Discourse as ideology: Neoliberalism and the limits of international forest policy

Humphreys, David (2009). Discourse as ideology: Neoliberalism and the limits of international forest policy. Forest Policy and Economics, 11(5-6) pp. 319–325.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forpol.2008.08.008


The term ‘discourse’ can have different applications in the social and policy sciences to refer variously to generalised ideas, beliefs and assertions. In particular there is a clear difference between discourse as knowledge and discourse as ideology. Epistemically the two are very different, with each making different types of claim. The paper examines the influence of an ideological discourse on international forest policy, namely neoliberalism. A variant of classical liberalism, neoliberalism emphasises an increased role for markets, an enhanced role for the private sector and voluntary regulation. It is argued that all three of these principles have systemically penetrated the international soft law on forests that has been negotiated since 1992 and up and including the 2007 Non-Legally Binding Instrument on all Types of Forests. Neoliberal policies also underpin forest certification schemes and the tradeable emission permits systems adopted under the Kyoto Protocol and the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme. Adopting a Foucauldian approach the paper views the construction of neoliberal discourse and its reiteration in the forests issue area as an expression of power that establishes the limits of international forest policy, tending towards certain policies and inhibiting the selection of others. It is argued that contrary to what is often asserted, neoliberalism depends on a strong state, one that introduces market-based disciplines to new areas and creates political space that can be occupied by private sector businesses.

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