The social organization of policy: An institutional ethnography of the United Nations Intergovernmental Forum on Forests

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Marjorie L. DeVault


Social organization, Institutional ethnography, United Nations Intergovernmental Forum on Forests

Subject Categories

Environmental Policy | International Relations | Politics and Social Change | Work, Economy and Organizations


This thesis analyzes the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF), a global forest policy-making arena directly connected to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Specifically, I focus on the work of delegates of activist nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in contributing to the IFF process under the United Nations' auspices. In many ways, the official inclusion of NGOs into forest policy negotiations represents a shift to incorporate the interests of civil society into traditionally inter-governmental dialogues. However, this study indicates that the manner in which that inclusion is accomplished is an important area for sociological research.

Using a participant observation methodology, a variant of institutional ethnography as developed by Dorothy E. Smith, this study investigates the textually-mediated organization of forest policy negotiations through the IFF. The study examines the ways in which issues of participation and sustainable development have been incorporated into forest policy negotiations over time, and are subsequently deployed throughout the process. It points to the ways in which these negotiations were connected to and influenced by trade negotiations in other international fora.

From the standpoint of activist NGOs, the work shows the specific processes through which NGOs engage in textual negotiations and make decisions regarding their participation in the process. Activist NGOs who are active participants in the UN negotiations realize that their contributions to the process are contingent on their ability to work within the structural and ideological constraints of the UN organizational complex.

The study concludes with an analysis of a specific case in which activist NGOs jointly decided to contribute to the IFF process through legitimated means of document generation. Their decision reflected recognition of the context within which activist NGOs participate in intergovernmental fora.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.