Grains of truth : science and the evolution of international desertification policymaking
Author(s)Long, Marybeth, 1967-
Science and the evolution of international desertification policymaking
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
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This study explores changing perceptions of dryland degradation (desertification) as revealed through twentieth century intergovernmental policies. Between the 1930s and 1990s these policies reflected markedly different ideas regarding the nature of the problem (e.g., global or local), its causes (e.g., natural or anthropogenic), and its remedies (e.g., based on modem science or indigenous knowledge). In the 1970s, for example, policies portrayed desertification as a phenomenon of worldwide extent. They identified "irrational systems of productivity" as primarily responsible for the problem and prescribed technological means for its amelioration. In the 1990s policies emphasized the local variability of land degradation. They attributed desertification to complex interactions involving ecological, political and economic factors, and called for decentralized programs and public participation. This thesis argues that the history of desertification as a policy issue does not conform to traditional notions of progress whereby advances in science enable and underwrite advances toward effective governance. In this case, varied framings of the problem, rather than emerging from improved understandings of nature, arose from interactions linking the creation of scientific knowledge with the formation of international environmental institutions. The study identifies four discrete periods of international desertification politics: colonial, modernist, internationalist and pluralist, and undertakes a comparison of expert advisory processes, quantification, and visual representations across the periods. On the basis of this comparison the thesis presents an alternative interpretation of policy change and identifies three processes by which science and international governance were mutually constitutive and evolved in tandem: authorization, inscription, and boundary work. Authorization is the process that determines whose knowledge counts and what methods of knowledge production are valid. Inscription describes the means by which institutional resources and priorities embed problem framings and causal narratives. Boundary work concerns efforts to organize activities, delegate responsibility, and determine rules of participation. In the desertification case, boundary work proved important in delineating realms of science and non-science, lay-expert, natural-social, and local-global. Recognition of these processes opens the way to redefining expertise and redesigning expert advisory processes in current international environmental regimes.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 2000.Includes bibliographical references (leaves 321-346).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Civil and Environmental Engineering.