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The politics of evidence: towards critical deliberative governance in sustainable development

Elgert, Laureen (2011) The politics of evidence: towards critical deliberative governance in sustainable development. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Recent debates about environmental governance emphasize the roles of participation, evidence and deliberation. Authors have discussed how deliberative theory can deepen commitments to public participation in policy debates. Evidence, however, is often presented as neutral and objective fact, and on this basis is privileged in policy debates, preemptively defining environmental problems and solutions. Under this circumstance, how can policy processes take deliberation seriously? How can the politics of evidence be identified and openly addressed by participants in policy processes? These research questions are addressed by analyzing three cases of environmental governance mechanisms, in the developing country context of Paraguay. The cases were selected for their emphasis on evidence and participation in decision-making. Also, each brings into question the politics of evidence, as their policy implications have raised debate and contention. The specific governance mechanisms explored in this study are: 1) land classification for conservation and rural development; 2) land use planning scenarios generated with a computer modeling program; and, 3) the development of global certification standards for soy production within the ‘Roundtable on Responsible Soy’. Each is seen as a means of addressing what is widely seen as rapid and extensive environmental degradation in Paraguay, and also the historic and continued exclusion of much of the public in environmental decision-making. The principal findings of my analysis are that i) public participation in environmental governance is often constrained by what is considered evidence; and ii) evidence is considered such because it is assumedly based on fact, but evidence-based arguments are influenced by social and political factors. As a result of these findings, I argue for a new approach to environmental governance – critical deliberative governance. A reflexive, non-essentialist approach to knowledge strengthens deliberation, by making explicit the social basis for authority and credibility, and opening up its tenets to debate. This critical approach to knowledge is vital for a democracy in which normative arguments are not effectively closed off by formal and authoritative expertise.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2011 Laureen Elgert
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Forsyth, Tim

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