Theorising spatial power, policy and politics in decentralised environmental governance — ASN Events

Theorising spatial power, policy and politics in decentralised environmental governance (16072)

Marc Tadaki 1
  1. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

The project of decentralised environmental governance can be characterised by its dual focus on 1) ensuring the sustenance of specific valued biophysical processes in particular places, and 2) the coordination of diverse social actors, institutions and practices across space. National policy provides a key mechanism for harmonising regulatory structures and processes across space to (attempt to) ensure environmental outcomes for the ‘public good’. Recent work in environmental governance tends to either reify the effects of national policy (i.e. assuming policy produces predictable environmental outcomes), or reject the state imperative for harmonization by arguing for the need to enable/accept different social or environmental outcomes across space.

This paper seeks to advance these debates by arguing for a theorisation of decentralised environmental governance that approaches the modes of harmonisation and differentiation as sites of political struggle. Recent national freshwater planning reforms in New Zealand provide an example of ‘harmonization politics’ in action, from which three modes of political struggle can be articulated: relationality, territoriality and fluidity. Relationality highlights the channels of knowledge and practice (such as environmental science) through which spatial harmonisation is conducted, and territoriality highlights the historicised and power-laden struggles shaping the ‘implementation’ of national policy on the ground. Fluidity highlights the ways in which implementation meanings and practices are abstracted and normalised, and through which the meaning of policy is ‘scaled up’ and ‘scaled down’. 

These political modalities emphasize the different means – beyond national policy – which are open for geographers and others to engage in struggles to determine valued social and environmental outcomes. Articulating new and nuanced political modalities with and beyond the state can enable geographers to develop and practice a different kind of environmental politics.