A discourse analysis of civil society, regional agency and government relationships in natural resource management

Johnson, A 2017, A discourse analysis of civil society, regional agency and government relationships in natural resource management, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global, Urban and Social Sciences, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title A discourse analysis of civil society, regional agency and government relationships in natural resource management
Author(s) Johnson, A
Year 2017
Abstract Understanding the communication and interplay between civil society and various levels of government is critical to enabling reasoned responses to the global climate challenges that impact on communities. This study explores the discourse(s) of natural resource management (NRM) in an Australian context – a frontline area for such people-government response. However, these communications occur in situations that are diverse, complex and beset with interrelatedness between issues, people, power and policies.

The focus of this study lies within the context of water and catchment management in Australia and the way policy is awkwardly formulated, enacted and implemented through communication between civil society, Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) and various levels of government. The Glenelg Hopkins CMA region in south-west Victoria has been chosen as a case study to exemplify NRM discourse (s).

Three theoretical concepts underpin this study: (i) NRM participation; (ii) regionalisation and regionalism; and (iii) social-ecological dynamics and heterogeneity. Together, these provide the framework and the context within which this study takes place.

The aim is to probe ‘what lies beneath’ – to explore the NRM discourse(s) that interact and compete for meaning and power. The study also describes the discursive struggle between actors at a regional level, as well as those beyond the region at state and federal tiers of government.

This thesis uses discourse analysis to explore relationships through the lines of communication between civil society and various levels of government in natural resource management. The first step of the study was to identify the corpus of text relating to Australian natural resource management. An additional search compiled official communiqués, meeting notes, public documents and references pertaining with the activities of natural resource management at the Glenelg Hopkins CMA regional level. The second step adapted Dryzek’s taxonomy for organizing conflicting environmental discourse and applied it to the corpus relating to Glenelg Hopkins CMA, civil society and government. Interviewing key participants ascertained their perceptions of the discourse(s) and the discursive practices that emerged from and informed the discourses. Observation and field notes support the analysis. The third step identifies three co-existing discourses at play: an Official discourse, the discourse of Resistance and the pragmatic discourse of Utility and Action. Each discourse overlaps with the others and interacts in ways that give voice and dominance to different dialogues at different times.

NRM relationships are observed and documented in two regional case studies. The first is a study of networks, power, narratives and discursive practice that occur during Regional Catchment Investment Planning (RCIP) - an intense time of activity and interaction at the Glenelg Hopkins CMA. The second is a study of the partnerships, interaction and relationships in a four-year project between the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners and the CMA.

This study contributes to natural resource management and citizenship studies by using discourse to understand and recognise our own and others worldviews. There remains a great deal to be discovered in the construction of power relations and discourse especially as the language used by civil society is rarely studied. Greater understanding will in turn provide a means of negotiating the inconsistencies that exist at the interface between civil society and government. These inconsistencies and tensions prevent communities from identifying and developing their own destinies and governments from developing strategic and long-lasting state and national policies that are owned and implemented by those directly affected.

Importantly the study articulates the relationship between discourse analysis and participatory resource management and provides insight into participatory processes. In particular, it provides a new understanding of how processes serve to create and defend a particular discourse and potentially limit divergent views in NRM. Thus analysis provides insight into participatory processes through highlighting the discursive practice among the NRM actors.

Lastly, although set in the NRM context, learning from this study has potential application for others interested in civil society/government relationships and greater input of citizenry.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban and Social Sciences
Subjects Environmental Politics
Environmental Sociology
Natural Resource Management
Keyword(s) discourse analysis
natural resource management
participatory resource management
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Created: Tue, 13 Feb 2018, 09:31:00 EST by Denise Paciocco
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