Global Indigenism and

the Web of Transnational Social Movements

World Social Forum, Belem, Amazon Basin 2008

Christopher Chase-Dunn, James Fenelon, Thomas D. Hall,

 Ian Breckenridge-Jackson and Joel Herrera

For presentation at Social Science History Association Panel: Globalization in Long Duree, Sponsor: Macro-Historical Dynamics Network,  Saturday, November 08: 03:15 PM-05:15 PM

And to be presented at the annual meeting of the California Sociological Association, Mission Inn, Riverside, CA, Saturday, November 8, 2014, 1 pm, San Diego West, Session 16: Social Movements, Organizer and Presider: Tim Kubal, CSU Fresno

Institute for Research on World-Systems

University of California-Riverside

Draft 11-3-14; 8613530 words


This is IROWS Working Paper #87 available at


Abstract: A global indigenous movement has emerged as a visible player in global civil society and in the New Global Left. Advocates of indigenous rights have participated in the Social Forum process at the global, national and local levels and have had an important influence on the emerging character of the contemporary world revolution.

We use surveys taken at a succession of Social Forum gatherings to examine how indigenous rights activists are similar to, or different from, the other attendees at these events and to investigate the links that indigenous rights activists have with other social movements. While our findings are far from definitive, they are strongly suggestive and point to a need to explore these findings in greater depth. We also note that the questionnaires were not constructed to address directly the issues we discuss here. We find that the number of attendees who assert that they are actively involved in the indigenous rights movement is more than five times greater than the number who identify themselves as indigenous when asked about their racial/ethnic identity. Indigenous activists are somewhat more radical on some political issues than those who are not indigenous activists, and they are more likely to argue that the community arena is the most important locus for solving the majority of contemporary problems. The indigenous rights movement is strongly connected by overlapping memberships with the human rights movement and is also quite strongly connected with the environmental and peace movements.

The indigenous rights movement has been an important element of the New Global Left and the current world revolution since the Zapatista rebellion in Southern Mexico against the neoliberal North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. Autonomists from Europe, anarchists in North America, and the organizers of the U.S. Social Forum meetings have given attention and support to indigenous rights. The 2010 Cochabamba, Bolivia World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, has received widespread support from those who are concerned about anthropogenic climate change and ecological degradation.

            The World Social Forum process has been an important venue for the formation of a New Global Left since 2001 (Santos 2006; Reitan 2007; Smith et al. 2014). The founding of the World Social Forum in 2001, a reaction to the exclusivity of the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland since 1971, signaled the coming together of a movement of movements focused on issues of global justice and sustainability. The social forum process has spread to all the regions of the world.

The Transnational Social Movement Research Working Group at the University of California-Riverside[1] began conducting paper surveys of the attendees at Social Forum meetings at the world-level meeting held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2005. Similar surveys were mounted at the United States Social Forum held in Atlanta, Georgia in 2007, the world-level Social Forum held in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007 and the U.S. Social Forum meeting held in Detroit, Michigan in 2010. The surveys included questions on demographic characteristics, levels of activism, political attitudes and involvement in a long list of movement themes[2] (Chase-Dunn et al. 2007 Coyne et al. 2010; Reese et al., 2008, 2012). In this paper we use the Social Forum survey data to examine Hall and Fenelon’s earlier studies (2008, 2009) of indigenous people’s movements as both ancient and distinctive. We are also interested in tracing the impacts that the indigenous rights movement has had on other movements, and on use of local forms of governance in support of local social institutions.


 Indigeneity in the geoculture and in the New Global Left

Indigenous resistance and adaptation to expanding world-systems is a long and very old story. Small-scale societies have generally been decimated by larger, more hierarchical societies. The Guns, Germs and Steel (Diamond 1997) story is mainly a huge human tragedy with many prodigious struggles of resistance (e.g. Hamalainen 2008). But some of the peoples who formerly lived in autonomous small-scale societies have survived and adapted as they have become incorporated into both ancient and current world-system (Hall and Fenelon 2009; Perry 1992; Ferguson and Whitehead 1992) and they now play an important role in world politics (Wilmer 1993).

            The very idea of a global indigenous movement is a contradiction in terms. Indigenous peoples usually stress the importance of their connections to particular places. But since the 1930s indigenous groups have been appealing to the United Nations (2007) for help in resisting culturicide[3] (Fenelon 1998; Wilmer 1993) especially over collective, indigenous rights. What has been different about transnational and global Indigenous organizations and movements is that are keenly aware how their problems are fundamentally local, yet broadly similar. The larger movements are characterized by an ethos that demands respect for each Indigenous group’s values, culture, and social practices.

            Growing awareness of Eurocentrism in politics, culture and social science has combined with old notions about the other, civilization, barbarism and savagery and imagined original “states of nature” in European social thought.   

 The European Enlightenment itself legitimated cultural self-determination, though this value was most often ignored when colonized peoples were concerned. But it is important to note that the legitimate rights of indigenous peoples are not just a concern of the New Global Left. It is a globally recognized issue as documented in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007)The mainstream of the emerging global geoculture also includes an important element of respect for indigenous cultures (see Wallerstein 2011).

            Indeed, indigeneity is sometimes used to promote various projects that are connected with neoliberal politics and capitalist profit-making. A case in point was included in Deborah Hobden’s (2014) study of development projects in Accra, Ghana (see Figure 1 below). The Meridian Mall project uses the trope of indigenous bead-making to promote itself as a social hub. This, along with the not infrequent [mis]use of Indigenous spirituality by non-indigenous individuals and groups, often renders attention by outsider problematic for many Indigenous Peoples. Indeed, the labels “Indigenous” or “Native American, or [American] Indian are often hotly contested and controversial. On a global level the contests and controversies grow more complex. Hall and Fenelon (2009) review many of these, but the literature is quite large. The UN work (2007) is something of a standard, though not without its own problems. [4]

Figure 1: Indigenous beads used to promote mall project in Ghana (Hobden 2014) Mobus Property Development. 2013. Meridian City [Brochure]. Accra, Ghana.               


In the New Global Left indigenous rights have been an important element. The Zapatista rebellion of 1994 is an iconic event in the emergence of the current world revolution.[5] Several of the movement organizations that spun out of the Battle of Seattle in 1999 had connections with the Zapatistas and with umbrella indigenous organizations in the Andes such as La Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas (CAOI). The World Social Forum has been an important venue for indigenous rights, holding its world-level meeting in Belem, a port city for the Amazon basin, in 2009. It was reported that about 1,900 indigenous people, representing 190 ethnic groups, attended the Belem World Social Forum. They raised the issue of stateless peoples, and the plights that they face. The Escarré International Centre for Ethnic Minorities and Nations helped to organize the tent for the Collective Rights of Stateless Peoples who are “marginalized in an international system that recognizes only states as political units.” The stateless ethnic groups represented were Basques, Roma, Kurds, Palestinians, Tibetans, Mapuche, Saharawi and Australian Aborigines (Osava 1999). So indigeneity has come to include ethnic minorities that are poorly represented in the existing system of states. This was also apparent at the U.S. Social Forum meeting in Detroit, which highlighted indigeneity and at which the Palestinians made common cause with American Indians. So the issue of indigeneity is a trope in global politics that is claimed by descendants of small-scale societies, but also by ethnic minorities who are disenfranchised and that is used to sell commodities and to legitimate development projects. We should also mention the strong connection between indigeneity and the environmental movements. The Indigenous Environmental Network emerged in the U.S. in 1990 and groups such as this have played an increasing visible role in the emerging climate justice movement. Idle No More is a similar organization. Its web page [] and the Wikipedia article on it are very informative.

            The Red Road movement is a New Age spiritualism that embraces certain forms of indigenous-inspired approaches that have emerged since the 1960s, mainly in the United States (Lincoln 1987; McGaw 1992; Hull 2000). It is an example of a reconstructed indigenous ideology inspiring mainly non-indigenous participants. Movements and/organizations such as this have stirred considerable controversy and animosity among some indigenous peoples (see Hall and Fenelon 2009; Ross et al. 2011).

            The idea of “buen vivir” as a harmonious, community-oriented and nature-friendly alternative approach to the human future was first articulated in Latin America in connection with the Cochabamba encuentro on the rights of mother earth. Buen vivir has been incorporated into the Ecuadorian constitution and has been championed by many social movements participating in the social forum process (Conway 2012; Smith et al 2014).


Who are the indigenous rights activists?

We used the survey responses from the four Social Forum meetings at which surveys were mounted to see how many attendees identified themselves as racially/ethnically[6] indigenous and how many saw themselves as either strongly identified with, or actively involved in, the indigenous rights movements. We also looked to see whether or not indigenous rights activists were similar to, or different from, other attendees regarding demographic characteristics and attitudes toward political issues.[7]



Porto Alegre 2005

Nairobi 2007

Atlanta 2007

Detroit 2010


Racially/Ethnically identified indigenous

10 (1.8%)

15 (3%)

4 (0.7%)

4 (0.8%)

33 (1.5%)

Strongly identify with indigenous rights

211 (37.5%)

96 (19.5%)

182 (32.3%)

149 (28.8%)

638 (29.9%)

Actively involved in indigenous rights

48 (8.5%)

35 (7.1%)

66 (11.7%)

27 (5.2%)

176 (8.2%)

Total Sample







Table 1: Indigeneity and activism at the Social Fora

Table 1 shows the numbers and percentages of those who identified themselves as indigenous[8] at each of the four venues and for the whole sample of attendees that includes the sum of all the responses at all four venues. A number of important observations are implied by the findings in Table 1. Each of the surveys included around 500 respondents, but we are not entirely sure how representative our samples were of all the people who attended the Social Fora and so we are not sure how well we can generalize to the whole group of attendees. Combining the results from all of the surveys increases the number of respondents to 2135, which is useful for this study because we are examining a group that is small minority among the whole sample of attendees. There are difficulties involved in combining the results from the different surveys because in some cases the wording of questions was different (e.g. Footnote 8, and also because indigeneity does not have a uniform global meaning. It very likely means something different in Africa (Hodgson 2002, 2011) from what it means in the United States and Brazil, and indigenous people who choose to participate in Social Fora probably differ in motivation and orientation in different regions of the world. Our surveys were done in the major languages that were used at the different venues (English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Swahili). Combining the results from the separate venues is somewhat risky so we also present the results for each venue.

            The biggest finding in Table 1 is the large difference between the numbers and percentages of attendees who identify themselves as ethnically/racially indigenous and the number and percentages of those who say they strongly identify or are actively involved in the indigenous rights movement. Looking at the last column in Table 1 we see that only 33 out of a total of 2135 (1.5%) surveyed attendees identified themselves as racially/ethnically indigenous, but 638 (almost 30%) said they strongly identified with the indigenous rights movement and 176 (8.2%) claimed to be actively involved in indigenous rights movements. So only around one fifth of the attendees who say they are actively involved identify themselves as racially/ethnically indigenous. This shows that the indigenous rights movement is much larger than would be expected on the basis of the number of indigenous people who are participating in the Social Forum process. There is a very large number of sympathizers and a large number of activists who are not racially/ethnically indigenous. It is interesting to note that Idle No More explicitly calls for all people to join them in their visions statement ( This is the main reason we have discussed the ideational role of indigeneity in global culture and in the New Global Left above. We note that indigenous movements are not monolithic and vary greatly in goals and objectives and socio-political relationships to the state.

            Table 1 also contains a number of other interesting features. One is the large drop-off from “strongly identify” to “actively involved” (rows 2 and 3 in Table 1). We have found this same large drop-off for all social movement themes in all of our surveys (e.g. Chase-Dunn and Kaneshiro 2009). It is not unique to the indigenous rights movement. It means that attendees take seriously the difference between sympathizing with a movement and actually doing work for that movement. This is important for the topic at hand because of the finding of the large number of non-indigenous, but actively involved, participants. These are not just sympathizers. They are activists. Looking at differences across the four venues we note that there were more ethnically/racially identified indigenes at the world level meetings in Brazil and Kenya than there were at the U.S. meetings. This may partly be due to sharply different perspectives on non-indigenous leadership and participation that is often connected to ideas and practices toward decolonization strategies.

            We also note the decline in the percentages of strongly identified and actively involved that occurred when we compare the Atlanta and Detroit meetings. This is interesting because indigenous activists led a protest at the end of the meeting in Atlanta and the organizing committee of the U.S. Social Forum made an important effort to include local indigenous people from Michigan in the meeting that took place in Detroit. Indigenous rights were also an important focus of the plenaries and indigenous activists led the march through the streets of Detroit that was held the first day of the meeting. Despite all this our survey implies that there was a decline in participation by both strongly identified and actively involved attendees compared with Atlanta. [9] The small number of attendees that racially identify as indigenous in Atlanta and Detroit was the same (4) in our samples ( Row 1 of Table 1).

            Table 2 shows the racial/ethnic composition of the indigenous rights sympathizers and activists compare with the racial/ethnic breakdown of the other Social Fora attendees.


Respondents on “race or ethnicity” (see Footnote 4)


Porto Alegre 2005

Nairobi 2007

Atlanta 2007

Detroit 2010


Actively involved in indigenous rights

White or Caucasian

12 (26.7%)

12 (37.5%)

23 (35.9%)

10 (43.5%)

57 (34.8%)1

Black, African

7 (15.6%)

6 (18.8%)

7 (10.9%)

1 (4.3%)

21 (12.8%)


4 (8.9%)

2 (6.3%)

7 (10.9%)

4 (17.4%)

17 (10.4%)

Mixed or multi-ethnic/racial

2 (4.4%)

3 (9.4%)

11 (17.2%)

4 (17.4%)

20 (12.7%)2

Arab/Arabic/Middle Eastern

1 (2.2%)

0 (0%)

1 (1.6%)

0 (0%)

2 (1.2%)


3 (6.7%)

4 (12.5%)

5 (7.8%)

2 (8.7%)

14 (8.5%)3


7 (15.6%)

4 (12.5%)

1 (1.6%)

0 (0%)

12 (7.3%)


9 (20%)

1 (3.1%)

9 (14.1%)

2 (8.7%)

21 (12.8%)4







NOT actively involved in indigenous rights

White or Caucasian

195 (44.4%)

116 (31.1%)

244 (52%)

264 (58.5%)

819 (47.3%)1

Black, African

62 (14.1%)

178 (47.7%)

60 (12.8%)

43 (9.5%)

343 (19.8%)


27 (6.2%)

11 (2.9%)

73 (15.6%)

64 (14.2%)

175 (10.1%)

Mixed or multi-ethnic/racial

45 (10.3%)

11 (2.9%)

41 (8.7%)

41 (9.1%)

138 (8%)2

Arab/Arabic/Middle Eastern

3 (0.7%)

9 (2.4%)

7 (1.5%)

3 (0.7%)

22 (1.3%)


23 (5.2%)

31 (8.3%)

14 (3%)

20 (4.4%)

88 (5.1%)3


1 (0.2%)

7 (1.9%)

3 (0.6%)

4 (0.9%)

15 (0.9%)


83 (18.9%)

10 (2.7%)

27 (5.8%)

12 (2.7%)

132 (7.6%)4







Strongly identify with indigenous rights

White or Caucasian

73 (39%)

31 (34.8%)

76 (43.7%)

67 (50.4%)

247 (42.4%)

Black, African

23 (12.3%)

33 (37.1%)

21 (12.1%)

14 (10.5%)

91 (15.6%)


18 (9.6%)

4 (4.5%)

24 (13.8%)

21 (15.8%)

67 (11.5%)

Mixed or multi-ethnic/racial

17 (9.1%)

3 (3.4%)

24 (13.8%)

18 (13.5%)

62 (10.6%)

Arab/Arabic/Middle Eastern

3 (1.6%)

5 (5.6%)

2 (1.1%)

0 (0%)

10 (1.7%)


11 (5.9%)

7 (7.9%)

8 (42.1%)

8 (6%)

34 (5.8%)


7 (3.7%)

5 (5.6%)

2 (1.1%)

1 (0.8%)

15 (2.6%)


35 (18.7%)

1 (1.1%)

17 (9.8%)

4 (3%)

57 (9.8%)







1Z-test, p-value = .002***

2Z-test, p-value = .061

3Z-test, p-value = .061

4Z-test, p-value = .020*

*p < .05 (two-tail), ***p < .01 (two-tail)

Table 2: Racial/ethnic composition of indigenous sympathizers and activists at the Social Fora

About 1/3 of the indigenous rights activists (actively involved) and 42% of the sympathizers (strongly identified) say they are racially/ethnically white. The percentage of attendees who are not involved with indigenous rights are about ½ white. So indigenous rights sympathizers and activists are less likely to be white than other attendees and this difference is statistically significant (see z-test in Table 2). They are also less likely to be black and this difference is also statistically significant. Latina/o and Arabic percentages are about the same. Indigenous rights activist’s racial/ethnic identity percentages are higher than others in the indigenous, mixed, Asian and “other” categories but for only the “other” category is the difference statistically significant.


Similarities and Differences between Indigenous Rights Activists and other attendees at the Social Fora

The following tables compare, across the four venues, actively involved indigenous rights activists with all other attendees and with all other attendees who were also actively involved in at least one of the other social movement themes. We include other “actively involved” because some of our findings imply greater radicalism on the part of the indigenous rights activists, but we want to know if this is related to the focus on indigenism, or is just a feature of all those who are actively involved. It is generally known from social movement research that higher participation by individuals is related to greater concern and we suspect that this may also be related to greater radicalism.

Do you think we need to reform capitalism or abolish it? Check one.

o Reform it                 o Abolish it                        o Neither



Porto Alegre 2005

Nairobi 2007

Atlanta 2007

Detroit 2010


Actively involved in indigenous rights

Reform it

12 (26.1%)

14 (42.4%)

21 (35%)

7 (28%)

54 (39.2%)

Abolish it

34 (73.9%)

12 (36.4%)

37 (61.7%)

14 (56%)

97 (59.1%)1,2



7 (21.2%)

2 (3.3%)

4 (16%)

13 (7.9%)







NOT actively involved in indigenous rights

Reform it

208 (42.8%)

202 (53.6%)

158 (35.3%)

174 (38.8%)

742 (42.2%)

Abolish it

278 (57.2%)

144 (38.2%)

249 (55.6%)

229 (51.1%)

900 (51.2%)1



31 (8.2%)

41 (9.2%)

45 (10%)

117 (6.7%)







Actively involved in any other movement

Reform it

154 (40.2%)

138 (50.7%)

119 (32.1%)

151 (37.2%)

562 (39.2%)

Abolish it

229 (59.8%)

115 (42.3%)

223 (60.1%)

220 (54.2%)

787 (55%)2



19 (7%)

29 (7.8%)

35 (8.6%)

83 (5.8%)







1Z-test, p-value = .05






2Z-test, p-value= .308






Table 3: Attitudes toward capitalism

            The results show in Table 3 could mean that indigenous rights activists have a more radical position on capitalism because 59% want to abolish it versus only 51% for all other attendees.[10] But when we compare the indigenous rights activists with other attendees who also claim to be actively involved in another social movement theme, the difference is smaller (55%) and it is not statistically significant. This means that indeed indigenous rights activists have a somewhat less sanguine attitude toward capitalism than other participants in the New Global Left, but it should also be noted that over half of the attendees favored abolishing capitalism except at the Nairobi meeting (38%). This more radical stance vis a vis capitalism should not be generalized. We also asked attendees to choose their positions on the political spectrum from far left to far right (See Table A5 in the Appendix). On that item indigenous activists were not more radical than other activists.

            We note that Hall and Fenelon (2008, 2009) among others argue that many indigenous movements are inherently anti-capitalist, even when not explicitly or even intentionally so motivated. Since many seek to preserve communal ownership, administration, and stewardship of resources (on the latter see Ross et al. 2011) they challenge fundamental, often unstated, assumptions of enlightenment discourse on trade and capitalism: that humans are inherently individualistic and that private property is assumed to be “natural.” Furthermore, but not as directly challenging to capitalist or neoliberal ideology, many Indigenous Peoples have kinships systems that differ significantly from those of the West, and many other state-based systems. Similarly, they have very different views of spirituality and what western discourse is wont to call “religion.” In these senses then, many movements of Indigenous Peoples challenge fundamental axioms of neoliberal capitalism. Alas, the surveys do not provide sufficient detail to tease out these nuances numerically.


In the long run, what do you think should be done about these existing global institutions:

The World Bank:    o Reform                o Abolish                  o Replace    o Do Nothing                   



Nairobi 2007

Atlanta 2007

Detroit 2010


Actively involved in indigenous rights


13 (39.4%)

8 (13.8%)

6 (25%)

27 (23.5%)


9 (27.3%)

15 (25.9%)

5 (20.8%)

29 (25.2%)


11 (33.3%)

34 (58.6%)

13 (54.2%)

58 (50.4%)1,2


0 (0%)

1 (1.7%)

0 (0%)

1 (0.9%)






NOT actively involved in indigenous rights


188 (54.2%)

119 (26.9%)

117 (26.4%)

424 (34.4%)


63 (18.2%)

93 (21%)

88 (19.8%)

244 (19.8%)


80 (23.1%)

218 (49.2%)

226 (0.9%)

524 (42.5%)1


16 (4.6%)

13 (2.9%)

13 (2.9%)

42 (3.4%)






Actively involved in any other movement


131 (51.8%)

92 (24.9%)

99 (24.5%)

322 (31.4%)


47 (18.6%)

86 (23.3%)

84 (20.8%)

217 (21.2%)


66 (26.1%)

182 (49.3%)

210 (52%)

458 (44.6%)2


9 (3.6%)

9 (2.4%)

11 (2.7%)

29 (2.8%)






1Z-test, p-value = .099





2Z-test, p-value= .238





Table 4: Attitudes toward the World Bank

Table 4 shows the pattern of responses to a question about global institutions, specifically the World Bank. The Porto Alegre survey is not included because this question was not asked in a way that clearly separated the World Bank from the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations in the Porto Alegre survey. The results in Table 4 indicate that indigenous activists may be more in favor of abolishing the World Bank than are other attendees and also than other attendees who are actively involved in other movement themes, but these differences are not statistically significant (see z=test values

 in Table 4). We also note that the percentage favoring abolition of the bank was significantly  lower at the Nairobi meeting than at the Atlanta and Detroit meetings.


Do you think it is a good or bad idea to have a democratic world government? Check one.

o Good idea, and it is possible            o Good idea, but not possible

o Bad idea, and it is possible                o Bad idea, and not possible



Porto Alegre 2005

Nairobi 2007

Atlanta 2007

Detroit 2010


Actively involved in indigenous rights

Good idea and possible

16 (37.2%)

11 (36.7%)

22 (44.9%)

11 (52.4%)

60 (42%)1,2

Good idea, but not possible

13 (30.2%)

12 (40%)

11 (22.4%)

4 (19%)

40 (28%)

Bad idea

14 (32.6%)

7 (23.3%)

16 (32.7%)

6 (28.6%)

43 (30%)







NOT actively involved in indigenous rights

Good idea and possible

137 (28.6%)

167 (44.3%)

185 (45.2%)

150 (36.3%)

639 (38.1%)1

Good idea, but not possible

189 (39.5)

153 (40.6%)

106 (25.9%)

125 (30.3%)

573 (34.1%)

Bad idea

153 (31.9%)

57 (15.1%)

118 (28.9%)

138 (33.4%)

466 (27.8%)







Actively involved in any other movement

Good idea and possible

108 (28.6%)

119 (44.1%)

149 (45.3%)

141 (37.5%)

517 (38.2%)2

Good idea, but not possible

150 (39.7%)

108 (40%)

84 (25.5%)

116 (30.9%)

458 (33.9%)

Bad idea

120 (31.7%)

43 (15.9%)

96 (29.2%)

119 (31.6%)

378 (27.9%)







1Z-test, p-value = .358






2Z-test, p-value= .379






Table 5: Attitudes toward democratic world government

The surveys also asked Social Fora attendees about their attitude toward the idea of a democratic world government. Table 5 shows that indigenous rights activists may be more likely to think that a democratic global government is a good idea and is possible than are those who are not involved in indigenous rights and this is not related to active involvement in general. But these differences are not statistically significant (see z-tests in Table 5). Indigenous rights activists also seem to be somewhat more likely to think that a democratic world government is a bad idea. This is because of the response in the middle, for which indigenous rights activists are less likely than others to think that a democratic world government is a good idea, but not possible than those who are not indigenous rights activists. Thus it seems that indigenous rights activists disagree with one another in their attitudes toward the desirability of a democratic world government.

            These results might be interpreted somewhat differently. As noted earlier, social organizational features – communal control of resources, kinship and marriage systems, religious values, etc. – among indigenous peoples are arguably further distant from the Eurocentric approaches among most of the world. So for instance, non-indigenist activists typically come from that tradition and see democracy as a general good and general goal. Indigenous peoples have had a number of bad interactions with democratic governments: witness, U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Canada to name a few. Given generally small numbers their interests can easily be over-run by far larger groups, and have been in the past. Second, and more difficult to pin down, is that some indigenous traditions are not “democratic” in the same sense that European derived states are. To give a shopworn and overworked example, there is a great deal of controversy over gender relations among the Haudenosuanee (League of the Iroquois) and Cherokee. Men control war and external interactions. Women control domestic matters. But, and this is a major difference with European patriarchies, men cannot not vote for war without the approval of the clan mothers and the clan mothers appoint (and can remove) individuals from the men’s councils. So is this democracy? Is it matriarchy? or Patriarchy? Or is the question even relevant? This vignette is far too simplistic, but does illustrate the issues. It is notable that British officials often referred to Haudenosuanee or Cherokee as petticoat nations, run by women. Not a surprising view given the extreme patriarchy of sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries (with very strong residuals today).[11]

This may be due to sharp distinctions of indigenous activists and movement groups toward working with the state and governmental organizations, or working against them, or in just working altogether separate from them. Besides the aforementioned Zapatistas, who ask for all Indigenous Peoples to decide for themselves outside state interests, a most applicable example would be perspectives toward the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) passed by the United Nations (after thirty years of struggle). Some indigenous movement leaders see this as great progress to be built upon, while others see it as capitulation to state-system politics that will only further reign in indigenous collective rights in opposition to neoliberal and state capitalist interests.[12]

Out of the following, which level is most important for solving the majority of contemporary problems?


Porto Alegre 2005

Nairobi 2007

Atlanta 2007

Detroit 2010


Actively involved in indigenous rights

Communities/ sub-national

30 (73.2%)

14 (53.8%)

34 (63%)

19 (90.5%)

97 (68.3%)1,2


3 (7.3%)

3 (11.5%)

6 (11.1%)


12 (8.5%)

International/  global

8 (19.5%)

9 (34.6%)

14 (25.9%)

2 (9.5%)

33 (23.2%)







NOT actively involved in indigenous rights

Communities/ sub-national

245 (57.6%)

169 (49%)

230 (56%)

326 (76.2%)

970 (60.3%)1


42 (9.9%)

36 (10.4%)

40 (9.7%)

36 (8.4%)

154 (9.6%)

International/ global

138 (32.5%)

140 (40.6%)

141 (34.3%)

66 (15.4%)

485 (30.1%)







Actively involved in any other movement

Communities/ sub-national

198 (59.1%)

112 (46.3%)

191 (56.3%)

294 (76%)

795 (61%)2


31 (9.3%)

27 (11.2%)

32 (9.4%)

35 (9%)

125 (9.6%)

International/ global

106 (31.6%)

103 (42.6%)

116 (34.2%)

58 (15%)

383 (29.4%)







1Z-test, p-value = .060






2Z-test, p-value= .089






Table 6: Best level for solving problems


The surveys also asked about which level is most important for solving the majority of contemporary problems: communities, nation-states, or international/global. Sixty-eight percent of indigenous rights activists indicated that the community level is most important and this percentage was higher than for those not involved in indigenous rights and for those who were actively involved in other movement themes. These first differences in proportions are quite close to the .05 level of statistical significance according to the z-test.

Do you consider yourself to be part of a global social movement?

o No          o Yes



Nairobi 2007

Atlanta 2007

Detroit 2010


Actively involved in indigenous rights


30 (90.9%)

61 (95.3%)

22 (84.6%)

113 (91.9%)1,2


3 (9.1%)

3 (4.7%)

4 (15.4%)

10 (8.1%)






NOT actively involved in indigenous rights


325 (86.2%)

405 (86.4%)

328 (73.7%)

1058 (82%)1


52 (13.8%)

64 (13.6%)

117 (26.3%)

233 (18%)






Actively involved in any other movement


247 (91.5%)

352 (91.2%)

308 (77.2%)

907 (86%)2


23 (8.5%)

34 (8.8%)

91 (22.8%)

148 (14%)






1Z-test, p-value = .005***





2Z-test, p-value= .069





Table 7: Are you part of a global social movement?

But the local focus indicated by the results in Table 6 is somewhat contradicted by the results in Table 7. The surveys asked attendees whether or not they think of themselves as involved in global social movement. Nine out of ten global indigenous rights activists said yes, and this was a higher percentage than those not involved in indigenous rights and than those that were actively involved in other movement themes. The first difference is highly statistically significant and the second is nearly so at the .05 level according the the z-tests reported in Table 7 (see earlier comments on significants of local issues for Indigenous Peoples).

The relationships that indigenous rights activists have with other social movements

Social movement organizations may be integrated both informally and formally. Informally, they are connected by the voluntary choices of individual persons to be active participants in multiple movements. Such linkages enable learning and influence to pass among movement organizations, even when there may be limited official interaction or leadership coordination. At the formal level, organizations may provide legitimacy and support to one another, and strategically collaborate in joint action. The extent of formal cooperation among movements within “the movement of movements” both causes and reflects the informal connections. In the analysis below we assess the extent and pattern of informal linkages among social movement themes based on the responses we got from our four surveys of attendees at the four Social Fora meetings we studied.

The Porto Alegre survey included 18 movement themes and combined human rights with anti-racism. The Nairobi, Atlanta and Detroit surveys included a longer list of 27 movement themes and separated human rights from anti-racism. Some of the network analyses that follow use all four surveys. In order to make the later surveys comparable with Porto Alegre we combine human rights with antiracism and use only the 18 movement themes that were on the Porto Alegre survey. But for some analyses we drop Porto Alegre and use the longer list of 27 movement themes.[13]

Table 8: Symmetrical affiliation matrix of movement links: the number of affiliations based on active involvement in 27 movement themes from the Social Fora surveys in Nairobi, Atlanta and Detroit


Table 8 does not include the Porto Alegre survey because we want to see how indigenism is related to the longer list of movement themes and to separate human rights from anti-racism. This is the affiliation matrix for the combination of responses from the Nairobi, Atlanta and Detroit surveys. The affiliation matrix displays all the instances in which respondents chose two or more movement themes as ones in which they were actively involved. As we found in our earlier studies, the affiliation matrix shows that all of the movement themes are connected with all of the other movement themes by a least a few overlaps. There are no zeros. This is the structure of a multicentric network that does not contain separate factions. The smallest number in Table 8 is 9, which ironically is the intersection between Communist and Open Source/Intellectual Property Rights. The diagonal in the affiliation matrix contains the total of all the choices of each movement theme. So for indigenous there were 128 attendees who indicated that they were actively involved.

The numbers in red in Table 8 show the overlaps between indigenous activists and the other movement themes. The movement theme with the least overlaps with indigenous rights activism is communist (13). The movement theme with the largest number of overlaps is human rights (88).

 Figure 2: Movement links: the number of affiliations based on active involvement in 27 movement themes from the Social Fora surveys in Nairobi, Atlanta and Detroit

Figure 2 displays the network connections for the 27 movement themes using data from Nairobi, Atlanta and Detroit. In order to produce this figure it is necessary to dichotomize the distribution of affiliations shown in Table 8. We use the same cutting point that we have used in earlier studies of the network of movement ties, 1.5 standard deviations about the mean number of affiliations in Table 8. Using this cutting point results in a figure that indicates that Human Rights is the main contact point between indigenous rights and the other movements. This happens because indigenous rights is a relatively small movement theme and so when we use the mean of the whole distribution as the cutting point the ties that indigenism has with other movements are coded as zeroes. Only the tie with human rights is large enough to be 1.5 standard deviations above the mean. By this same criterion the six movement themes in the upper left corner have no connections with other movement themes that are large enough to show up in the diagram. This figure is good for showing the relative location of the largest and most central movement themes such as human rights, anti-racism, environmental, fair trade, and anti-corporate, but it is not very helpful for showing the nature of the connections between a small movement theme like indigenism with other movements.    


Table 9: Ego network of Indigenous Overlaps


Table 9 uses the affiliation data that was in Table 8 but looks at it from the point of view of the indigenous rights movement theme, a so-called ego network approach, rather than from the point of view of the whole network. This allows us to see more clearly which other movement themes indigenism is strongly connected with and those with which it is only weakly connected. Table 9 also includes both the results when all four surveys are included (based on 18 movement themes) and the results when only the last three surveys are included (based on 27 movement themes). Table 9 also includes the indigenist overlaps for each of the surveys separately.

            The first at the second and third columns in Table 9 contain the results with and without Porto Alegre. Human rights/anti-racism has the biggest overlap with indigenism in Porto Alegre, and human rights by itself has the biggest overlap when it is separated from anti-racism in the other three surveys. This is an important finding. Humans rights is consistently large and near the center of all the networks. It is one of the most important nodes connecting all the movement themes. In part this is because human rights is a central element of the emerging global geoculture, which is built around increasing centrality of the human individual (Meyer 2009; Wallerstein 2012) and legitimation of authority with reference to the rights of individuals. This said the indigenist movement has a fundamental criticism of the individualist model of human rights as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Right because it completely ignores collective rights. Indigenous rights movements have also linked the rights discourse with nature, proclaiming the rights of pachamama (mother earth) as identified by Casas (2014; see also Champagne 2010).

            Table 9 also shows that the second biggest overlap of indigenism is with environmentalism. This is not very surprising, but there is an interesting wrinkle. When we look at the surveys separately environmentalism was first in Porto Alegre (column 4) and Detroit (column 7) and second in Nairobi, but it was sixth in Atlanta. The indigenous activists who attended the Atlanta U.S. Social Forum were less connected with environmentalists than were the indigenous activists at all the other venues. Perhaps this is part of the reason behind the big rebellion that occurred at the end of the Atlanta meeting. Students of indigenism know that there are important differences among the champions of indigenous rights. The classical split is between the traditionals and the moderns. But there are other contradictions as well. A few movement themes seem to change their degree of connection with indigenism greatly from venue to venue. Media/culture is near the top (third) in Porto Alegre but near the bottom (nineteenth) in Detroit.

            We should also discuss the other end of the spectrum, those movements that are little connected with indigenism. The Old Left movements (anarchism, communism, socialism) are in this group, but somewhat surprisingly so is autonomism despite the substantial support that European autonomists have voiced for Latin American indigenism (Lopez and Iglesias Turrion 2006). And though New Age spiritualism is often thought to be an important element in the Red Road movement, in the Social Forum context the religious/spiritual movement theme has little overlap with indigenism. This may be a wording problem, since indigenous belief systems have different labels: “spirituality” with positive connotation; “superstition” with a very negative connotation.


3 Surveys - AI mvmts only - 27 mvnts-Indigeneous Ego Network - Weighted Lines.jpg

Figure 4: Indigenous Ego Network, 3 Survey Dataset (27 movements – No Porto Alegre)


Figure 4 uses lines of different width to distinguish between connections of different strength in the indigenous ego network. This figure used the combined data from Nairobi, Atlanta and Detroit with 27 movement themes. Once again production of such a figure requires dichotomization of the affiliation matrix, but here we used 1.5 standard deviations above the mean calculated at the average of the indigenous overlaps. Figure 4 shows the big overlaps discussed above as well as some of the links among those movements that are well-connected with indigenism. We have not yet mentioned feminism, but in Figure 4 and in Table 9 it can be seen that feminism is fairly high among the movement theme overlaps with indigenism varying from 9th in Porto Alegre, 8th in Nairobi, 6th in Atlanta and 5th in Detroit). It is tempting to see a trend in this.


Our main purpose is to investigate the nature of the current world revolution and ways in which indigenism is working within it. We have noted that indigenism as an ideology is far larger than the number of people who consider themselves to be indigenous in the New Global Left. This, in itself, is a significant finding. Indigenism has been an important element in the emergence of the New Global Left but it is also an important feature of the larger emerging global culture and is used frequently to sell commodities and to promote all kinds of projects. We have used the results of surveys conducted at Social Forum meetings to see how indigenous sympathizers and indigenous activists are similar to or different from other attendees. The Social Forum process is itself a project of the New Global Left, so we are mainly comparing indigenists with other progressive activists, not with the population of the world. [tdh1] We find that the numbers of both sympathizers and activists are far larger than the number of attendees who identify themselves as racially/ethnically indigenous. We also find that indigenous activists are both less white and less black than other attendees, and more likely to classify themselves as mixed or other. But 34% of indigenous activists classify themselves as White/Caucasian. We find that indigenous activists want to abolish capitalism and the World Bank more than other attendees, and this holds even in comparison with those who are actively involved in other social movement themes. But indigenous activists are not[tdh2]  more radical in general (Table A5 in the Appendix). Indigenous activists are both more in favor of and more against a future democratic world government (Table 5), indicating that this issue is contentious among indigenous activists. Or may be a reflection of past experiences with “democratic” states. Indigenous activists see the local community as the most important for solving problems more than do other attendees (Table 6) but they also consider themselves to be part of a global movement to a greater extent than other attendees (Table 7).

            Regarding the links that indigenistas have with other social movement themes as indicated by overlaps in which individuals claim active involvement with movements we find that indigenous rights movements are strongly connected with human rights, environmentalism, and anti-racism. The overlap with feminism is also strong and may be getting stronger.


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[1] The project web site is contains the WSF05, WSF07 and USSF07 and USSF 10 survey instruments. See . All network calculations employed the UCINET 6.130 software package (Borgatti, Everett & Freeman 2002).[is this right?]

[2] What we call “movement themes” include both ideological constellations (e.g. anarchism, communism, etc.) and topical issues. The latter groupings of social movement organizations around their goals have been called “social movement industries” (Zald and McCarthy, 1987; Snow and Soule 2010:152).

[3] Culturicide refers to destruction of a culture without necessarily killing individuals. Ethnocide refers to destruction of an ethnic identity without necessarily killing individuals. The two together constitute complete assimilation.

[4] Some useful references from various perspectives aare: Champagne 2010; Coates 2004; Cobo 1986; Fenelon 2012; Hall and Nagel 2000; Perry 1996; Smith 1999; and Tsosie 2003.

[5] World revolutions are periods in world history in which local rebellions cluster in time across the world-system. Iconic years of rebellions are used to symbolize the meaning and organizational nature of world revolutions: 1789, 1848, 1917, 1968, 1989 and 20xx for the one that is occurring now (Chase-Dunn and Niemeyer 2009).

[6] We use racial/ethnic because the terms were so used in the surveys. We also do not want to get bogged down in the long discussions about race versus ethnicity. As we noted in the beginning, our finding are sufficiently robust that their main thrust would not change substantially with more refined terms. For sure, such more refined questions and terms provide more data. It would be nice to be able to document the valence of the term “indigenous” in different parts of the world and in different local places and among different sets of people. Some times indigenous is a matter of pride (there is wide face book presence for just that) but in some places is highly charged negatively, such that some people do not use the term. Examination of these topics would help unpack the complex social construction of race, ethnicity, indigeneity in these contexts.

[7] The data set and additional tables and figures that we produced for this paper are available from the paper appendix at

[8] In Porto Alegre the survey question was “What is your race or ethnicity? Please write in.” In Nairobi and Atlanta the question was somewhat different: “What is your ethnicity or race? Check one.

o Black                  o Middle Eastern                 o South Asian     

o Indigenous        o Latino/Hispanic               o East Asian                        

o White                 o Pacific Islander

o Multiracial: Please specify _______________________________________________

o Other: Please specify___________________________________________________

o Decline to answer

In Detroit race and ethnicity were separated: “What is your race? Check one.”

o Black                             o Middle Eastern   o South Asian           

o Indigenous   o Latino/Hispanic                o East Asian             

o White                            o Pacific Islander   o Decline to answer

o Multiracial, please specify ______________________________________________

o Other, please specify___________________________________________________

 What is your ethnicity? _____________________________

The separation of race from ethnicity in the Detroit survey may have caused the answers to have a somewhat different meaning from those given in the other surveys, but the exact similarity in the number of those identifying themselves as indigenous at the Atlanta and Detroit meetings shown in the first row of Table 1 could imply that the differently worded questions did not have much effect. Most sociologists understand that both race and ethnicity are socially constructed status characteristics.






[9] As we have said above, we are not entirely confident that our efforts to obtain a random sample of attendees were entirely successful. It is possible that indigenous activists were so busy at the Detroit event that they did not have time to fill out our survey.


[10] The z-test comparison of these two proportions finds this difference to be significant at the .05 level.

[11] Some useful resources here are Dunaway 1996, 1997; 2000; Jaimes and Halsey 1992; Pickering 2000; Snow 1996; and Ward et al. 2000. The UN declaration is available on-line in several languages.

[12] The examples in Ferguson and Whitehead (1992) clearly show that many of these issues arose in instance long before the global dominance of capitalism. This indicates that some of these problems are rooted in states, whether they are capitalistic or not.


[13] In earlier studies we have looked at the networks produced from each Social Forum meeting separately (e.g. Chase-Dunn and Kaneshiro 2009; Chase-Dunn and Breckenridge-Jackson 2013). Our main finding is that, though there are some differences from meeting to meeting, the overall pattern of a single multicentric network in which all the movement themes are connected with one another holds across all the meetings.

 [tdh1]what is that doodad?

 [tdh2]is NOT correct?