The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) process aimed to be more inclusive, transparent, and participatory than prior United Nations processes. This article traces the practices of representation that were performed by civil society actors during the SDG process. In doing so, we advance a performative approach in which the very process of making representation is examined. Its aim is to conceptualize and study representation as an aesthetic and political practice. This leads to the two central research questions of this article: How do civil society organizations in global environmental politics make representative claims by picturing their envisioned future? How are future representations (that is, the representation of futures or future beings) related to actor positions during the SDG process? Special emphasis is given to representations of “the future” as an ever-present frame of reference in environmental politics. Based on a systematic content analysis of the statements of two Major Groups—Children, and Youth and Farmers—we discuss the variety of future representations between the Major Groups and how especially more radical future representations are connected to rather precarious actor positions in representative claims.

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Author notes


A previous version of this paper was presented at the panel “doing democracy: translations and boundaries” at the DVPW conference 2018 in Frankfurt a. Main. We thank all participants of this panel, as well as Alejandro Esguerra and three anonymous reviewers, for their very helpful comments.