The relationship between state administrations and environmental issues has been an enduring concern of geographers, environmentalists, philosophers, sociologists and political scientists for a considerable length of time. This article provides a critical review of approaches to the study of state–environment relations across of a range of different disciplines. While states have been criticised as either ineffectual, unjust, or even irrelevant managers of socio-environmental relations in the modern world, this article argues that states continue to play a significant role within a range of environmental issues at a number of different scales. In order to explore the contested role of the state within contemporary environmental affairs, this article outlines three broad sets of approaches to state–environment relations: normative perspectives, critical approaches and notions of environmental governmentality. It is asserted that approaches adopting theories of environmental governmentality offer a critical, but highly creative, framework in and through which to study the contemporary entanglements of states and the environment.