How REDD+ Is performing communities

Skutsch, Margaret; Turnhout, Esther


Community based approaches are becoming the norm in environmental governance initiatives. One prominent example of this is Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), a climate change mitigation strategy that aims at reducing carbon emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. REDD+ policies generally evoke communities as both potential beneficiaries of REDD+ and as agents for its implementation. However, it is unclear what REDD+ policies are really referring to when they talk about communities. Drawing on critical social science literature about the idea of community, this article advances a performative perspective to analyze how communities are articulated in international and national REDD+ policy, and reflects on the potential implications of these articulations. Results reveal that international policy documents, including those of the major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in REDD+, tend to present an interpretation that corresponds to Agrawal and Gibson's myth of communities as small, localized, and homogenous social units that share social norms. On the other hand, national policy documents reveal enormous variety in the communities that are actually targeted in national REDD+ policies in terms of resources, governance structure, and social cohesion. One conclusion that could be drawn from this is that the dominant uniform interpretation of communities in REDD+ policy, and in much academic and NGO literature, is clearly unrealistic. However, this does not mean that it is inconsequential. We conclude our article by discussing the performative effects of the identified articulations of community.