How Environmentalists "Greened" Trade Policy: Strategic Action and the Architecture of Field Overlap


Kay, Tamara, and Rhonda Evans. 2008. “How Environmentalists "Greened" Trade Policy: Strategic Action and the Architecture of Field Overlap.” American Sociological Review. American Sociological Review. Copy at

Date Published:

Dec 1, 2008


This article examines why and how environmental activists, despite considerable political weakness and disproportionally few resources, won substantive negotiating concessions that far outstripped labor achievements during NAFTA’s negotiation. Despite a trade policy arena hostile to their demands, environmentalists gained official recognition for the legitimacy of their claims, obtained a seat at the negotiating table, turned a previously technocratic concern into a highly visible populist issue, and won an environmental side agreement stronger than its labor counterpart. We argue that this unexpected outcome is best explained by environmentalists’ strategic use of mechanisms available at the intersection of multiple fields. While field theory mainly focuses on interactions within a particular field, we suggest that the structure of overlap between fields—the architecture of field overlap—creates unique points of leverage that render particular targets more vulnerable and certain strategies more effective for activists. We outline the mechanisms associated with the structure of field overlap—alliance brokerage, rulemaking, resource brokerage, and frame adaptation—that enable activists to strategically leverage advantages across fields to transform the political landscape.


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