Scaling claims of common good: transnational and intercultural advocacy in the Brazilian Amazon

by Raúl Acosta

Working Papers WP 12-03
January 2012
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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As the single largest forested area in the world, the Amazon is valued by the scientific community for its key role in global climate. The pace of deforestation, however, has worried many international agencies and state governments. Most of the forest destruction is due to the private expansion of agriculture, farming and mining. The conflicts that criss-cross the area combine two fields of strong tension: between public and private interest, and between different understandings of territory and value stemming from contrasting cultural conventions. Although a social assemblage cannot be said to enclose a single cultural set of fixed understandings, the way in which a territory is used usually requires a minimal degree of consensus in accordance with cultural principles. This paper explores how one non-governmental organization tries to engage stakeholders in the area to subsume their private interests to public concerns through an idea of a global common good. Its advocacy agenda is on developmental conservation, in opposition to resource extraction or deforestation in this frontier area. The NGO in question is an independent research institute that carries out original research and uses its results to promote a balance between social development and ecological conservation. It is part of transnational advocacy networks and is in constant contact with the Brazilian government and international agencies. Through what I call ceremonies of consent, its members explain contrasting potential consequences from different scenarios of policies, rules and commitments. Their language and performance usually include references to data that many stakeholders can relate to. Through these efforts, it is suggested here, NGO members hope to bring a consensus between conflicting cultural understandings of territory, environment and development. Their actions are geared towards scaling up the common good.

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