Transnationalism refers to the diffusion and extension of social, political, economic processes in between and beyond the sovereign jurisdictional boundaries of nation-states. International processes are increasingly governed by non-state actors and international organizations. Robinson (1998) states that, just as “social structure is becoming transnationalized; an epistemic shift is required in concurrence with this ontological shift.” The major topics addressed by transnational studies include: economic globalization, the transnationalization of the state, classes, political processes, and culture, and the current integration processes taking place around the world through formal organizations such as NAFTA and the European Union (Robinson 1998).


A transnational perspective in research means shifting the unit of analysis from individual states to a global system. Sociology’s object of inquiry, and its fundamental contribution, within transnational studies is the study of “transnational social structure” (Robinson 1998). Such a shift means locating non-state forms of governance in existing and newly emergent areas of international relations. Nye and Keohane (1971) argue that transnationalism affects diverse areas of international governance including interstate politics, values, US foreign policy, and international organization. Non-state sources of governance may develop out of existing, as well as newly emergent, social movements and civil society organizations.


Transnational perspectives provide deeper understanding into a number of globally contingent social, economic, and political processes including social movements, governance and politics, terrorism, political violence, and organized crime among others. One of the most fruitful areas of study has been transnational migration. Research in this area looks at issues such as the salient interaction with the receiving society’s institutions, the migration policies of states, the role of discrimination in limiting access to the institutions of the receiving society’s civil society, access to computers within the home and receiving societies, and the costs and other hardships that affect groups of migrants (Kivisto 2001). A growing research agenda concerns the emergence of civil society, state, and non-state organizations, developed in order to respond to issues of transnational immigration. Identity is continually challenged by the fluid legal and social characterizations of migrants created and adapted to local, national, and international organizations.


Essential Reading

Nye, Joseph S. and Robert O. Keohane. 1971. Transnational Relations and World Politics: An Introduction. International Organization 25(3).

Robinson, William I. 1998. ‘Beyond Nation-State Paradigms: Globalization, Sociology, and the Challenge of Transnational Studies,’ in Sociological Forum 13(4).


Further Reading

Kivisto, Peter. 2001. Theorizing Transnational Migration: A Critical Review of Current Efforts. Ethnic and Racial Studies 24(4): 549-577.

Robinson, William I. 2004. ‘A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World.’ Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Sikkink, Kathryn. 1998. ‘Transnational Politics, International Relations Theory, and Human Rights,’ PS: Political Science and Politics 31(3): 516-523.

Vertovec, Steven. 2001. ‘Transnationalism and Identity,’ in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 27(4): 573-582.

Willis, Catherine. 2005. ‘Transnational Theory.’ Institute for Research and Debate on Governance.




In what ways has the transnationalization of social, economic, and political processes advanced the issues of human rights?

How can transnational studies account for the distinct modes of identity construction of transnational migrant populations?

How does the concept of transnationalism/transnationalization inform a theory of global civil society?


Submitted by Bradley W Williams

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