Forest policy and the global portrayal of forest-dwellers: Understanding the role of environmentalist discourses in Brazil and Malaysia

Sergio Rosendo

Research output: Working paper

1 Citation (Scopus)


Critical development theory has understood development and global environmental management practice to be the expression of euro-centric discourse that constructs objects such as "development" and "sustainability". Such discourse is presented as a Western or Northern creation and as something imposed on "the South". In keeping with the imagery of North/South, centre/margins, top-down/bottom-up, post-development work has seen marginalised people in the South as passive objects of this process but also as the subjects of resistance. It has looked to grassroots movements in the South as sources of alternatives to development that derive their legitimacy and authenticity from their externality to the discourse and apparatus of development. Drawing on case-studies of the movements of rubber tappers in Brazil and the Penan of Sarawak, Malaysia, we argue that such discourses and the regimes and interventions they conjure into being cannot be conceptualised simply as top-down imposition. Rather, such discourses are co-produced, the actions of grassroots movements in the South providing de facto validation of these regimes and interventions. This validation must be problematised, however, and we suggest a revised understanding of such regimes as what Ferguson calls "anti-politics machines". It is not that local political concerns are excluded by purely top-down, euro-centric intervention. Instead, social movements can be shown to employ strategies of self-presentation that adapt themselves to, and thus reproduce, the discursive values dominant in institutions of development and environmental management. In this way the fundamental concerns of grassroots movements may be compromised for the sake of gaining a degree influence over these institutions. This leaves us critical of the centralisation of power represented by such institutions and that induces such self-censorship, and brings into question the populism of seeing such movements as a source of uncompromised critique.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCentre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, UEA
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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