Northwestern Events Calendar


GLOBAL LUNCHBOX | The Justice Gap in Global Forest Governance (Kim Marion Suiseeya)

When: Friday, May 21, 2021
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free

Contact: Cindy Pingry  


Category: Global & Civic Engagement, Academic, Lectures & Meetings


The Global Lunchbox is a weekly conversation convened by the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies that features current research and work-in-progress by Northwestern scholars in the social sciences and humanities working on a range of global issues. This week, Kim Marion Suiseeya of the Department of Political Science will discuss her research project on the justice gap in global forest governance.

About the project

If we assume that justice for forest peoples leads to greater involvement in decision-making processes and increased benefits-sharing, then from the perspective of the state, justice for forest peoples in forest governance interventions could undermine state power by empowering historically marginalized groups. Yet, we see significant investments by state and non-state actors dedicated to improving the justice outcomes of conservation initiatives in both democratic and authoritarian states. This empirical reality suggests that justice for forest peoples may be in the interest of global forest governance actors (states, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and firms), prompting a number of questions: Why do global forest governance actors pursue justice? Whose conceptualizations of justice do they pursue, for whom, at what scale, through what means, to what ends, and to what effect?

Importantly, despite efforts to promote more just conservation, particularly through global initiatives, claims of injustice persist and are increasing in visibility and scope. My research examines this apparent gap between global policy and national implementation and finds that the persistence of justice claims are not simply the result of poor forest governance, a lack of political will among policy-makers to uphold their commitments, or continuous ratcheting up of justice demands from forest peoples. Instead the justice gap emerges from a cognitive disconnect between how justice is institutionalized in global forest governance and the justice aspirations of forest communities.

Drawing on an expanded social theory of institutions and institutional change, this research project provides an in-depth exploration of the multivalent nature of justice and explains how norms serve to constrain the opportunities for justice for forest peoples. This research asks: What are the barriers to delivering justice to forest-dependent communities? I approach this question through a multi-sited, multi-method investigation that draws from nearly two years of fieldwork in Laos and Southeast Asia, as well as ethnographic field work at the 10th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the 2014 World Parks Congress, and the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The analysis blends an extended case study of Laos with the innovative methodology collaborative event ethnography to trace how ideas, norms, and principles of justice emerge, diffuse, and evolve across multiple scales of governance, from global policy arenas to forest community households. The findings reveal that particular conceptualizations of justice have become a central part of the metanormative fabric of global environmental governance, constraining institutional evolution and therewith perpetuating the justice gap in global forest governance.

About the speaker

Kim Marion Suiseeya is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Northwestern. She is also affiliated with Northwestern's Environmental Policy and Culture Program and the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. Her research examines the interactions between norms, institutions, and justice in global forest governance. Her areas of expertise include: environmental justice, global environmental governance, political ecology, and the politics of biodiversity conservation in Laos and mainland Southeast Asia. Her current work includes her collaborative, interdisciplinary project “From Presence to Influence: Examining the Politics of Indigenous Representation in Global Environmental Governance” as well as her ongoing work exploring the justice gap in forest governance in Southeast Asia.

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