Giving voice to the people: towards a representative civil society Investigating Perspectives on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Environmental European Civil Society Organisations

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The capacity of civil society organisations (CSOs) to represent universal interests is being increasingly questioned. Interest has arisen in exploring how equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) can improve CSOs’ representativity, especially of marginalised communities. This study focuses on the perspectives on EDI held by European-level CSOs (EU CSOs). Examining descriptive representation through the lens of EDI remains underexplored in the existing literature. Through inductive qualitative research, the study investigates how EU CSO employees frame their role as civil society and what the relation is between these framings and their understanding of EDI. It follows a constructivist approach and is based on 13 interviews with staff of environmental EU CSOs in Brussels. The study shows how, although EU CSOs mostly frame their role in line with EU institutional discourse, they also adopt the Change Agent frame – a transformative and disruptive role. The thesis illustrates how EU CSO employees’ understanding of EDI mostly conforms with well-established diversity paradigms and sheds light on a novel paradigm, ‘Power-and-Transformation’, which views EDI as an approach capable of generating structural change. This paradigm is notable for its potential to contribute to descriptive representation in EU CSOs: bringing these democratic actors closer to being the legitimate voice of the people.
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