Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 469–480 | Cite as

Multi-stakeholder initiative governance as assemblage: Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil as a political resource in land conflicts related to oil palm plantations

  • Michiel KöhneEmail author


Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSI) claim to make production of commodities more socially and environmentally sustainable by regulating their members and through systems of certification. These claims, however, are highly contested. In this article, I examine how actors use MSI regulation with regard to land conflicts with a focus on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). MSIs are a resource that actors in land conflicts can use to generate evidence that gives them leverage in their negotiations. To do so, actors employ the interrelations between two kinds of land conflict: localized land conflicts between local land users, and disputes between more distant actors over aggregated land-use related to the sustainability of palm oil production. To demonstrate this, I use the notion of assemblage in two case studies from Sumatra, Indonesia. Thinking in terms of assemblage allows the contradictory but interrelated practices that shape MSIs to be understood. In distinct locally embedded processes, actors enact MSIs in contexts of unequal power relations, from which MSI governance emerges. The way in which access to an MSI is distributed among contending actors shapes MSI enactments and thus its governance. The unequal distribution of access to the RSPO results in a governance that favors companies over communities.


Multi-stakeholder initiative Governance Assemblage Land conflict Access 



Multi-stakeholder initiative


Non-governmental organization


Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil



I would like to thank Emmanuelle Cheyns, Ernestine Köhne-Hoegen, Florence Palpacuer, Elisabet Rasch, Lone Riisgaard, Dik Roth and Theresa Selfa and for their valuable comments. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the international workshop on Governing Sustainable Agriculture through Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives: Participation, knowledge and networks in action at Cirad, Montpellier, December 2012. Joy Burrough advised on the English of a near-final draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology of Development and ChangeWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

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