Weighting the world: IPBES and the struggle over biocultural diversity

Hannah Hughes, Alice B.M. Vadrot

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This article has two aims. The first is to provide an account of the struggle over the term biocultural diversity during the intergovernmental approval of the first IPBES thematic assessment report. Second, in detailing this struggle, we aim to contribute to scholarship on global environmental negotiating processes and the place and power of knowledge within these by introducing the notion of a weighted concept. Our analysis starts with the observation that the emergence of new scientific terms through global assessments has the potential to activate political struggle, which becomes part of the social construction of the concept and may travel with it into other international negotiating settings. By analyzing the way in which the term biocultural diversity initiated reaction from delegates negotiating the Summary for Policy Makers of the Pollination Assessment, we illuminate the distribution of authority or symbolic power to determine its meaning and place in the text. We suggest that the weighted concept enables us to explore the forms of knowledge underpinning political order and, in this case, unpack how biocultural diversity challenges the primacy of scientific knowledge by authorizing the place of indigenous knowledge in global biodiversity politics, which initiated attempts to remove or confine its usage in the text.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-37
Number of pages24
JournalGlobal Environmental Politics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 01 May 2019
Externally publishedYes


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