Environmental Governance through Partnerships

Environmental Governance through Partnerships

A Discourse Theoretical Study

New Horizons in Environmental Politics series

Ayşem Mert

Transnational partnerships have become mainstream across levels and issues of environmental governance, following their endorsement by the UN in 2002. Despite apparent success, their desirability as a way of governing human interactions with the planet’s ecosystems has not yet been properly investigated. In this revelatory book Ayşem Mert combines post-structuralist discourse theory and ecocriticism to analyse three discourses that have been rooted into the logic of partnerships: privatisation of governance, sustainable development and democratic participation. Ultimately, Mert argues that these discourses help understand both the potential and structural limitations of sustainability partnerships.

Chapter 7: Partnerships and the discourse of participation

Ayşem Mert

Subjects: environment, environmental politics and policy, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy, public policy


Even in much of today’s progressive politics, the danger is not passivity, but pseudo-activity, the urge to be active and to participate. People intervene all the time, attempting to ‘do something’, [while] the truly difficult thing is to step back and to withdraw from it. Those in power often prefer even a critical participation to silence – just to engage us in a dialogue, to make it sure that our ominous passivity is broken. Against such an interpassive mode in which we are active all the time to make sure that nothing will really change, the first truly critical step is to withdraw into passivity and to refuse to participate. This first step clears the ground for a true activity, for an act that will effectively change the coordinates of the constellation. (Žižek 2006: 26–27) The discourse of participation is the last discourse of this analysis on sustainability partnerships. Participation is one of the most elusive concepts also in democratic theory, and relates to several (at times even opposing) ideological perspectives: Participation as a political right is a fundamental tenet of classical libertarianism, whereas social democratic arguments for participation involve bringing about social justice. In the context of development, it is regarded as a non-ideological criterion to judge or improve the efficiency of development projects by most development economists, while the empowerment arguments of the 1970s regarded participation as a radical political project to alter social stratifications, political systems and institutions through class struggle.

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