Weaving Governance Narratives: Multi-Level Cooperativist Institutions and the Governance of Small-Scale Fisheries in Mexico


Basurto, Xavier


García Lozano, Alejandro








Marine Science and Conservation


Environmental governance refers to a number of possible arrangements and decision-making processes that aim to structure the activities of humans in relation to the environment or natural resources. Governing the world’s fisheries remains a complex and pressing challenge, one that must reconcile the interests of an increasingly diverse cast of actors, including fishers and post-harvest workers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientists, local and national governments, and even global organizations like the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Projects to govern the world’s small-scale fisheries in particular face the challenging task of establishing order and regularity in what are dynamic and spatially dispersed activities that have socio-cultural, economic, political and ecological implications.

In Mexico, cooperativism is an important form of organization for small-scale fishers that is embedded in a long history of state-led development and intervention. Cooperatives form regional associations (federations), which in turn form national organizations (confederations). Federations and confederations are emerging as important yet understudied forms of organization through which cooperativist fishers in Mexico are enacting new forms of collective action and political representation. The purpose of this dissertation is to expand our current understanding of these nested or multi-level cooperative institutions, and their roles as key actors in the governance of fisheries in Mexico. The research adopts a critical institutionalist stance for understanding the roles of cooperativist institutions in the governance of fisheries, responding to critiques of more resource- and rule-centered analyses by focusing on the discourses and politicized dimensions of fisheries governance. The chapters in this dissertation address the following research questions: (1) What kinds of discursive and political practices do cooperativist fishers employ to represent themselves and other actors involved in the governance of fisheries? (2) How do cooperativist fishers assemble around and contribute to understandings of governance problems, and what are the implications for collective action? (3) What do the discourses of cooperativist fishers, examined in historical context and considering other circulating discourses, reveal about contested or politicized aspects of fisheries governance in Mexico?

The dissertation builds on and draws connections between different theoretical traditions for understanding natural resource governance and collective action: institutionalist scholarship on common-pool resources and the commons; human geography, political economy and political ecology; science and technology studies; and discursive or interpretive approaches to policy analysis. The data collection and fieldwork that inform the dissertation were conducted in the context of a collaborative research project, the National Diagnostic of Fishing Organizations (DNOP), which involved one national confederation of fishing cooperatives, two environmental NGOs in Mexico, and researchers from Duke University. The dissertation relies primarily on different forms of qualitative data, including audio recordings and participant observation of national assemblies of the confederation and regional meetings for the DNOP; focus groups and plenary discussions with fishers at regional meetings; key informant interviews with leaders of fishing organizations, NGOs, academics and government officials; and extensive review of legal documents, policies, and academic literature.

Collectively, the chapters in this dissertation demonstrate the importance of examining discourses, and the political practices and subjectivities associated with them, as a way to understand how different actors become positioned in conflicts and debates about the governance of resources such as fisheries. A key theme that emerges from this research is that, through their nested or multi-level organizations, cooperativist fishers engage in political practices of representation that aim to re-center the interests of the cooperativist sector in the wake of more recent policy changes associated with neoliberalism, which have reduced government support for the sector. Cooperativist fishers employ discursive, affective and strategic political practices that are problem-centered – aligning around complex sets of problems or problemáticas. Through these diverse politicized practices, they contest or call into question the dominant approaches for governing fisheries in Mexico, as well as the very nature of the cooperativist sector. Lastly, this dissertation demonstrates the importance of elements such as affect, storytelling, and the legacies of historical policy changes, as factors influencing the forms of collective action that are emerging and being re-negotiated through the work of cooperativist institutions that seek to remain central in the governance of Mexican fisheries.




Environmental studies


Natural resource management






discourse analysis






natural resource governance


small-scale fisheries


Weaving Governance Narratives: Multi-Level Cooperativist Institutions and the Governance of Small-Scale Fisheries in Mexico






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