Endangered species protection represents one of the most enduring paradigms of global environmental governance. From a localized concept rooted in North American conceptions of nature, it evolved over the first half of the 20th century into a norm shaping inter-state behavior. This article analyzes the making of endangered species protection as the first global environmental norm, within a broadly constructivist framework. The central concern is how the “making of” the norm impacted its becoming; and how it continues to determine the current orientation of global environmental policy-making. Three enduring legacies are explored. First, the norm was essentially “made in the North” and for the North. A genealogy of the norm thus brings into sharp relief the North-South tensions that have developed as the norm was extended onto a global level. Second, the article highlights the divide between conservationists and preservationists, which continues to plague much policy-making today, as it leads to conflicting visions of global environmental well-being. In a genealogical perspective, this split appears constitutive of the norm itself, and no closer to being resolved. Third, the article examines the targeted single-species approach that was first ushered in by the norm, and has become entrenched as a template for global environmental policy-making at large. There the article asks whether the norm has in fact precluded the passage to more comprehensive, ecosystemic approaches in the making of global environmental policies. Throughout the discussion the whaling issue takes center stage, because of its role in the emergence of the norm, and because of the way it continues to capture recent developments in global environmental politics.


This article is dedicated to the memory of Michel Batisse.

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Author notes

Charlotte Epstein (Ph.D., Cambridge University) has recently taken up her new position as lecturer of International Relations at the University of Sydney, Department of Government and International Relations, after completing her time as a Georges Lurcy visiting Fellow at the UC Berkeley. With a background in Philosophy and Literature (at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne) on the one hand, and International Relations (at Cambridge University) on the other, her research focuses broadly on forms of discursive power in international relations. Her Ph.D. dissertation, currently under revision for publication, is entitled “The Power of Words in International Relations: Birth of an Anti-whaling Discourse.” Other recent publications explore the knowledge-power nexus in global environmental activism (International Journal of Peace Studies 2005, 10) and questions of activism, cultural diversity and globalization (Cambridge Review of International Affairs 2003, 16).