Special Issue "Power, Emancipation and Justice in Natural Resource Governance—Towards “Critical and Transformative Sustainability Sciences”"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Use of the Environment and Resources".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 July 2018).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Stephan Rist
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
1. Institute of Geography, University of Bern, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland;
2. Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland;
3. UNESCO Chair for Cultural and Natural Heritage and Sustainable Mountain Development, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
Interests: human geography (nature–society relationships and sustainability); governance of natural resources and sustainability; agroecology; organic agriculture; social and societal learning processes; sustainable regional development; indigenous knowledge; culture and sustainability; transdisciplinarity and action-research
Dr. Christoph Oberlack
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Centre for Development and Environment, Institute of Geography, University of Bern, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
Interests: polycentric governance; land use in telecoupled systems; large-scale land acquisitions, beyond land grabbing; governance of climate change adaptation; methods for analyzing archetypical patterns in the governance in social-ecological systems; transdisciplinary research methods; teaching methods
PD Dr. Flurina Schneider
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Centre for Development and Environment, Institute of Geography, University of Bern, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
Interests: research for sustainable and just development; governance and use of natural resources such as water and soils; stakeholders perceptions, norms, and values; sustainability transformations, social learning processes; transdisciplinary co-production of knowledge

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Research on problems and solutions of natural resources governance committed to sustainability is now well established. The resulting “sustainability sciences” are contributing important scientific knowledge generated within and between a great number of disciplines, including transdisciplinary collaboration with non-scientific actors; e.g., organized as peasant, indigenous, worker or consumer movements, NGOs and representatives of the public administration, governments, or private companies.

However, the prevailing approaches to sustainability sciences are often criticised for not considering power relations within and between local actors involved in a specific socio-ecological system and more distant actors, often living far away from the local contexts, which are affected by their decisions. This creates “tele-couplings” of local action arenas with distant actors, often not directly interacting with each other at local levels. Examples are foreign investors acquiring large surfaces of land (“land grabbing”) or interested in investing in mining, energy production, building roads, commodity processing factories, or houses. These challenge the identification of actor, types of interactions, and forms of negotiation required for jointly defining a coherent set of sustainability values that includes the multiple dimensions of justice eventually orienting the concrete sustainability transformations.

Power is often expressed in actor-specific asymmetries regarding the distribution of and access to natural resources and the economic benefits they are able to create. This poses serious questions regarding the principle of justice, which represents a fundamental part of sustainability. However, every transformation in resource governance involves the exercise of power that may create the conditions for more equal access to natural resources. Any transformation towards sustainable resource governance is likely to face a double challenge: on the one hand, sustainable governance of natural resources must have the power to—sometimes radically—transform individual and societal forms of oppression that are impeding more equal access to natural resources. On the other hand, the emancipatory struggles and the power required for making access to natural resources more equal simultaneously provides the context for developing more reflexive and deliberative forms of resources governance, which aim at making power less important in the reproduction of social-ecological relations.

Main topics of this Special Issue

Addressing and fruitfully navigating through this double challenge is at the core of the emerging field of “critical and transformative sustainability sciences”. With this Special Issue, we invite authors to submit papers that demonstrate how power, emancipation, and justice have to be interrelated in conceptual, methodological, and empirical terms in such a way that they result in processes of governance that adequately master the synergies and trade-offs between power, emancipation, and justice.

We especially welcome reflections and case studies that take account of increasingly tele-coupled resource governance systems. Contributions of special interest concern the resource systems of land, water, vegetation, or the atmosphere, and related challenges for food, feed, and energy systems, including the analysis of the associated flows of people, information, materials, energies, and capital. Guiding questions that could be addressed are:

  1. What are adequate conceptualizations of power, emancipation, justice, and governance that could guide “critical and transformative sustainability sciences”?
  2. Which are key features of governance processes that contribute to more equal access to natural resources and at the same time to emancipation and justice based on deliberative collective decision-making?
  3. Which are the roles of markets, states, networks, and local people’s organizations in emancipatory initiatives shaping transformative pathways of change and response towards sustainability?
  4. Under what conditions do emancipatory initiatives enhance or do not enhance equal access to natural resources, and at what scales?
  5. How does “critical and transformative sustainability” benefit from the transdisciplinary co-production of knowledge?
Prof. Dr. Stephan Rist
Dr. Christoph Oberlack
PD Dr. Flurina Schneider
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1700 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • natural resources
  • sustainability
  • power
  • emancipation
  • justice
  • governance
  • deliberation
  • transdisciplinarity
  • telecoupling

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Enabling Environments? Examining Social Co-Benefits of Ecosystem-Based Adaptation to Climate Change in Sri Lanka
Sustainability 2019, 11(3), 772; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11030772 - 01 Feb 2019
Abstract
Climate change vulnerability and social marginalisation are often interrelated in and through environments. Variations in climate change adaptation practice and research account for such social-ecological relations to varying degrees. Advocates of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation (EbA) claim that it delivers social [...] Read more.
Climate change vulnerability and social marginalisation are often interrelated in and through environments. Variations in climate change adaptation practice and research account for such social-ecological relations to varying degrees. Advocates of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation (EbA) claim that it delivers social co-benefits to marginalised groups, although scant empirical evidence supports such claims. I investigate these claims in two EbA interventions in Sri Lanka, interpreting social benefits through an empowerment lens. I use qualitative methods such as focus groups and narrative interviews to study the conduct and context of the interventions. In both cases, marginalised people’s own empowered adaptive strategies reflect how power relations and vulnerabilities relate to dynamic ecologies. The findings show that EbA enabled social benefits for marginalised groups, especially through support to common-pool resource management institutions and the gendered practices of home gardens. Such conduct was embedded within, but mostly peripheral to, broader and deeper contestations of power. Nevertheless, projects acted as platforms for renegotiating these power relations, including through acts of resistance. The results call for greater recognition of the ways that marginalised groups relate to ecology within empowered adaptive strategies, whilst also highlighting the need to recognise the diverse interests and power relations that cut across the conduct and contexts of these nominally ecosystem-based interventions. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
“When We Stand up, They Have to Negotiate with Us”: Power Relations in and between an Agroindustrial and an Indigenous Food System in Bolivia
Sustainability 2018, 10(11), 4001; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10114001 - 01 Nov 2018
Abstract
Our global food system is characterized by an increasing concentration and imbalance of power, with trade-offs between hunger, inequality, unsustainable production and consumption, and profit. A systematic analysis of power imbalances in food systems is required if we are to meet the 2030 [...] Read more.
Our global food system is characterized by an increasing concentration and imbalance of power, with trade-offs between hunger, inequality, unsustainable production and consumption, and profit. A systematic analysis of power imbalances in food systems is required if we are to meet the 2030 Agenda vision of promoting sustainable production and consumption patterns and ending hunger and poverty. Such an analysis, with a view to a transformation to more sustainable and just food systems, requires tools to be developed and tested in real-life case studies of food systems. To better understand the structures and mechanisms around power in food systems, this study applies a political ecology lens. We adapted the “power cube” analysis framework that was proposed by the Institute of Development Studies for the analysis of spaces, forms, and levels of power. We apply the analysis of these three dimensions of power to two food systems in the tropical lowlands of Bolivia: one agroindustrial and one indigenous. After identifying food system actors, the food system spaces in which they interact, and what forms of power they use at what levels, we discuss some implications for an emerging scientific culture of power analyses in critical sustainability assessments. Mechanisms of hidden power undermine visible legislative power in both case studies, but in our example of an indigenous food system of the Guaraní people, visible power stays with a local community through their legally recognized and communally owned and governed territory, with important implications for the realization of the right to food. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Distant Interactions, Power, and Environmental Justice in Protected Area Governance: A Telecoupling Perspective
Sustainability 2018, 10(11), 3954; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10113954 - 30 Oct 2018
Cited by 4
Abstract
Equity has become a major concern in efforts to conserve nature. However, in the Global South, inequitable social impacts of conservation usually prevail. We investigate barriers to equitable governance of four protected areas through an innovative approach linking the tri-dimensional framing of environmental [...] Read more.
Equity has become a major concern in efforts to conserve nature. However, in the Global South, inequitable social impacts of conservation usually prevail. We investigate barriers to equitable governance of four protected areas through an innovative approach linking the tri-dimensional framing of environmental justice with the notion of telecoupling. We conceptualize the creation, support, and implementation of protected areas as telecoupling processes that involve flows, actors, and action situations, and assess them based on a set of indicators of procedural justice, distributive justice, and recognition. We perform the analysis for parallel or competing telecoupling processes that affect the areas and we then investigate the scope and reach of resistance actions to attain more equitable outcomes. Identified barriers include dependence of the PAs on transnational financial flows, presence of competing extractive demands, negative narratives on local practices, wilderness and Malthusian framings, authoritarian rule, narrow development options, and socio-cultural discrimination. These combined barriers create multiple forms of exclusion. Resistance actions are likely to succeed when actors can mobilize alliances and resources across distance. We conclude that justice framings can make power relationships in telecouplings more visible, and that considering distant interactions can elucidate causes of (in)equity in conservation. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Barking Up the Right Tree? NGOs and Corporate Power for Deforestation-Free Supply Chains
Sustainability 2018, 10(11), 3869; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10113869 - 24 Oct 2018
Abstract
Supply chain sustainability has become a key issue for multinational corporations (MNCs). Hundreds of MNCs in agri-commodity sectors have recently committed to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. In this article, we examine the power of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participating in two initiatives [...] Read more.
Supply chain sustainability has become a key issue for multinational corporations (MNCs). Hundreds of MNCs in agri-commodity sectors have recently committed to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. In this article, we examine the power of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participating in two initiatives that support the implementation of such commitments: the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) and Transparency for Sustainable Economies (Trase). Drawing on document and literature research, participant observation as well as semi-structured interviews, we find that these NGOs exercise power with MNCs, in particular in terms of raising awareness and changing corporate self-perceptions. At the same time, though, there is a bias towards representing the positions and interests of materially strong actors in global supply chains. In doing so, NGOs risk reinforcing MNCs’ power over more marginalized actors. In this light, we argue that initiatives such as AFi and Trase can only be a first step towards a new economic system that respects ecological limits and delivers social justice. In order to shape transformative change, NGOs need to more actively push discussions about equitable distribution, emancipation and justice in natural resource governance. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Whose Agency Counts in Land Use Decision-Making in Myanmar? A Comparative Analysis of Three Cases in Tanintharyi Region
Sustainability 2018, 10(10), 3823; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10103823 - 22 Oct 2018
Cited by 3
Abstract
Myanmar has experienced profound transformations of land use and land governance, often at the expense of smallholders. Empirical evidence on the agency of actors included and excluded in land use decision-making remains scarce. This study analyses who influences land use decision-making, how they [...] Read more.
Myanmar has experienced profound transformations of land use and land governance, often at the expense of smallholders. Empirical evidence on the agency of actors included and excluded in land use decision-making remains scarce. This study analyses who influences land use decision-making, how they do this, and under what circumstances smallholders are included. Comparing three land use trajectories in southern Myanmar, we analysed actors’ agency—conceived as the meanings and means behind (re)actions—in land use decision-making using data from focus groups and interviews. Results showed that uneven distribution of means can lead to unequal decision-making power, enabling actors with more means to exclude those with less means: smallholders. However, this only applies in the case of top-down interventions with mutually exclusive actor interests regarding use of the same land. Where interests are compatible or a mediator supports smallholders in negotiations, actors are likely to develop a collaboration despite unequal means, leading to smallholders’ inclusion in decision-making. Transformation of current land governance towards sustainable development could be promoted by providing mediators to actors with few means, ensuring equal access for all to formal land tenure, engaging with brokers in the land governance network, and improving access to knowledge and financial capital for actors with few means. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Participation as Relational Space: A Critical Approach to Analysing Participation in Sustainability Research
Sustainability 2018, 10(8), 2853; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082853 - 11 Aug 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
In the field of sustainability, scholars, and policy-makers herald the transformative power of participation in knowledge production. However, a discrepancy between these expectations and the limited understanding of the complex interactions constituting participation processes can be observed. With the aim of critically analysing [...] Read more.
In the field of sustainability, scholars, and policy-makers herald the transformative power of participation in knowledge production. However, a discrepancy between these expectations and the limited understanding of the complex interactions constituting participation processes can be observed. With the aim of critically analysing these complex interactions, this paper develops a conceptual perspective on participation as a relational space which is formed in the interplay of structures and processes. This perspective is applied to the analysis of empirical literature in sustainability research, development research, and science and technology studies. The literature review guided by the proposed conceptualisation systematically draws together the rich experience with participation in knowledge production. Elements constituting participation spaces along the dimensions ‘structures’ and ‘actors’ are identified and discussed in relation to ‘processes’ of space-making: (i) (in)coherences with reference system, (ii) resources, (iii) timing, (iv) expectations, (v) mutual trust, and (vi) worldviews and values. Power relations are found to pervade the three dimensions. Enhanced conceptual-analytical clarity of the elements constituting participation spaces provides a differentiated basis for discussing the transformative power of participatory knowledge production. By stimulating reflexivity on the making of participation, this approach contributes to better understanding when spaces of participation have the capacity to become spaces of transformation. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Market Power Extended: From Foucault to Meadows
Sustainability 2018, 10(8), 2843; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082843 - 10 Aug 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
Market power is a complex matter that is approximated with quantitative indicators within economics. However, these indicators may not fully capture market power, or they may fail to identify it, although it may be present. Moreover, a quantitative approach restricts market power as [...] Read more.
Market power is a complex matter that is approximated with quantitative indicators within economics. However, these indicators may not fully capture market power, or they may fail to identify it, although it may be present. Moreover, a quantitative approach restricts market power as a concept, impeding the ability to discuss its relationship with other concepts, such as sustainability. This paper extends the definition of market power, following Foucault’s understanding of power and the associated theoretical discussions of power from different disciplines. We extended Foucault’s work by including systems thinking to capture the importance of the prevalent system’s paradigm, which is the ultimate initiator of action. Apart from distinguishing different elements of power, we also integrate an instrumental view on the elements of power. The developed frame allows us to understand the dynamic character of power as a force that strives to maintain or ameliorate the position of the paradigm that it serves. Based on this frame, we outline how this extended understanding of power can be used to analyze market power itself, and its relation with sustainability. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Tele-Coupling Energy Efficiency Polices in Europe: Showcasing the German Governance Arrangements
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1754; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061754 - 27 May 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
Climate change entails many situations of tele-coupling. We analyze an example in the field of European climate and energy policy. The EU aims at an almost full decarbonisation of its economy by 2050. Achieving this objective asks for transforming the energy sectors of [...] Read more.
Climate change entails many situations of tele-coupling. We analyze an example in the field of European climate and energy policy. The EU aims at an almost full decarbonisation of its economy by 2050. Achieving this objective asks for transforming the energy sectors of EU Member States. These are responsible for 80% of carbon emissions. Further to this policy coupling, the EU transformation objectives have to be implemented by the Member States, regions and local actors. This proves especially complex in the field of energy efficiency. Here, a variety of policy instruments and actors are in place. In our contribution, we investigate in the question how multi-level governance arrangements in the energy efficiency field are designed. We focus on Germany as example for a federal state setting. Our review method comprises literature content analysis, primary sources, expert interviews and an in-depth screening of the German Sustainable Energy Action Plans. We find that formal vertical coordination has been successfully backed up by horizontal and especially informal governance mechanisms, leading to a model of polycentric governance. This model might serve as blueprint for other multi-level governance arrangements. Yet, we find that the “last mile” of this coordination still needs strengthening: Local actors need more active engaging and empowering to reap the full potential of the governance arrangements. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Norm Entrepreneurs Sidestep REDD+ in Pursuit of Just and Sustainable Forest Governance
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1726; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061726 - 25 May 2018
Abstract
This paper explores the dissonance between conceptions of justice among forest-adjacent communities and their representation in global forest policies, a persistent barrier to delivering just sustainability. We empirically track justice claims of rural villagers upwards through specific intermediaries or ‘justice brokers’: civil society, [...] Read more.
This paper explores the dissonance between conceptions of justice among forest-adjacent communities and their representation in global forest policies, a persistent barrier to delivering just sustainability. We empirically track justice claims of rural villagers upwards through specific intermediaries or ‘justice brokers’: civil society, state, or private sector actors operating at local to international levels, who navigate different institutions to advance various social and ecological interests. We draw on interviews with 16 intermediaries in each of Nepal and Uganda and find that recognition of local values and practices such as customary tenure systems are key justice concerns of forest-adjacent communities in each country. However, intermediaries perceive a low likelihood of advancing those claims through national or international climate and forest policy debates, such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), in large part because deliberations on justice are subordinated to concerns such as carbon accounting and arrangements for distributing monetary benefits. This suggests these policy processes must be modified to offer potential for transformational pathways. Intermediaries who pursued recognition justice issues developed innovative tactics in alternative forums. These ‘norm entrepreneurs’ adopted a suite of complementary strategies to attain influence, including: (1) formation of associations at the grassroots level; (2) media and advocacy campaigns through national coalitions to reach powerful international donors, and; (3) drawing on international support networks for advice, training and to influence national government. In both Uganda and Nepal these strategies were evidenced to enhance recognition for local values and practices. Full article
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Review

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Open AccessReview
Participation, Power, and Equity: Examining Three Key Social Dimensions of Fisheries Comanagement
Sustainability 2018, 10(9), 3324; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10093324 - 18 Sep 2018
Abstract
Comanagement of natural resources is a well-established approach to the management of common-pool resources such as small-scale fisheries, operating in multiple contexts and settings for over two decades. These programs are expected to be adaptable and promote social and ecological benefits, such as [...] Read more.
Comanagement of natural resources is a well-established approach to the management of common-pool resources such as small-scale fisheries, operating in multiple contexts and settings for over two decades. These programs are expected to be adaptable and promote social and ecological benefits, such as sustainable livelihoods and biodiversity goals. As programs mature, it is important to consider how some core principles of comanagement have manifested in practice, as well as whether they deliver on these promised benefits. Drawing from the conservation, small-scale fisheries, and fisheries management literature, this paper examines three fundamental principles of fisheries comanagement: participation, equity, and power. The conceptualization, definitions, and measures of each theme are presented, with discussion of the current gaps in the literature. We also demonstrate the deep interrelationships between these key dimensions of comanagement, and the need for greater attention to their combined influence on comanagement outcomes and processes. While the literature offers foundational ideas for incorporating these themes into fisheries comanagement practice, tethering these concepts to clear, but context-specific goals and practices is essential for improving social outcomes. We find that key goals of fisheries comanagement could be impeded by the lack of depth in addressing these themes in practice, and suggest the need for greater critical attention to their expressions in comanagement processes. Full article
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