chapter  5
30 Pages

Performing sustainable development: Governing by example at the Summit

In re-orientating sustainable development towards voluntary bilateral partnerships, it appeared that the Johannesburg Summit marked the beginning of the end for multilateral summits convened to negotiate a consensus text. Yet to suggest that global summits have no role in the evolving formations of advanced liberal government is to underestimate their theatrical, performative and exemplary power. The Johannesburg Summit was far more than simply an institutional mechanism for the production of a set of negotiated outcomes. Following in the footsteps of the conferences in Stockholm and Rio, it was a global mega-event, a summit of summits, which sought to encapsulate the state of sustainable development and perform it to the world. This chapter demonstrates how the theatrical spectacle of the Summit functioned as a technique of advanced liberal government, and as such constitutes a form of ‘exemplary government’ which established a stage and audience, assembled a particular cast of actors to perform their roles, and stage-managed and communicated their performances in particular ways. This rationality of exemplary government has particular political effects, and poses certain political risks in terms of the governance of sustainable development.