Governing global civil society : the WTO, NGOs and the politics of traditional knowledge and biodiversity

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis examines the relationship that is emerging between the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and what many international relations scholars refer to as 'global civil society'. It focuses on the interactions and dialogue that have taken place between the WTO and representatives of 'global civil society' around one particularly controversial and widely-debated set of issues: ongoing debates about the WTO's Trade Related Intellectual Property Agreement (TRIPS) and the protection of 'traditional knowledge' and 'biodiversity'. Drawing on governmentality theory and other elements of Foucauldian thought, the thesis examines the practices and processes that 'structure the possible field of action' (Foucault 1983: 221) of non-state actors who seek to feed into policy debates at the WTO, and the patterns of inclusion and exclusion that result from these. The empirical data underpinning the analysis has been generated in a number of geographical sites - Geneva, Switzerland and Lima, Cusco, Iquitos and Puno in Peru - using a 'multi-sited' ethnographic approach. The analysis developed throughout the thesis illuminates some of the processes of filtering and erasure that occur when differently situated civil society organisations attempt to contribute to the same policy debate. It also highlights the very different roles played by Northern and Southern civil society organisations in the governance of traditional knowledge and biodiversity. The thesis thereby opens up new lines of enquiry into the forms of restriction and control which operate in and through the social spaces in which civil society interacts with the WTO, and the implications of these for processes of participation and representation in global governance.
Date of Award2011
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJutta Weldes (Supervisor) & Andrew K J Wyatt (Supervisor)

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