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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Agility and resilience : the adaptive capacity of Friends of the Earth International and Greenpeace Timmer, Vanessa


As environmental issues, politics and economic activity have become increasingly global in character, transnational social movement organizations (TSMOs) have emerged to exert their influence on decision-making across scales and to catalyze social change towards a sustainable future. The underlying assumption of this dissertation is that TSMOs face complex and dynamic internal and external pressures, which test their organizational viability over time. In order to maintain their viability, TSMOs have to build adaptive capacity, the ability to repeatedly and reliably develop strategic responses to change. I challenge the emerging consensus in the social movement and organizational literatures that a decentralized and informal structure provides an adaptive advantage for TSMOs. Instead, I propose that different structural configurations can result in distinct and equally viable approaches to building adaptive capacity. I focus on two TSMOs, Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) and Greenpeace. Whereas FoEI has a decentralized and informal structure, Greenpeace has a relatively more centralized and formalized structure. However, FoEI and Greenpeace both exhibit organizational viability based on evidence including their income level and membership. Therefore, I assume that FoEI and Greenpeace have built adaptive capacity, which can be analyzed by exploring their typical strategic responses to four key organizational challenges: (1) tactical innovation , the challenge of creatively adjusting tactics to disrupt the status quo; (2) managing external relations , the challenge of partnering with other actors or remaining independent; (3) organizational maintenance, the challenge of securing resources in order to survive; and (4) managing internal relations, the challenge of resolving internal conflict. FoEI, as a 'global grassroots movement,' continuously expands its tactical repertoire; develops collaborative partnerships; depends on a mass voluntary base; and resolves conflict through participatory dialogue; which I label the Agility Model of building adaptive capacity. In contrast, Greenpeace, as a 'global campaigning organization,' specializes in high profile, nonviolent, direct action tactics; predominately operates independently; secures financial support; and resolves conflict through managing for coherence; which I label the Resilience Model. I analyze these models, and conclude that FoEI and Greenpeace are hybrid systems and that other unique adaptive capacity models at the organizational and movement levels are possible.

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