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Cover image of Transnational Transfers and Global Development


Title: Transnational Transfers and Global Development

Editor: Stuart S. Brown

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright: 2012

ISBN13: 978-0-230-28440-1

Pages: 237

Price: $85.00

Rating: 90%

The book's editor is a professor at Syracuse University, my alma mater. He passed my request for a review copy to Palgrave's publicity staff.

Transnational Transfers and Global Development, edited by Stuart S. Brown, is the product of two working conferences sponsored by the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs at Syracuse University. Many of the contributors are faculty members in Syracuse's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, but other authors come from Tufts University, the Nepa School of Social Sciences and Humanities in Nepal, and private industry.

The book's eleven chapters examine three categories of transnational transfers: remittances, ideas, and security. The volume's contributors distinguish between transactions, where money or services are exchanged on a quid pro quo basis, and transfers where the flow is one-sided and the grantor expects nothing in return from the grantee. Many exchanges have elements of both transactions and transfers, but the distinction serves the book's analytical purposes well by excluding most if not all commercial activity.


Remittances, which typically involve a family member finding work in another country and sending money home, are the most familiar transnational transfers. The book's introduction, written by editor Stuart Brown, provides an overview of how remittances contribute to the gross domestic product of developing countries. For example, remittances accounted for 35% of Tajikistan's 2009 GDP. Other countries such as Tonga, Samoa, Nepal, and Moldova also receive remittance contributions representing more than 20% of GDP.

In addition to transfers among family members, remittances can also take the form of payments to hometown associations (HTAs). HTAs, which are common in Mexico and El Salvador, pool remittances to fun common projects such as buildings and wells. The Mexican state of Zacatecas matches remittances sent through registered channels, a policy that later spread to the regional and national levels of government and resulted in what's called a 3×1 program. That such a program exists points to the importance of remittances in that state's economy. The chapter's authors note that there is a substantial difference between state involvement in El Salvador in Mexico because of the strength of the state and of the citizens' relationship to it. El Salvador experienced severe turmoil in the 1980s and 1990s, so the level of institutional trust is not as high as it is in other countries.

The next chapter addresses or remittances and fragile states, also known as failed states, difficult partnership countries, or low income countries under stress. Examples of these countries would be Somalia and Haiti, both of which have weak central rule, few resources, and significant social instability. The author, John McPeak, notes that much of his econometric analysis is speculative because of the inherently difficult nature of gathering statistics for states with compromised or nonexistent infrastructures, but he fills in the tables as best he can from several sources and produces a credible model that appears to be supported by the available data.

The first section's final chapter focuses on foreign remittances in Ghana. Unlike other countries such as El Salvador in Mexico, members of the Ghanaian diaspora tend to travel back to Ghana frequently and stay for significant lengths of time while they're there. One result of Ghana's colonial history is that certain sections of the country are much less developed than others. The northeast and northwest sections of the country were essentially ignored under British rule, so the banking and monetary transfer facilities available in the capital are absent. Another interesting aspect of Ghanaian remittances is that overseas workers use a significant portion of the money is used to build houses for themselves in Ghana. An entire industry has grown up around building these houses, which are status symbols indicating the builder has succeeded overseas.


The second section of the book deals with the transfer of ideas. The authors go well beyond the traditional arguments of media-based cultural imperialism by discussing the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in China, the role of corporate support of NGOs focused on nature protection, and the experience of Nepalese exchange students in the United States. Nepal is a particularly interesting example because of the political struggle between supporters of the existing monarchy and those who would prefer to see a transition to democracy. One monarchist exchange student was disappointed he couldn't physically confront demonstrators calling for democracy in Nepal.

The author of the China chapter sets his analysis in the context of global civil society. Global civil society is a primarily Western conception that refers to minimizing violence as a mode of resolving disputes, accepting the role of nonstate actors such as markets in international affairs, supporting the self-organization of citizens to influence policymakers, furthering the role of nongovernmental organizations in advancing "global" (read Western) values, and instilling a universal principle of tolerance. China is a particularly interesting case because the cultural norm is to support local and familial organizations and not international groups. NGOs in China are therefore almost exclusively funded by foreign entities, with understandable tension resulting from the perception that the NGOs operate on behalf of their funders.


The final section of the book addresses international security, specifically Track 2 diplomacy (diplomacy by private citizens such as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter), transfers through peacekeeping operations, and of the role of private security companies in national and international security. Private security companies such as Blackwater, Executive Outcomes, and Blue Mountain (the British firm hired by the United States to protect the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which was attacked in September 2012)  perform many close-in security and surveillance operations so the military can focus on other missions. Just as renting spaces and purchasing supplies at Western market rates introduces inequalities into local economies, foreign troops and contractors effect change by supporting the interests of their sponsors and not necessarily that of the host state or its citizens.


Transnational Transfers and Global Development provides an early view of a new area of inquiry, so it's natural that the essays in this volume reflect a broad approach. The chapters span the fields of political science, international relations, economics, and cultural anthropology, befitting the interdisciplinary nature of the subject. I believe the authors' methodologies and perspectives provide an excellent base on which to conduct further work, earning Transnational Transfers and Global Development a place on the shelves of university libraries and in the offices of professors interested in the topic.


Curtis Frye is the editor of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is the author of more than 30 books, most recently Improspectives; his list includes more than 20 books for Microsoft Press and O'Reilly Media. He has also created over a dozen online training courses for In addition to his writing, Curt is a keynote speaker and entertainer. You can find more information about him at


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