Speaking Private Authority: The Construction of Sustainability in Forests and Fisheries

Roberto J Flores, Florida International University


The aim of this dissertation is to expand upon current understandings of the emergent global phenomenon that is private authority. Private authority is a process wherein private actors create, implement, and enforce rules aimed at managing global problems. As private authority is becoming increasingly important in the conduct of global governance, broadening our understanding of it will serve the field of International Relations. In this dissertation I argue that private actors are not simply outgrowths of structures or certain material conditions, rather they are purposive actors strategically pursuing an agenda. As such, explaining private authority requires an examination of the constitutive elements that underlie this social phenomenon––to which I apply an innovative conceptual and analytical framework that combines social network theory with discourse analysis. I applied these tools to two cases taken from the environmental sector––forests and fisheries. I found that as a result of the development of a greater networked character to environmental politics, the actors that were best able to generate and wield private authority were those that were able to construct discursive nodal points around which other competing actors could converge––at the level of identity. The construction of nodal points placed these private actors in privileged positions in-between competing networks––making them network connectors. In this position they are able to facilitate the flow of power across networks and convert such into private authority, at a rate greater than that of their competitors. As related to the cases, I found that in forests and fisheries sectors it was the Forest Stewardship Council and Marine Stewardship Council that emerged as the most prominent and expansive private authorities. They did so as a result of their ability to construct a nodal point around their tailored definition of what sustainable development meant, and looked like in practice. This placed them in-between two powerful networks (the environmental NGO network and the industrial network), facilitating the flow of power between them, and leveraging such to expand their programs beyond that of competing programs. Thus, social position plays a crucial role in determining the success of private authority programs.

Subject Area

Environmental Studies|International Relations

Recommended Citation

Flores, Roberto J, "Speaking Private Authority: The Construction of Sustainability in Forests and Fisheries" (2017). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10930727.