The Right to Resist: Disciplining Civil Society at Rio+20



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The Journal of Peasant Studies


Drawing on a collaborative ethnographic study of the United Nations (UN) Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and its preparatory meetings, we examine how the official UN ‘participatory’ process for engaging civil society in Rio+20 negotiations simultaneously enabled and disciplined contestation through processes such as seeking consensus around a common statement, professionalizing civil society representatives and controlling protests in order to protect broad access to negotiations. We document how, in doing so, the official participatory process undermined the right to voice diverse positions. We also find that Southern access to negotiations was limited by lack of funding, human resources, location and language. Finally, we illustrate how a group of non-governmental organizations based primarily in the Global South utilized the official UN Major Groups ‘participatory process’ to build alliances to protect resource rights language in the negotiating text. Ultimately, we argue that, through the struggle to build alliances, activists critical of the green economy became enlisted in reproducing its hegemony.



Rio, rights