Governing Sustainable Development: Partnerships, Protests and Power at the World Summit, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Governing Sustainable Development

Partnerships, Protests and Power at the World Summit, 1st Edition

By Carl Death


208 pages | 8 B/W Illus.

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Multilateral UN summits from Stockholm to Copenhagen have set the pace and direction for the global governance of sustainable development. The 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) was a key moment in the evolution of sustainable development as a discourse and summitry as a technology of government. It firmly established multi-stakeholder partnerships, carbon-trading and communication strategies as primary techniques for dealing with environmental crises. It was also a significant event in terms of South African domestic politics, witnessing some of the largest protests since the end of Apartheid.

Carl Death draws on Foucauldian governmentality literature to argue that the Johannesburg Summit was a key site for the refashioning of sustainable development as advanced liberal government; for the emergence of an exemplary logic of rule; and for the mutually interdependent relationship between ‘mega-events’ (summits, world cups, Olympic games) and ‘mega-protests’ understood as Foucauldian counter-conducts.

Analysing detailed and original research on the WSSD, Death argues that summits work to make politically sustainable a global order which is manifestly unsustainable. Paradoxically however, they also provide opportunities for the status quo to be protested and resisted. This work will be of great interest to scholars of development studies, global governance and environmental politics.


Carl Death’s innovative examination of power/knowledge relations in operation at the 2002 WSSD reveals fascinating insights into how different stakeholders ‘performed’ and used the summit for their own ends. It also provides a nuanced interrogation of the underlying discourses and processes of ‘sustainable development’.

Prof David Simon, Royal Holloway, University of London

In Governing Sustainable Development, Carl Death deftly explores how mega-summits, a staple of global environmental politics, cannot be dismissed as theatrical grandstanding, because it is precisely in their theatre that they (re)produce powerful political discourses that shape the world’s responses to environmental change. As part of a growing Foucauldian literature on environmental politics, it is indispensable to understanding the role of mega-summits in global politics.

Matthew Paterson, University of Ottawa, Canada

"This is an exciting, new take on sustainable development. Too often dismissed in scholarly circles as mere rhetoric and empty slogans, this book lays bare the political effects of sustainable development, both globally and locally in South Africa. It is a major contribution to the emerging literature on global governmentality, highlighting not only the power of partnerships in contemporary environmental governance but also the possibilities of resistance. Incisive, engaging and timely, the book speaks directly to a wide range of audiences, including those interested in global governance, environment, development and South African politics."

Rita Abrahamsen, University of Ottawa, Canada

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Power, Discourse, Government 3. Producing Sustainable Development 4. Negotiating Sustainable Development 5. Performing Sustainable Development 6. Resisting Sustainable Development 7. Conclusion

About the Author

Carl Death teaches environmental politics and African politics in the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University. His chief area of research is the governance and contestation of sustainable development in Southern Africa, and he has spent time conducting research at the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and Dublin City University in recent years.

About the Series


The Series provides a forum for innovative and interdisciplinary work that engages with alternative critical, post-structural, feminist, postcolonial, psychoanalytic and cultural approaches to international relations and global politics. In our first 5 years we have published 60 volumes.

We aim to advance understanding of the key areas in which scholars working within broad critical post-structural traditions have chosen to make their interventions, and to present innovative analyses of important topics. Titles in the series engage with critical thinkers in philosophy, sociology, politics and other disciplines and provide situated historical, empirical and textual studies in international politics.


We are very happy to discuss your ideas at any stage of the project: just contact us for advice or proposal guidelines. Proposals should be submitted directly to the Series Editors:

  • Jenny Edkins ( and
  • Nick Vaughan-Williams (

‘As Michel Foucault has famously stated, "knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting" In this spirit The Edkins - Vaughan-Williams Interventions series solicits cutting edge, critical works that challenge mainstream understandings in international relations. It is the best place to contribute post disciplinary works that think rather than merely recognize and affirm the world recycled in IR's traditional geopolitical imaginary.’

Michael J. Shapiro, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, USA


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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / City Planning & Urban Development
POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General