Participatory Institutions and Environmental Protection: Popular and Prior Consultations in Latin America

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This dissertation explores the relationship between institutions of political participation and environmental protection. What is the relationship and how is it constituted? How are participatory institutions put into motion, and how do they operate? What are the effects of these institutions? Are participatory institutions desirable from an environmental perspective and why? This dissertation assesses these questions. In doing so, it engages the broader theoretical question of how institutional analysis can contribute to the study of environmental issues and, inversely, how the study of the environment as an empirical area can enhance scholarship on institutional analysis and participatory democracy. The two institutions of participation explored here through in-depth case studies are popular consultations (also known as local referendums) and prior consultations. While these institutions differ in origin, nature, and logic, they share the core characteristic of being deployed by citizens (indigenous and non-indigenous) throughout Latin America in the last decade to stop companies from developing mines and other extractive projects in and around their towns and to safeguard the environment. This dissertation makes four main contributions. First, it identifies an institutional phenomenon I call citizen institutional activation, which is the political, contested process through which institutions, formal and informal, go from being dormant to active due to the action of individuals or social groups. Second, it unveils a problem faced by common-pool resources (CPRs), which I call the common problem of the commons. This emerges from the disparity between soil and subsoil property rights, which is common throughout the world, in which the state is the owner of the subsoil and its minerals, regardless of who owns the land. Such incongruence constitutes an external threat to resources on the land inasmuch as the state can confer concessions to those wishing to extract the minerals in the subsoil, which affects the CPRs on the land, regardless of the type of property rights. The threat accentuates the limits of property rights to solve environmental problems. Third, I posit that institutions of political participation, like popular and prior consultations, can be a tool to solve this common problem of the commons. The last finding relates to participatory democracy. By applying a new analytical framework borrowed from sociology of law and comparative constitutionalism, which is attentive to material, direct, indirect, and symbolic effects, to the implementation of these two participatory institutions, this dissertation finds that participatory institutions can produce six effects, which I have labeled deterrent, leveling, awareness, community empowerment, state-building, and creation, which enhance environmental protection.

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  • 03/26/2018
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