SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction: The Contemporary State in the Global Environment
  4. Critical Reflections on the State
  5. Unpacking the Ecological Leviathan: Eco-Administration, Risk Bureaucracies and the Normative State
  6. The Ecological Critique of the State: Environmental Alienation and the Limitations of State Theory
  7. Ecological Rationalities and Environmental Governmentalities
  8. Conclusion
  9. Short Biography
  10. References

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.


Introduction: The Contemporary State in the Global Environment

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction: The Contemporary State in the Global Environment
  4. Critical Reflections on the State
  5. Unpacking the Ecological Leviathan: Eco-Administration, Risk Bureaucracies and the Normative State
  6. The Ecological Critique of the State: Environmental Alienation and the Limitations of State Theory
  7. Ecological Rationalities and Environmental Governmentalities
  8. Conclusion
  9. Short Biography
  10. References

As I was writing this article, Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg announced that Norway intended to become the first state to go carbon neutral (see Vidal 2007). In an address to the Norwegian Labour Party, Stoltenberg emphasised Norway's responsibility for helping to combat global climate change, and reiterated the crucial role of his government in helping to reduce net carbon emissions to zero. Two things struck me about this story that have critical implications for this article's analysis of the relationship between states and environmental concerns. First, I was intrigued by the notion of responsibility that Stoltenberg invoked in order to explain the actions of the state in relation to tackling climate change. Whether it be the emergence of the first forms of large-scale political bureaucracy in Egypt's New Kingdom – a state system that emerged around the need to regulate the water economy of the Nile Basin (see Weber 2006) – or the controversial actions of the Brazilian government's environmental protection agency, IBAMA, in the administration of Amazonian resources (see Raffles 2002), the political responsibilities of states for environmental management have been central to their form and function. The second important aspect of Stoltenberg's sanguine proclamation is his apparently firm belief in the unique abilities of the state to address complex environmental concerns. One of the defining characteristics of states has been their relative monopoly on administrative resources, technical expertise, bureaucratic intelligence and institutional influence. Anthony Giddens (1985, 19) describes the collective resources of government bureaucracies as the administrative power of the state. However it is categorised, it is clear that the bureaucratic capacities associated with states have led to the popular ideology that states have the ability to save societies from the various threats associated with environmental fluctuations (including climate change).

This article explores the highly contested nature of the relationship between states and the environment. I have started this endeavour by discussing Jens Stoltenberg's proclamation primarily because it serves to illustrate that despite a growing awareness of the globally interconnected form of environmental systems and threats, nation-states still provide key institutional contexts through which environmental issues are being calculated and on which salvage, or rescue, administrations, for various environmental problems, are being constructed (Bahro 1987). The example of Norway's attempts to move to a carbon neutral status is also a salutary tale. In order to be carbon neutral, it appears that Norway intends to offset its carbon footprint (currently spanning an estimated 54 million tonnes) by buying carbon quotas from other countries (Vidal 2007). Greenpeace have been highly critical of this plan, claiming that it is unclear whether Norway's calculation of carbon neutrality takes into account its huge annual export of oil and gas, and that Norway can only afford to buy international carbon credits because of the residual wealth it has accrued from its energy sales (reputed to be in the region of US$300 billion) (Vidal 2007). In this context, Norway's intended contribution to climate change abatement policies illustrates the forms of deliberate obfuscation that can arise when calibrating environmental policies at the level of the nation-state. This case also reveals that despite the best environmental intensions of state authorities, strong economic imperatives can test the resolve of governments when it comes to long-term ecological decision-making.

The role of the state in questions of environmental management and policy development remains keenly debated within both environmental studies and political science. This article explores why states are seen by some commentators as being the most effective of environmental guardians, while they are portrayed by other theorists as key institutional frameworks in and through which the continued domination and destruction of the natural world is being realised and legitimated. This article is organised into four main sections. In the first section, analysis critically reviews existing theories of the state within environmental study, political science and geography. The second section considers a number of normative theories of state–environment relations (largely inspired by Weberian state theory) that each, in very different ways, asserts the importance of state administrations in the regulation of environmental affairs. In the third section, analysis outlines a series of more critical theories concerning state–environment relations. Inspired by various strands of anarchist philosophy, eco-Marxism, political ecology and actor-network theories, this section reveals how these critical theories not only question the practical value of state systems within the just management of socio-environmental relations, but also attempt to undermine the very notion of the state as an identifiable zone of political action. The fourth, and final, section of this article introduces a series of approaches that have emerged in the study of environmental governance that can be collectively referred to as environmental governmentality. The value of these approaches, it is argued, is that they take neither the categories of the state nor the environment as pre-given objects of analysis and normative assessment. Instead, work within environmental governmentality seeks to explore the ways in which different rationalities of the state emerge out of the complex intersection between various political institutions, ecological sciences and environmental events. This approach has the benefit of making us look beyond the established ideologies of state, science and environmental politics, to consider how and why socio-environmental relations are governed in certain ways, and whether it is possible to imagine other ways and reasons why political institutions could engage in environmental issues.

Critical Reflections on the State

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction: The Contemporary State in the Global Environment
  4. Critical Reflections on the State
  5. Unpacking the Ecological Leviathan: Eco-Administration, Risk Bureaucracies and the Normative State
  6. The Ecological Critique of the State: Environmental Alienation and the Limitations of State Theory
  7. Ecological Rationalities and Environmental Governmentalities
  8. Conclusion
  9. Short Biography
  10. References

Having worked and reflected on various aspects of political geography for some time now, the state remains for me the most stubbornly difficult category of analysis that I have to deal with. My anxieties stem from the fact that while many analyses of the state appear to offer far too simplistic, and at times deterministic, accounts of power, I find it hard to shake the intuitive feeling that something (perhaps a collection of things, perhaps even a network of things), which loosely resembles traditional descriptions of the state, continues to shape the world in which I live and the various life opportunities that I have. At times I take comforting refuge in well- established, but nonetheless sophisticated definitions of the state. The most useful definition that I have found is that offered by Michael Mann (1984) when he describes the state (in Weberian inspired terms) as, ‘[a] differentiated set of institutions and personnel embodying centrality in the sense that political relations radiate outwards from a centre to cover a territorially demarcated area over which it exercises a monopoly of authoritative rule-making, backed up by a monopoly of the means of physical violence’ (p. 185). As a political geographer, it is easy to deploy this quote as a convenient way of saying to doubters, ‘that is what I study’.

While great comfort can be taken from the identification of state-studies with governmental institutions, centralised power, delimited territories and notions of legitimate violence, it is always undermined by the lingering realisation that governmental forms of power do not confirm to this fairly rigid imaginary. The activities of states are not restrictively contained within the walls of government departments, but actively flow through a myriad collection of para-state institutions and civic realms (see Brown 1997). Political power is not something that resides – like perhaps a reserve of gold – in some centralised location (whether it be the White House, Kremlin or Japanese Diet) (see Allen 2003). And the notion that state power either completely covers a territorial area, or stops at the borders edge, is clearly absurd (see Smith 2004).

Concerns over the inadequacies of state theory in dealing with the complexities of political power have led some to call for the de-statisation of government studies (Rose 1996). Within various forms of environmental work and theory, there have been commensurate suspicions raised about the value of state-based perspectives in dealing with the unruly territorialities associated with environmental systems (see Held et al. 1999, Chapter 8; Latour 1993, 120–122; Whatmore 2002, 60–116). In this article, I argue not only for the need to acknowledge and embrace many of the justifiable criticisms of state theory that currently exist, but also of the value of preserving a state-orientated perspective on environmental issues. Robbins (2007) indicates an important step in this intellectual direction in his recent review of the accounts of the state within environmental studies (and in particular work on political ecology). Robbins provides a typology of the uses of state theory within work on political ecology. Robbins's (2007) typology identifies the state appearing within studies of various environmental processes as a simplifying, explanatory agent; as a key axis within complex networks of global governance; or as a data gathering and assessment node (p. 2). Robbins's reflections emphasise that just as analyses of the state can be used to greatly simplify the processes informing complex environmental events, criticism of state theory within environmental studies can be equally simplistic when it reduces the varied and diverse field of state studies to a single, and highly deterministic, approach. Furthermore, I believe that many of the infuriating difficulties associated with reviewing, criticising and analysing work on the state stem from the fact that the notion of the state can be used not only to denote different political practices, but also different objectives of enquiry. For some, the state is an ontological category, a material thing, which denotes what political existence is like. For others, the state is a theoretical category: a conceptual posture that if deployed correctly can provide crucial insights into the contemporary and historical operations of power. Finally, the state also exists as an ideological category: a constant pool of reassurance for our enduring enlightenment beliefs in equity, democracy and security (Gandy 1999). Consequently, in addition to trying to develop more subtle and nuanced accounts of states, it is important to be constantly aware of the very different ways we can use the term.

There are a number of examples of recent work within geography that seek to subvert deterministic depictions of the state as a unitary actor with formal sovereign power. Joe Painter's (2006) recent reflection on the prosaic state has revealed the myriad ways in which state power is expressed in our everyday lives in very ordinary, and often overlooked ways. The related work of Jones (2007), on the peopling of the state, has effectively uncovered the ways in which state actions are often the contingent outcome of the personalities, allegiances and vendettas of those working within state systems. At the same time, Neil Brenner (2003) has argued persuasively for a new spatial imaginary of the state that, rather than focusing exclusively on national territorial actions, explores the varied local, urban and regional strategies deployed by state authorities (see also Whitehead et al. 2006). It is to such complex imaginaries of the state that I wish the reader to cling as we explore what Held et al. (1999) have described as the varied enmeshings of states with the environment throughout the remainder of this review (pp. 396–408).

Unpacking the Ecological Leviathan: Eco-Administration, Risk Bureaucracies and the Normative State

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction: The Contemporary State in the Global Environment
  4. Critical Reflections on the State
  5. Unpacking the Ecological Leviathan: Eco-Administration, Risk Bureaucracies and the Normative State
  6. The Ecological Critique of the State: Environmental Alienation and the Limitations of State Theory
  7. Ecological Rationalities and Environmental Governmentalities
  8. Conclusion
  9. Short Biography
  10. References

Thomas Hobbes generated one of the most enduring images of the state in his 1651 thesis, Leviathan. The notion of the state as an all-encompassing cold monster, wielding sovereign power and influence over its people and territory, has had a critical impact on modern perceptions of power and the nature of government. This section explores the deployment of Leviathaneque conceptions of the state in the construction of normative accounts of the relationships between state governments and the environment. Two primary principles, which derive from Hobbes’ analysis of state power, continue to influence work on environmental management and policy development. The first relates to the role of the state in tempering the selfish and collectively destructive impulses of individuals within a society. The second concerns the value of large-scale political administrations in the regulation of human affairs.

In relation to first perspective, Hobbes recognised that, if unchecked, the competitive impulses of human beings could lead to the chaos of war and social disintegration. The problems associated with unregulated socio-ecological greed have been utilised to critically interpret a range of contemporary environmental problems ranging from the management of common pastoral land to global atmospheric pollution (see Hardin 1968). The problems associated with unregulated common resource regimes have led to calls for either the greater privatisation of environmental commons, or for the creation of institutional regimes that are able to effectively negotiate and manage the use of environmental assets it an equitable and sustainable way. Whether it is as the guarantor and guardian of property rights (Lipschultz and Conca 1993), or the referee within resource conflicts (Johnston 1996), the state has been constructed as a key site for environmental management. In his game-theoretic analysis of state–environment relations, Ron Johnston (1996) claims that there are two key reasons for the enduring significance of the state within environmental policy development and delivery. First, Johnston recognises the ability of states to act as impartial arbiters within socio-environmental disputes. With their relative monopoly on institutional intelligence and constitutional commitment to equity among citizens, Johnston claims that states can act to prevent the potential environmental damage that can be caused by naked economic ambition and to ensure the best common use of environmental utilities. Johnston's (1996) work also emphasises that it is only state institutions, with their broad-ranging but highly specialist expertise in agriculture, pollution treatment, environmental legislation, water treatment, toxicology, conservation, tax, health and education, that can deal with the interconnected complexities of the contemporary environmental crisis (see also MacLeod 1988).

The work of Ulrich Beck (1992a,b), and others, who have explored the various socio-ecological consequences associated with the rise of a so-called risk society, has revealed a newly emerging role for state bureaucracies within contemporary forms of environmental management. According to Beck, the risk society is a direct product of the various forces of industrialisation that have been occurring over the last 250 years of human history (1992a). The rise of the industrial society has been synonymous with new industrial processes, the production of unprecedented levels of pollution, the creation of previously inconceivable chemical compounds and biochemical substances, new settlement patterns, and previously unimaginable changes in the global environment (ranging from climate change to the depletion of the ozone layer). Living in this new industrial world is, according to Beck, like living in an open laboratory within which the consequences of various industrial processes on the environment are experienced in real time by all of those who inhabit the Earth's ecosystem.

Beck's work reminds us that although industrial society has produced unprecedented levels of socio-environmental risk, exposure to risk is not uniform across society. Various studies have indicated that not only are poor communities often exposed more to various forms of socio-ecological risk, but also that wealthy communities and classes are more able to insulate themselves against the worst consequences of risk. It is in the face of elevated socio-ecological risk that the ability of states to act as large-scale collective agents, as suggested by Hobbes, becomes significant. According to Beck (1995, Chapter 4), states are increasingly being required to form risk bureaucracies in order to insulate their populations, both rich and poor, against the worse side effects of industrial risk-taking. Risk bureaucracies can range from the environmental protection agencies that are charged with monitoring levels of dangerous toxic materials within our environments, or rapid-response ecological disaster units such as the US government's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Although environmental risk bureaucracies are becoming increasingly important features of many people's lives, they are far from the socio-ecological panaceas that are often associated with notions of ecological leviathans. At a conceptual level, Beck (1992, 1995) has argued that state bureaucracies often only serve to militate against the worst consequences of environmental risk, and to appease public anxieties through superficial risk assessment exercises and scientific surveys. At a more practical level, the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina in the autumn of 2005 also indicate the weaknesses associated with even the most purportedly advanced risk bureaucracies. The failure of FEMA to respond quickly and effectively to the needs of the afflicted Gulf Coast communities of the US following Hurricane Katrina led to accusations of bureaucratic incompetence (The Economist 2005) and even institutional racism (Bullard 2006).

Despite critiques of normative accounts of the state-orchestrated management of environmental resources and risks, the work of Matthew Gandy (1999) asserts the continuing relevance of state bureaucracies within contemporary environmental debate. In his defence of the role of states within various forms of environmental management, Gandy (1999) argues that we need to abandon our rigid imaginaries of the state as a sovereign power residing over a fixed and subservient territory (p. 60). In this context, Gandy reminds us that just as many 19th-century state policies and institutions focused on the environmental needs and management issues of municipal areas, it is to be expected that states of the future will have to operate in a range of new scalar frameworks as they engage in the complexities of global environmental change (see also Bulkeley 2005). Furthermore, Gandy argues that state authorities will increasingly be detected working through complex governance networks – incorporating private corporations and civic groups – as they attempt to tackle contemporary environmental threats (ibid., p. 63). Gandy also reminds us that despite claims of bureaucratic inefficiency, burdensome regulations and institutional favouritism, states still offer an enduring hope of universal environmental care and collective ecological decision-making (ibid., p. 60). Finally, Gandy's re-analysis of the ecological leviathan ideal emphasises that the contemporary weaknesses of environmental law, and the vagaries of private insurance, mean it is only, perhaps, an enhanced ecological leviathan that can offer the types of democratically accountable socio-ecological care we desire and need (ibid., pp. 64–66).

The Ecological Critique of the State: Environmental Alienation and the Limitations of State Theory

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction: The Contemporary State in the Global Environment
  4. Critical Reflections on the State
  5. Unpacking the Ecological Leviathan: Eco-Administration, Risk Bureaucracies and the Normative State
  6. The Ecological Critique of the State: Environmental Alienation and the Limitations of State Theory
  7. Ecological Rationalities and Environmental Governmentalities
  8. Conclusion
  9. Short Biography
  10. References

Having considered some of the normative arguments supporting the continued relevance of state administrations within various forms of environmental management, in this section I want to outline some of the more concerted critiques of the state that have emerged from within environmental politics and philosophy. While we have already discussed critiques of the capacity of contemporary states to deal with the scale and complexity of current environmental problems, the critical assessments of the state presented in this section reflect a form of environmental analysis that question the very enlightenment values on which the ideals of liberal states are predicated (Gandy 1999).

One of the oldest, and most consistent, assaults launched against the ability of different states to effectively address environmental concerns has come from the anarchist tradition. Anarchism, as a political and philosophical movement, dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. It does, however, continue to find popular contemporary expression in the work of neo- and eco-anarchist scholars and activists (see Sheenhan 2003). From its foundation within the classic work of Mikhail Bakunin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Peter Kropotkin, anarchism has been opposed to the application of arbitrary and hierarchical leadership and has thus made the modern state one of its prime targets of critique. While often implicit within contemporary discussions of state–environment relations, the principles of anarchism continue to inform some of the deepest ecological suspicions of the state (see Whitehead et al. 2007, 28–33). While theorists and advocates of globalisation often suggest that states are too small to deal with the scale of contemporary environmental problems (see above), eco-anarchist inspired critiques of the state claim that states are too large and insensitive to be able to deal with the local ecological specificities of the natural world (Carter 2007, 74–76). Many eco-anarchist writers, like Murray Bookchin (2004), see the environmental problems of the state as being two-fold: (i) that states tend to vastly simplify the local social and ecological complexities of the environment in order to be able to govern them (see here Neumann 2004; Scott 1998); and (ii) that in taking collective responsibility for environmental management, states tend to prevent citizens from developing the necessary skills to engage themselves in important forms of ecological conservation, care and restoration. The impacts of eco-anarchist thinking can be discerned within recent work on radical ecological and sustainable citizenship (Anderson 2004; Dobson 2003; Bullen and Whitehead 2005), and associated ways of thinking about post-territorial citizenship. The influence of eco-anarchist thought can also be seen within contemporary accounts of subnational environmental management regimes based on sustainable regions, cities and more local environmental cooperatives (see Bulkeley and Betsill 2005; Haughton and Counsell 2004; Whitehead 2006, Chapter 8). At a more practical level, the ethos of eco-anarchism can been seen in action right across the political spectrum – from the current Climate Change Camp (constructed to oppose the British government's plans to expand Heathrow Airport), to the more traditional demands of the Wise Use Movement in the western USA (who are opposed to federal interference within various forms of rural environmental management; see McCarthy 1999).

Related to, but by no means synonymous with, the eco-anarchist critique of state–environment relations has been a collection of work that could be broadly termed eco-Marxism (see Carter 2007, 74–76). Much work within Marxist-inspired accounts of socio-environmental relations has considered the ideological construction and exploitation of nature under hegemonic capitalist modes of economic production and calculation (see Burkett 1999; Castree 2001; Smith 1984). Applying the writings of Marx to contemporary agricultural processes (see Castree 2001), mining and extraction industries (Bridge 2004; Bridge and McManus 2000) and urbanisation (Swyngedouw 2004), such work has revealed the role of capitalist ideologies and economic expansionism within the domination and, often uncosted, exploitation of the environment. While the state often appears only as a contextual point of reference within the work of eco-Marxists, recent work has drawn on Marxist-inspired state theory in order to explore the role of state systems within the capitalist appropriation of nature (see Swyngedouw 2007; Whitehead et al. 2006). Work on the relationship between capitalism, state and the environment has revealed that far from being a neoliberal free-for-all, the capitalisation of nature is dependent on a range of state practises and modes of intervention. The capitalist state provides heavily subsidised collective infrastructures (like canals, roads and water networks) without which various economic practices would not be profitable (Whitehead et al. 2006). At the same time, the regulation of property rights by the state (both in relation to private land and biotechnological patents) facilitates the large-scale capitalist appropriation of nature at both a global and microbiological level (see Castree 2003a,b; Whatmore 2002, Chapter 5). While those writing on the links between Marxism, state and the environment do not simply see the state as the tool of the capitalist class (or as Marx himself put it, the Committee of the Bourgeoisie), many claim that far from acting as the guardian of nature, states are often complicit within strategies that result in the deliberate, uneven and harmful exploitation of the environment.

While various strands of eco-Marxism have provided a powerful critique of the role of the state within socio-environmental relations, they have themselves become the subject of much criticism. These criticisms have focused on the propensity within eco-Marxism to explain environmental exploitation through narrow models of economic causality and the tendency of allied state theories to greatly simplify the complex modalities that political power can take. Many of these attacks have emerged from within a body of work known as political ecology (see Robbins 2004). While itself emerging out of certain strands of eco-Marxism, so-called post-Marxist political ecologies have developed far less economically focused accounts of socio-environmental relations (see Bryant 2001; Robbins 2007). Specifically in relation to the state, post-Marxist political ecologies have sought to reprioritise the state and address its relative marginalisation within eco-Marxism (Bryant 2001). Where the state has been analysed within post-Marxist political ecologies, it has thus not been constructed merely as an accomplice to capitalist class relations. Post-Marxist political ecologists have instead analysed the role of states within the consolidation and contestation of various forms of gender, race and imperial inequalities, and how these disparities are expressed in relation to environmental resource access and levels of exposure to environmental injustices (see Bryant and Bailey 1997; Peet and Watts eds 2004). In certain post-Marxist political ecologies, the state is depicted as a networked actor liaising and cooperating with a range of local and transnational actors and organisations (see Robbins 2007). While such a depiction of the state is not particularly different from the more nuanced accounts of ecological leviathans described above, certain political ecologists have suggested some highly original theories of the state. In his account of parasitic states, for example, Paul Robbins (2007) describes how, in many less economically developed nations, states attempt to construct highly lucrative, but ecologically damaging agricultural and extractive resource industry complexes in order to service expanding international debts. Robbins's notion of the state as environmental parasite is original because rather than ascribing the ecological failings of states to economic, cultural or imperial forces, it recognises the inherent tendencies of over-reaching state bureaucracies to themselves facilitate the harmful depletion of ecological resources.

The final set of approaches to socio-environmental relations that have a bearing on our discussion of the state emanate from work on associations, collectives and theories of actor-networks. Inspired by the collective writings of Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law contemporary networked theories of reality provide a very different critique of accounts of the state within environmental studies than those previously reviewed (see Callon 1986; Latour 1993, 1999, 2004, 2005; Law 1995). At a very simple level, theories of actor-networks question the very ontological relevance of a thing called the state within environmental studies (see Latour 1993, 120). Actor-network theories argue that despite what many of our most respected categories of sociological analysis may suggest (i.e. society, nature, politics, ecology) reality is not constituted by a series of discrete realms of existence, but is a complex and highly messy mixture, whose constant stitching and unstitching is what makes the world go round (see Latour 2005, 21–26). According to Bruno Latour (1993), modern ideologies of the state – that represent it as a totalitarian regime of rational social judgement and autonomous action – have actively contributed to the prevailing sense of human domination over the environment, while actively veiling our intimate interdependencies with the non-human world (pp. 120–122). In other words, the notion of the modern state is a myth, but a myth that continues to have serious consequences for the environment.

Closer inspection of the work of actor-network theorists does, however, reveal that there is, even here, a vision of a reconstituted state that could play a positive role in a collective environmental future. In his book The Politics of Nature, for example, Bruno Latour (2004) sets out an alternative vision for the potential state of the future (pp. 200–209). According to Latour, just because state administrations of the past have been complicit within the production of simplified knowledge about environmental systems, which have been utilised to exploit such systems for expedient economic ends, it does not mean that state bureaucracies cannot facilitate the construction of much more complex knowledge regimes concerning the environment. Latour consequently asks,

How can we detect new phenomena at the extreme limit of the sensitivity of instruments, without a meticulous accumulation of data over a very long time? No one has the ability to keep track of these except administrators. (ibid., p. 205)

Latour's point is that it would be foolish to dispense with the latent capacities (both technological and procedural) of state systems to act as dynamic and versatile agents of collective environmental data gathering. As strong procedural powers, Latour recognises the ability of states (when liberated from their modernist ideological postures and capitalist economic constraints) to produce synchronised knowledge of the environment that reveals the intricacies of socio-ecological interdependence and the inherent instability of contemporary socio-ecological hybrids (ibid., p. 204).

Ecological Rationalities and Environmental Governmentalities

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction: The Contemporary State in the Global Environment
  4. Critical Reflections on the State
  5. Unpacking the Ecological Leviathan: Eco-Administration, Risk Bureaucracies and the Normative State
  6. The Ecological Critique of the State: Environmental Alienation and the Limitations of State Theory
  7. Ecological Rationalities and Environmental Governmentalities
  8. Conclusion
  9. Short Biography
  10. References

The third and final group of approaches to state–environment relations I outline in this article occupy a more ambiguous ideological terrain than either the normative accounts of the ecological leviathan (described in the second section), or the various critiques of states’ ecological credentials outlined in the previous section. Inspired by the work of Michel Foucault on the history of governmental power (and allied theories of power advocated by Friedrich Nietzsche), this collection of work goes by various names, including environmental governmentality, eco-power, environmentality and green governmentality. What this collective oeuvre has in common is a desire to apply Foucault's account of the evolving nature of liberal governmental power to an analysis of the governance of various socio-ecological and environmental systems (see Darier 1996, 1999; Goldman 2004; Luke 1995). In keeping with the work of Gandy (1999) and Latour (2004) already outlined, notions of environmental governmentality do not assume the pre-existence of an ideal-type state system or bureaucracy. In keeping with Foucault's (2007) own genealogy of governmental systems (from notions of absolute Machiavellian sovereignty to 20th-century state liberalism), theories of environmental governmentality recognise that state systems that have sought to administer various aspects of the environment have varied greatly over time. Critically, however, advocates of environmental governmentality also recognise that not only have systems of environmental governance changed over time, but so too have understandings of the, often taken for granted, notion of the environment.

Foucault's account of governmentality derives in large part from his analysis of biopower. Foucault's notion of biopower was developed initially through a series of lectures delivered at the State University of Rio de Janeiro in 1974, before being explored more completely in Foucault's lectures at the Collége de France and the first volume of his History of Sexuality (Foucault 1976[Trans. 1998]). Within this body of work Foucault describes how, from the 17th century, the political power of the state moved from being a power over death (i.e. execution and the taking of life) to a power over life (i.e. facilitating the right conditions within which life can continue and prosper) (Foucault 1976[Trans. 1998], 135–159). The age of biopower essentially sees questions of medicine moving from being the exclusive realm of the physician, and into the remit of state policies concerning demographics, planning, sanitation and public health. Biopower is connected to notions of governmentality to the extent that it required a new state rationality with regard to the science of governing. No longer is state power expressed exclusively through arbitrary acts of violence and repression, but on the basis of the calculation of aggregate social welfare provision and economic need. In the context of his analysis of the rise of biopower Foucault outlined his notion of governmentality in his 1978 lecture series at the Collége de France: Security, Territory and Population (Foucault 2007). Foucault's account of governmentality is not meant to supersede his theories of biopower and population: rather Foucault claims that an inventory of governmental forms and procedures is required if we are to begin to understand the nature of modern state power with regard to aggregate entities like a national population (Foucault 2007, 29). According to Foucault, governmentality reflects the mentality (or rationality of government) that started to emerge during the European Enlightenment and has found its fulfilment within modern liberal democratic forms of government. Governmentality is perhaps best thought of as the governmentalisation of the state, or the subjection of the state to a rational science of administrative calculation and resource calibration. Crucially, within his account of governmentality, Foucault describes the science of modern government as being about securing the ‘right disposition of things’ for a national economy to prosper and flourish. Of course, in relation to the functioning of a national economy, the ‘right disposition of things’ not only involves the health of a population, but also the broader territorial integration of soils, climate and mineral resources (see Elden 2007).

Environmental governmentality attempts to apply Foucault's outline of modern governmental power to questions of socio-environmental governance. At one level, contemporary work on environmental governmentality has focused on how modern science and state systems have come together to facilitate the regulated exploitation of territorial resources like coal, wood and agricultural land (see Braun 2000). Other advocates of environmental governmentality have sought to use Foucault's work as a framework for exploring the government of the new environmental threats that have become synonymous with the second half of the 20th century (see Darier 1996; Luke 1999). Work on environmental governmentality has, however, not only explored the changing modes of state intervention in environmental systems, but also has exposed how changing scientific and economic understandings of the environment have reshaped governmental rationality over time. In his own account of state intervention within urban heath, for example, Foucault describes how nascent notions of ‘the environment’ (as a relationship between an organism and its social or natural context), which were emerging within natural science and Hippocratic medical theories, facilitated the construction of the urban environment as an object of government (see Foucault 1994, 150). In a similar way, it is possible to see how certain promethean notions of the environment as a capitalist resource (Braun 2000), imperial depictions of the environment as chaotic and dangerous (Gregory 2001), or conservationist discourses of the environment as a fragile remnant, have all shaped the reasons for, and sciences of, environmental government over time.

I have ended this review by outlining the relevance of environmental governmentality to work on state–environment relations because I believe that it offers a critical, yet flexible framework within which to explore the varied entanglements of states and environments over time. As with the varied theories surrounding the notion of an ecological leviathan, environmental governmentality recognises the enduring political legacies and influence of the state. Like the more nuanced accounts of the ecological leviathan, however, it also recognises that the environmental power of the state is not expressed as a form of territorial sovereignty, but on the basis of complex networks of people, local communities and global organisations that are able to secure, however temporarily, the right disposition of environmental conditions for life and development. In keeping with more critical accounts of state–environment relations (evident within anarchism, eco-Marxism and actor-network theory), notions of environmental governmentality are able to preserve a high degree of critical perspective on the state. A central part of Foucault's work on governmentality sought to uncover how, despite its various moral discourses, the modern science of government was really about facilitating the welfare of national economies and the production of financial wealth. To this end, Foucault asserts that while displaying concern for the health of the population and the environment, modern states are really dedicated to ensuring that certain bandwidths of tolerable social and environmental exploitation are maintained (2007). These bandwidths are not designated on the basis of the calculation of the varied qualities of human life, or the rich diversities of ecological systems, but on what the minimum levels of social and ecological welfare are for continued socio-economic stability (Foucault 2007, 1–23).

Despite the valuable perspectives that notions of environmental governmentality offer to work on state–environment relations, it is important to acknowledge a number of concerns that have emerged recently within geography with Foucault's work, and that appear to have a significant bearing on the themes raised in this article. In his analysis of the Kantian influences of Foucault's analyses, for example, David Harvey questions the treatment of the geographical nature of knowledge within both scholars’ writings (Harvey 2007). Harvey claims that Foucault's oeuvre is haunted by a static (Kantian/Newtonian) epistemology of space, against which is set the dynamic fluidity of time and history. In respect of notions of environmental governmentality, it could thus be argued that there is a tendency to explore historical changes in the meanings and practices of government and environment, while ignoring the important ways in which place, culture and environment come together in particular national and subnational spaces to affect the nature of environmental governmentality (see Harvey 2007, 46). Nigel Thrift meanwhile asserts that in Foucault we find dark accounts of inescapable power that are unable to deal adequately with the irrational contingencies of embodied actions and emotions (Thrift 2007). Recent work on the state has revealed that far from being characterised by the rational exercise of political knowledge gathering and dispassionate decision-making, states are clusters of subjectivities, emotions and irrationalities. Such a realisation can equally be a source of despair and hope when thinking about the nature of political change and revolution (see Jones 2007). The combined reflections of Harvey and Thrift do, however, raise important questions concerning the ability of Foucauldian-inspired accounts of environmental governmentality to recognise and assess the contingent affects of both spaces and people on forms of environmental government.

Beyond these purported weaknesses, what notions of environmental governmentality do offer is sensitivity to the co-evolution of governmental systems and prevailing ecological rationalities. Consequently, whether it is the impact of the often reductionist, experimental sciences of nature on 18th-century state mentalities, or the influence of the more holistic sciences of ecology on the states of the late 20th century, it appears that there is a complex relationship between environmental knowledge and state action. It is in this context that an appreciation of theories of environmental governmentality enables the researcher to move their attention away from the question of whether states are good, bad or merely insignificant when it comes to environmental management, and to consider, at any given time, what types of understandings of the environment (reductionist, holistic, Hippocratic, ecological, resourcist) are informing what types of state practices towards the environment (protection, security, exploitation, adaptation) and how desirable such a state of affairs may be.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction: The Contemporary State in the Global Environment
  4. Critical Reflections on the State
  5. Unpacking the Ecological Leviathan: Eco-Administration, Risk Bureaucracies and the Normative State
  6. The Ecological Critique of the State: Environmental Alienation and the Limitations of State Theory
  7. Ecological Rationalities and Environmental Governmentalities
  8. Conclusion
  9. Short Biography
  10. References

This article has provided a critical overview of a series of different analytical approaches to the relationships between states and the environment. As we have seen, despite the onset of globalisation states continue to play a significant, if ambiguous role, within the management and regulation of socio-environmental relations. Despite the enduring legacy of states within environmental policy-making, analyses of state–environment relations are consistently inhibited by analytical confusion surrounding what the state is and what the state does. In this article, we have seen the importance of abandoning notions of states as cold monsters of sovereignty and bureaucratic absolutism, and instead exploring the state as a varied network of governance programmes operating through numerous public and private sites and at multiple spatial scales. This article has also asserted the importance of recognising that the notion of the state can, at different times, denote questions of ideology, ontology and/or epistemologies of power. In this context, particular care needs to be taken to identifying which type of approach to the state is being deployed within different accounts of state–environment relations.

The main sections of this article have categorised approaches to, and theories of, state–environment relations into three principal groups. The first section outlined normative accounts of the state that depict the state as a kind of ecological leviathan that is able to develop collective strategies towards environmental protection while effectively insulating people from a range of ecological risks. The second section described a series of approaches that have been more critical of the role of the state within human–environment relations. In this section, we saw how anarchist, eco-Marxist and, more recently, political ecologists had all exposed ways in which states were complicit within the human destruction of the natural world. Towards the end of this section analysis also outlined a series of more ontological critiques of the state that have emerged out of a collection of work that can broadly be referred to as actor-network theory. While normative, and more critical, anarchist and eco-Marxist approaches to the state interpret the role of the state within environmental affairs in very different ways, they do have one thing in common: a belief in the existence of a thing that can be isolated and designated as the state. Actor-network theorists raise the challenging question that perhaps the ideologies of the state are just that: mythical ideologies that suggest the existence of a kind of super-human structure with the ability to control and manipulate the environment while hiding the messy complexities and incompleteness of contemporary government processes.

The final part of this article outlined a series of approaches to state–environment relations that have emerged out of Michel Foucault's work on modern forms of liberal government. Related work on environmental governmentality has the advantage of not having a set ideology towards, or theory of, the state and no fixed normative sense of what the state should do. Instead, work on environmental governmentality explores the practices through which the science of environmental government is being carried out at any given time, and how these processes of government flow through a number of public and private arenas, and governmental and para-governmental sites. In order to understand the value of environmental governmentality to work on state–environment relations, it is worth returning to the story of Norway's ambition to go carbon neutral (with which we began this article). My question is: how would someone deploying theories of environmental governmentality study Norway's new climate change policy regime. As opposed to normative accounts of state–environment relations, it would not necessarily assume the state is the only, or even the best, framework within which to address carbon dioxide emissions reduction. At the same time, an environmental governmentality perspective would also require that we do not deploy a cynical posture to Norway's ambitions and assume that the new initiative is either state propaganda, or likely to be doomed to fail. Environmental governmentality suggests the need to study Norway's drive to become carbon neutral in fine detail, studying how its policies are going to be implemented at a government level, how they will be internalised within family or individual behaviour patterns and, crucially, the mechanisms, formulas and technologies that will actually be used to monitor Norway's reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The object of analysis is thus shifted from a generic reflection on the broad nature of state–environment relations, to a detailed analysis of the practices of a specific government on a particular form of socio-environmental relation. This is a shift that should be welcomed within the diverse and complex field concerned with the study of ecological leviathans of all kinds.

Short Biography

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction: The Contemporary State in the Global Environment
  4. Critical Reflections on the State
  5. Unpacking the Ecological Leviathan: Eco-Administration, Risk Bureaucracies and the Normative State
  6. The Ecological Critique of the State: Environmental Alienation and the Limitations of State Theory
  7. Ecological Rationalities and Environmental Governmentalities
  8. Conclusion
  9. Short Biography
  10. References

Mark Whitehead is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, at Aberystwyth University, and Senior Research Fellow at the City Institute, York University, Toronto. He has written widely on urban and environmental politics and has a particular interest in the political geographies of nature. He has authored and co-authored papers on these topics for the journals Environment and Planning A; Urban Studies; Society and Space; Geografiska Annaler; Citizenship Studies; Ethics, Place and Environment; Area; and Policy and Politics. He is the author of Spaces of Sustainability: Geographical Perspectives on the Sustainable Society (Routledge, 2006), co-author of The Nature of the State: Excavating the Political Ecologies of the Modern State (Oxford University Press, 2007, with Martin Jones and Rhys Jones), and co-editor of New Horizons in British Urban Policy: Perspectives on New Labour's Urban Renaissance (Ashgate, 2004, with Craig Johnstone). He is presently writing a book on the governmentalisation of air pollution in the UK. He holds a BSc and a PhD from the University of Wales, and was the winner of the Gregynog Prize for Human Geography in 1997.

Note
  • * 

    Correspondence address: Mark Whitehead, Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK. E-mail: msw@aber.ac.uk.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction: The Contemporary State in the Global Environment
  4. Critical Reflections on the State
  5. Unpacking the Ecological Leviathan: Eco-Administration, Risk Bureaucracies and the Normative State
  6. The Ecological Critique of the State: Environmental Alienation and the Limitations of State Theory
  7. Ecological Rationalities and Environmental Governmentalities
  8. Conclusion
  9. Short Biography
  10. References
  • Allen, J. (2003). Lost geographies of power. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
  • Anderson, J. (2004). Spatial politics in practice: the style and substance of environmental direct action. Antipode 36, pp. 106125.
  • Bahro, R. (1987). Logik der rettung: Werr kann die Apokalypse aufhalten? – Ein Versuch Über die Grundlangen Ökologischer Politik. Stuttgart, Germany: Transaction Press.
  • Beck, U. (1992a). From industrial society to the risk society: questions of survival, social structure and ecological enlightenment. Theory, Culture and Society 9, pp. 197123.
  • Beck, U. (1992b). Risk society: towards a new modernity. London: Sage.
  • Beck, U. (1995). Ecological politics in an age of risk. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Bookchin, M. (2004). Post-scarcity anarchism. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
  • Braun, B. (2000). Producing vertical territory: geology and governmentality in late-Victorian Canada. Ecumene 7, pp. 746.
  • Brenner, N. (2003). New state spaces: urban governance and the rescaling of statehood. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Bridge, G. (2004). Mapping the Bonanza: geographies of mining investment in an era of neo-liberal reform. Professional Geographer 56, pp. 406421.
  • Bridge, G., and McManus, P. (2000). Sticks and stones: environmental narratives and discursive regulation in the forestry and mining industries. Antipode 32, pp. 1047.
  • Brown, M. (1997). Replacing citizenship: AIDS activism and radical democracy. New York: Guildford.
  • Bryant, R. L. (2001). Political ecology: a critical agenda for change. In: Castree, N. and Braun, B. (eds) Social nature: theory, practice and politics. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, pp. 151169.
  • Bryant, R. L., and Bailey, S. (1997). Third world political ecologies. London: Routledge.
  • Bulkeley, H. (2005). Reconfiguring environmental governance: towards a politics of scales and networks. Political Geography 24, pp. 875902.
  • Bulkeley, H., and Betsill, M. (2005). Rethinking sustainable cities: multilevel governance and the ‘urban’ politics of climate change. Environmental Politics 14, pp. 4263.
  • Bullard, R. D. (2006). Justice, nature and the city: environmental justice in post-hurricane New Orleans. Paper Presented at the Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).
  • Bullen, A., and Whitehead, M. (2005). Negotiating the networks of space, time and substance: a geographical perspective on the sustainable citizen. Citizenship Studies 9, pp. 499516.
  • Burkett, P. (1999). Marx and nature: a red and green perspective. London: Macmillan.
  • Callon, M. (1986). Some elements in a sociology of translation. In: Law, J. (ed.) Power, action and belief. London: Routledge, pp. 1934.
  • Carter, N. (2007). The politics of the environment: ideas, activism and policy, 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Castree, N. (2001). Marxism, capitalism and the production of nature. In: Castree, N. and Braun, B. (eds) Social nature: theory, practice, and politics. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, pp. 189207.
  • Castree, N. (2003a). Commodifying what nature? Progress in Human Geography 27, pp. 273292.
  • Castree, N. (2003b). Bioprospecting: from theory to practice (and back again). Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 28, pp. 3555.
  • Darier, É. (1996). Environmental governmentality: the case of Canada's green plan. Environmental Politics 4, pp. 585606.
  • Darier, É. (ed.) (1999). Discourses of the environment. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
  • Dobson, A. (2003). Citizenship and the environment. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Elden, S. (2007). Governmentality, calculation, territory. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25, pp. 562580.
  • Foucault, M. (1976 [trans. 1998]). The will to knowledge: the history of sexuality, vol. 1. London: Penguin Books.
  • Foucault, M. (1994). The birth of social medicine. In: Faubion, J. D. (ed.) Michel Foucault Power – essential works of Foucault 1954–1984, vol. 3. London: Penguin, pp. 134156.
  • Foucault, M. (2007). Security, territory and population: lectures at the Collége De France 1977–1978. Senellart, M. (ed.); Burchell, G. (trans.). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Gandy, M. (1999). Rethinking the ecological leviathan: environmental regulation in an age of risk. Global Environmental Change 9, pp. 5969.
  • Giddens, A. (1985). A contemporary critique of historical materialism, vol. 2, the nation–state and violence. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Goldman, M. (2004). Eco-governmentality and other transnational practices of the ‘green’ World Bank. In: Peet, R. and Watts, M. (eds) Liberation ecologies: environment, development, social movements. London: Routledge, pp. 166192.
  • Gregory, D. (2001). (Post)Colonialism and the production of nature. In: Castree, N. and Braun, B. (eds) Social nature: theory, practice and politics. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, pp. 84111.
  • Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science 162, pp. 12431248.
  • Harvey, D. (2007). The kantian roots of Foucault's dilemmas. In: Crampton, J. W. and Elden, S. (eds) Space, power and knowledge: Foucault and geography. London: Ashgate, pp. 4147.
  • Haughton, G., and Counsell, C. (2004). Regions, spatial strategies and sustainable development. London: Routledge.
  • Held, D., et al. (1999). Global transformations: politics, economic and culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Johnston, R. (1996). Nature, state and economy: a political economy of the environment. Chichester, UK: John Wiley.
  • Jones, R. (2007). People/states/territories: the political geographies of British state transformation. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
  • Latour, B. (1999). To modernise or ecologies? That is the question. In: Braun, B. and Castree, N. (eds) Remaking reality: nature at the millennium. London: Routledge, pp. 221242.
  • Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. London: Prentice Hall.
  • Latour, B. (2004). Politics of nature: how to bring the sciences into democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Law, J. (1995). Notes on the theory of actor-network: ordering, strategy and heterogeneity. Systems Practice 5, pp. 379393.
  • Lipshutz, R., and Conca, K. (eds). (1993). The state and social power in global environmental politics. Chichester, UK: Columbia University Press.
  • Luke, T. W. (1999). Environmentality as green governmentality. In: Darier, E. (ed.) Discourses of the environment. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, pp. 121151.
  • MacLeod, R. (ed.) (1988). Government and expertise: specialists, administrators and professionals, 1860–1919. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Mann, M. (1984). The autonomous power of the state: its origins, mechanisms and results. European Journal of Sociology XXV, pp. 185213.
  • McCarthy, J. (1999). Environmentalism, wise use and the nature of accumulation in the rural West. In: Braun, B. and Castree, N. (eds) Remaking reality: nature at the millennium. London: Routledge, pp. 126149.
  • Neumann, R. (2004). Nature-state-territory: towards a critical theorization of conservation enclosures. In: Peet, R. and Watts, M. (eds) Liberation ecologies: environment, development, social movement. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, pp. 195217.
  • Painter, J. (2006). Prosaic geographies of stateness. Political Geography 25, pp. 752774.
  • Peet, R., and Watts, M. (eds) (2004). Liberation ecologies: environment, development, social movements. London: Routledge.
  • Raffles, H. (2002). In Amazonia: a natural history. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Robbins, P. (2004). Political ecology: a critical introduction. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
  • Robbins, P. (2007). The state in political ecology: a postcard to political ecology from the field. In: Cox, K., Lowe, M. and Robinson, J. (eds) The handbook for political geography. London: Sage, pp. 251268.
  • Rose, N. (1996). Governing ‘advanced’ liberal democracies. In: Barry, A., Osborne, T. and Rose, N. (eds) Foucault and political reason: liberalism, neo-liberalism and the rationalities of government. London: UCL Press, pp. 3764.
  • Scott, J. C. (1998). Seeing like a state: how certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. London: Yale University Press.
  • Sheenhan, S. (2003). Anarchism. London: Reaktion Books.
  • Smith, N. (1984). Uneven development: nature, capital and the production of place. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.
  • Smith, N. (2004). American empire: Roosevelt's geographer and the prelude to globalization. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Swyngedouw, E. (2004). Social power and the urbanization of water flows of power. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Swyngedouw, E. (2007). Technonatural revolutions – the scalar politics of Franco's hydro-social dream for Spain, 1939–1975. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32 (1), pp. 928.
  • The Economist (2005). When government fails. The Economist 10 September, pp. 2426.
  • Thrift, N. (2007). In: Crampton, J. W. and Elden, S. (eds) Space, power and knowledge: Foucault and geography. London: Ashgate, pp. 5358.
  • Vidal, J. (2007). Norway aims for zero-carbon status with all emissions offset by 2050. The Guardian 21 April, p. 24.
  • Weber, M. (2006). Bureaucracy. In: Sharma, A. and Gupta, A. (eds) The anthropology of the state – a reader. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, pp. 5456.
  • Whatmore, S. (2002). Hybrid geographies: space, nature, culture. London: Sage.
  • Whitehead, M. (2006). Spaces of sustainability: geographical perspectives on the sustainable society. London: Routledge.
  • Whitehead, M., Jones, M., and Jones, R. (2006). Spatializing the ecological leviathan: states, nature and the production of regional space. Geografiska Annaler Series B: Human Geography 88, pp. 117.
  • Whitehead, M., Jones, R., and Jones, M. (2007). The nature of the state: excavating the political ecologies of the modern state. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.