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The transnational diffusion of global environmental concerns via INGOs in China : a new framework for understanding diffusion in authoritarian contexts


In the twentieth century, the international community set out to build a global consensus on, and to attain political commitments to, environmental protection. Through this historical process, the roles of environmental international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) in the international and transnational arenas have grown dramatically. Despite much scholarly emphasis on the increasing power and influence of INGOs, little attention has been paid to the processes by which INGOs actually spread international norms and concerns. The question my dissertation addresses is: How do INGOs spread ideas and practices regarding global environmental concerns in an authoritarian context? My study specifically seeks to examine diffusion processes: the conditions and mechanisms through which global environmental concerns spread from INGOs (transmitters) to local actors (adopters) in China. The central findings of my study are: (1) INGOs as transmitters play significant roles in determining the likelihood of diffusion; and (2) the external political environment mediates diffusion processes. By documenting the significant and varied roles that INGOs play in diffusion processes, my findings challenge the predominant, adopter-centered diffusion theory, which envisions adopters as key actors in the diffusion process and assumes a lack of agency on the part of transmitters. I argue that INGOs, or what I call "concerned transmitters," fully participate in the constructive nature of diffusion, and that INGOs' relations with potential adopters, as well as the state, shape diffusion processes. My findings also address a gap in the existing literature by highlighting the importance of examining external political and cultural structures, for they shape the interpersonal relations between transmitters and adopters. The existing literature demonstrates little concern for external structures, focusing largely upon interpersonal relations between transmitters and adopters. I spent fourteen months conducting fieldwork, including in-depth interviews and participant observation, and conducting archival research in Yunnan, Beijing, and New York

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