Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 409–423 | Cite as

Introduction to the symposium

The exercise of power through multi-stakeholder initiatives for sustainable agriculture and its inclusion and exclusion outcomes
  • Emmanuelle CheynsEmail author
  • Lone Riisgaard


A number of multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) and commodity roundtables have been created since the 1990s to respond to the growing criticism of agriculture’s environmental and social impacts. Driven by private and global-scale actors, these initiatives are setting global standards for sustainable agricultural practices. They claim to follow the new standard-making virtues of inclusiveness and consensus and base their legitimacy on their claim of balanced representation of, and participation by, all categories of stakeholders. This principle of representing a wide range of interests with a balance of power is at the heart of a new type of action that forms part of a broader political liberal model for building coalitions of interest groups. The intention of this symposium is to assess the nature of processes and outcomes of this model while paying particular attention to the forms of inclusion and exclusion they generate. In this introduction, we highlight the differences in theoretical approaches to analyzing MSIs and the manifestation of power through them. We distinguish between more traditional political–economy approaches and approaches concerned with ideational and normative power, such as convention theory. We discuss some of the main paradoxes of MSIs related to their willingness to be “inclusive” and at the same time their exclusionary or “closure” effects due in part to interactions with existing political economic contexts and embedded power inequalities, as well as more subtle manifestations of power linked to the favoring of some forms of knowledge and engagement over others.


Multi-stakeholder initiatives Private standards Power Sustainable agriculture Exclusion 



Good agricultural practice


Multi-stakeholder initiative


Non-governmental organization


Roundtable on sustainable palm oil


Roundtables on responsible soy



We would like to thank Carmen Bain, Lawrence Busch, Benoit Daviron, Harvey James, Michiel Khöne, Stefano Ponte, Laura Raynolds, Anne Tallontire, and Laurent Thevenot for their insightful and helpful comments on earlier versions of this introduction. We would also like to thank the participants of the international workshop ‘Governing Sustainable Agriculture through Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives: Participation, knowledge and networks in action’ (Montpellier, 12–14 December) where the first drafts of the papers included in this symposium were first presented. The workshop was funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR-11-CEPL-0009, project PRIGOUE), The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark (development research project 10-107 DIIS), CIRAD and the research unit MOISA.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CIRAD, UMR MoisaMontpellier Cedex 5France
  2. 2.Roskilde UniversitetRoskildeDenmark

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