possibility to strategize upon their membership in the pursuit of their goals.
This multiplicity of aﬃliations is likely to provide members with a richer
repertoire of reﬂexive practices of sense-making and generate strategies that
stand at the crossroads of diverse community aﬃliations (Stark et al. 2006).
Fourth, and as a consequence of the above propositions, transnational
communities allow for a fair amount of within-group diversity. Here again,
Simmel provides a powerful formulation:
[W]ith the stranger, one has only certain more general qualities in common ...
individuals share those in addition to their individual diﬀerences ... As such, the
stranger is near and far at the same time ...Between those two factors of nearness and
distance, however, a peculiar tension arises since the consciousness of having only the
absolutely general in common has exactly the eﬀect of putting a special emphasis on
that which is not common. (Simmel 1971: 146–48)
The various strands of literature discussed in the previous section all highlight
the existence, emergence, structuration, and relevance of social formations
that reach beyond national borders. In those transnational social formations,
26 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
people bring together and collectively reﬂect upon experiences in various
national or local societies or communities. They develop joint activities, deﬁne
and pursue common goals and projects with a transnational scope and reach.
This all happens, however, without the necessary presumption of intense
homogenization. In fact, the literature tends to underscore that, within the
bounds of transnational social formations –whether labeled networks,
groups, or communities –there remains considerable heterogeneity between
members. This heterogeneity may ultimately be unbridgeable but it can be
kept within bounds through various forms of socialization mechanisms,
through the development and stabilization of common practices, goals, or
norms. Heterogeneity is not a problem. It might even be a strength as long as it
does not prevent a common orientation and a common sense of belonging
around particular projects or goals, or around certain shared cognitive frames.
Finally, we need to pay attention to the temporal dimension of community
involvement (McAdam and Sewell 2001). Using Janowitz’s (1952) term, trans-
national communities are in all likelihood “communities of limited liability”to a
greater extent than traditional communities of the ascriptive kind, closer to
Tönnies’s understanding of Gemeinschaft. The notion of “communities of
limited liability”in this context refers to the fact that members are more likely
to come and go and to exhibit varying degrees of involvement and participation
through time (Smith and Wiest 2005). It also reﬂects the possibility of limits in
temporality. Transnational communities are time-bound entities andconstruc-
tions and not necessary, permanent, timeless, or essential collectives.
With these ﬁve propositions in mind, the contributions to this volume aim
to explore the role of transnational communities in the governance of business
activity. In addition to highlighting the relevance of community-like social
formations in the coordination and regulation of economic and business
processes, those contributions also confront and move to address some
unresolved issues related to the nature, workings, and impact of those trans-
national communities that are present in the economic and business sphere.
Six such issues are encountered throughout the diﬀerent chapters of this
1. The formation, rise, change, and possible weakening or even demise of
transnational communities over time.
2. The two-sided interaction between transnational communities and
local/national communities and the process of emergence of “rootless
3. The process through which transnational communities are socially and
symbolically constructed and reconstructed through time.
27 Transnational communities and governance
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
4. The ways in which members and non-members use the symbolic material
associated with transnational communities to pursue their own strategies,
locally or transnationally.
5. The interplay between processes of transnational community-building and
parallel processes of formal organization.
6. The regulatory impact of transnational communities, particularly with
respect to economic and business activity.
In all likelihood, some of our ﬁndings, on a number of issues at least, are more
broadly applicable to transnational communities in general and hence could
also be of use in transdisciplinary debates on transnational communities, their
role and impact.
Contents of the book
The diﬀerent chapters in this volume all start out from the ﬁve propositions on
the nature of transnational communities described above and summarized
!One among several community aﬃliations;
!Members are rooted cosmopolitans;
!Imagined communities –of a ﬂuid and dynamic kind;
!Fair amount of within-community diversity;
!Time-bound, non-essential, and non-permanent collectives.
All the chapters in this volume explore the role and impact of transnational
communities in relation to governance –usually focusing on business activity.
In addition –although the empirical terrains are extremely diverse –the
chapters all encounter one or several of the ﬁve remaining open issues
presented above and summarized below:
!The temporal ebb and ﬂow of transnational communities;
!Transnational communities and local/national interplay;
!Process of symbolic construction and reconstruction of transnational
!Strategic use of the symbolic building blocks of transnational communities;
!Transnational communities and organization;
!Transnational regulatory impact.
Part I of the volume explores the concept of community and its articulation in
terms of transnational issues and phenomena. After the present introductory
chapter, Chapter 2 by Renate Mayntz pushes further the understanding of
transnational communities as a distinct social formation as compared to
28 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
markets, hierarchies, and networks, which dominate the literature on global
governance. While the coordinating mechanism in markets is exchange, in
hierarchies command, and in networks negotiation, in communities it is
mutual observation and the conscious orientation of individual behavior
towards shared values, knowledge, or skills. The author points to the ubiqui-
tous interpenetration of transnational communities with other social forms.
Since transnational communities are often embedded in or cross over with
other types of collective, in particular formal organizations, they are often
overlooked and underestimated as regards their relevance for the formation
and operation of transnational governance.
Parts II to V take up the two ﬁrst chapters’pursuit of a comprehensive
comparative analysis of transnational communities, each of them focusing on
one particular kind of community. In each Part, diﬀerent cases and “stories”
are presented in an eﬀort to elicit the complex articulation of communities in
Part II brings together two “stories”of apparently classical, ascriptive
communities with a view to examining what happens when they extend
transnationally. Dahles, in Chapter 3, critically explores the notion and reality
of a transnational Chinese community and its role in transnational business
activity. Instead of an homogeneous and closely knit ascriptive community,
she presents the “transnational Chinese community”as a complex and frag-
mented imagined community. It is socially constructed and often mediated
through national institutional and policy frames, resulting in a loosely con-
nected patchwork of partly converging and partly conﬂicting practices and
principles. The case of the shuttle traders in Laleli, Istanbul, studied by Eder
and Öz in Chapter 4, shows the physical encounter, interaction, and –in
time –partial integration of diverse ascriptive groups into an emergent trans-
ethnic and translocal community which is nourished by its members partly
for –though it cannot be reduced entirely to –economic interests.
In Part III, four diﬀerent professional communities are examined, in each
case exploring the particular context of transnational extension. In Chapter 5,
Harvey and Maclean look at elite corporate directors in Britain and France.
They ﬁnd evidence that those elite directors are attuned to the demands and
requirements of competing across international boundaries. They also show a
growing recognition of shared values, assumptions, and beliefs at the transna-
tional level. That said, it is also clear that community aﬃliations remain
primarily national, regional, or local. In Chapter 6, Morgan and Kubo show
that professionals in the private equity sector in Japan are connected to a
broader transnational community in the making, but remain deeply embedded
29 Transnational communities and governance
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
nationally. The evidence suggests the progressive constitution of a transna-
tional community of private equity professionals, with emerging common
modes of acting and organizing. The evidence also shows considerable
regional or national variation, however, and Japan in particular remains
very much on the edge of this community. Hussain and Ventresca, in
Chapter 7, explore the historical development of global ﬁnance associations
and the emergence of an archipelago of communities of professional practi-
tioners, increasingly sharing common ideas and even a common culture.
Finally, in Chapter 8, Ramirez investigates how a transnational community
of accountants that was initially structured on the basis of the world’s
largest accounting ﬁrms attempted to spread their version of professional-
ism to France, which hitherto had followed a very diﬀerent path in the
professionalization of accounting. The author shows how this transnational
professional community eﬀectively expanded its regulatory leverage across
national borders by linking up with and gradually transforming the pre-
viously insulated French accounting elite.
Parts II and III started from communities that originally had a local base and
then explored what happens when those communities extend transnationally
in one way or another. In Part IV, we turn to an exploration of virtual
communities –communities that are created by interaction via the Internet
or are based to a large extent on online interaction. Many of these communities
from very early on deﬁne themselves transnationally without paying too much
attention to nationalities or borders. Nonetheless, virtual communities are, as
revealed in the contributions to this Part, also locally and/or nationally rooted.
In Chapter 9, Metiu examines the role of gift exchange in free/open source
software communities and its potential as a mechanism for knowledge transfer
from industrialized to developing countries. The results show that free/open
source communities contribute eﬀectively to increasing the skills of developers
in the South, fostering solidarity in local virtual communities in developing
countries, and making free/open source software available in remote parts of
the world. In Chapter 10, Dobusch and Quack investigate the multifaceted
transnational community for open content copyright licenses, crystallizing
around the non-proﬁt organization “Creative Commons.”The chapter high-
lights the mobilizing capacity of diﬀerent types of transnational online com-
munities, in particular the interaction between an epistemic community, a
social movement, and a non-proﬁt organization, and their capacity for eﬀective
Part V extends the exploration to interest or issue-based communities. We
have a mixture of cases here, ranging from the diﬃcult projection of nationally
30 Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
based communities into a transnational arena to the construction of diverse
and ﬂuid communities around an issue deﬁned from the start as global. In
Chapter 11, Schrad analyses the historical case of the transnational temper-
ance community. He examines the development, structuration, and tem-
poral evolution of the transnational temperance movement in terms that are
clearly generalizable to movements of more recent vintage. He also shows
how the temperance cause stimulated one of the ﬁrst truly transnational
communities. Fetzer, in Chapter 12, follows the historical development of an
issue –industrial democracy –with a focus on how trade unions reacted to
that issue in the European context. He argues that, until the late 1980s, trade
union responses to European Community initiatives were premised solely
on minimizing the impact of regulation on the achievements of industrial
democracy at the national level. Since then, this defensive pattern has come
to be modiﬁed and trade unions are now making greater eﬀorts to give
workers’participation a European dimension.
In Chapter 13, Plehwe investigates the historical roots and evolution of
the Mont Pèlerin Society of neoliberal intellectuals. The author argues
that in order to understand the origins of neoliberal values and principled
beliefs one has to explore the constitution and working of a transnational
comprehensive discourse community of intellectuals and organizations
that has forged a normative worldview informing the development of
knowledge, expertise, and practices in many issue areas, discourse ﬁelds,
and countries. In Chapter 14, Mariussen explores the emergence of a new
global market for carbon capture and storage and shows that a transna-
tional community is being built in parallel around this essentially global
issue. Finally, an examination of social and environmental certiﬁcation by
Bartley and Smith in Chapter 15 shows how communities of practice can be
both cause and consequence of transnational governance. The authors
point to older communities of practice, organized around political and
religious resistance to American Cold War foreign policy, which laid the
ground for the emergence of novel transnational communities of certiﬁca-
tion practitioners. The latter are likely to shape the future of transnational
governance insofar as they may provide new actors with access to deﬁning
the rules of the game while also carrying the certiﬁcation model into other
Having explored such a wide range of cases, in the concluding chapter we
draw together the theoretical insights that emerge from the systematic com-
parison and confrontation of the diverse empirical stories with regard to their
impact on transnational economic governance.
31 Transnational communities and governance
[3–36] 9.1.2010 6:27AM
1. Our translation. The French text reads: “Je crois que la vie des grandes agglomérations
sociales est tout aussi naturelle que celle des petits aggrégats ...En dehors des mouvements
purement individuels, il y a dans nos sociétés contemporaines une activité proprement
collective qui est tout aussi naturelle que celle des sociétés moins étendues d’autrefois. Elle
est autre assurément; elle constitue un type diﬀérent, mais entre ces deux espèces d’un même
genre, si diverses qu’elles soient, il n’y a pas une diﬀérence de nature.”
2. Naturally, an alternative scenario could be that the current ﬁnancial and economic crisis
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