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Power/knowledge and natural resource management: imagining, creating and protecting the commons

This special issue of Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning draws the attention to ongoing concerns about the management of natural resources (NRM): their exploration, extraction, processing, and commodification is still happening in ways that are perceived to be socially unjust and ecologically unsustainable. The special issue seeks to highlight how the Foucaultian notion of power/knowledge remains underused and underdeveloped in the realm of environmental and resource governance. The contributors argue that any improvement in NRM to social justice or sustainability will have to pass through the knot of power/knowledge. Revealing the actual functioning and effects of current NRM opens potential for critical thinking, shifts power relations and questions the core assumptions of experts or economic outcomes.

Content of the special issue:

 

Power/Knowledge in Natural Resource Management

Editorial
The will to knowledge: natural resource management and power/knowledge dynamics
Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen & Martijn Duineveld

Article
Partnerships for development in the extractive sector: protecting subterranean interests?
Javier Arellano-Yanguas & María del Pilar Bernal-Gómez

Partnerships for Development (PfD) is the antidote that extractive industries have used over the last decade to counteract the proliferation of conflicts with local communities. Normatively, the concept of ‘partnership’ positions companies as actors on an equal footing with others in their attempts to collaborate to achieve development outcomes. This article analyses how the PfD strategy has been crafted and implemented in the extractive sector and assess its potential to contribute significantly to local development. Using the Foucauldian framework on power/knowledge and genealogy, we explain how, in a relatively short time, the interaction between context, preexisting discourses, and actors’ interests shaped the PfD discourse and made it famous. The second part of the paper goes beyond the normative conceptualisation and analyses the implementation of PfD through the case studies of the Antamina copper mine in Peru and the Pacific Rubiales oil operation in Colombia. The companies use the PfD discourse to advance their interest vis-à-vis the different stakeholders, minimising the risk of conflicts and cultivating their reputation. These companies resort to the fragmentation of bargaining spaces and rely on the legitimacy provided by paid experts. The result is that PfD has limited capacity to promote local sustainable development.

Article
Small-scale fisheries within maritime spatial planning: knowledge integration and power
Svein Jentoft

The coasts hold great potential for ‘Blue Growth’, and major industrial and infrastructural developments are already happening there. Such growth, however, comes with risks to marine ecosystems and coastal communities. Competition for space and resources intensifies, turning the coast into an area of social and political conflict, including contestation about knowledge. I argue that there is a need for institutional innovation that allows knowledge integration and conflict resolution to be more interactive and synergistic. The paper critically analyses discourses and practices of interactive governance and co-management while visiting Foucault’s power/knowledge concept for investigating the normativity and effects of participation discourses and practices. This is followed by a discussion of multiple governance paths and their different combinations of resources and forms of expert and local social and ecological knowledge so as to see how they can help resolve conflicts, and enhance governability within maritime spatial planning (MSP) in a way that also serves to create a level playing field for all stakeholders. A particular focus will be on the small-scale fisheries sector, which is the lest powerful stakeholder and the most vulnerable to external pressures. Will MSP help to empower or further marginalize small-scale fishers and fisheries communities?

Article
Natural capital and the political economy of wetland governance in Alberta
Marian Weber, Naomi Krogman, Lee Foote & Rebecca Rooney

The legitimacy of wetland decisions depends on how science and values are integrated and reflected in wetland management decisions. Natural capital and ecosystem services (ES) have become integral to how we think about ecosystem management however there is no consensus on how these concepts should be applied in management. Through the example of Alberta’s wetland policy, we show how policies designed to mainstream natural capital and ES in decision-making are aligned with liberal governance arrangements that emerged in the nineteenth century. There is a governance gap between individual wetland decisions and collective ecological outcomes. The Alberta wetland policy highlights three challenges to embracing the natural capital metaphor in a liberal government context: lack of consensus on policy objectives; case by case enforcement of policy leading to continued wetland drainage; and minimal consequences for non-compliance. The combination of norms about what is fair in terms of government intervention in land use decisions and scientific uncertainty about wetland ecosystem function makes it difficult to achieve consensus on limits to wetland loss contributing to continued loss of wetland ecological function. The discussion highlights the necessity of renewed political discourse about freedom, power, and justice in relation to collective economic and ecological security.

Article
Governing the water user: experiences from Mexico|
Edwin Rap & Philippus Wester

This article traces a policy shift that makes the ‘water user’ the main subject of water governance. From a Foucauldian perspective on governmentality these new subjectivities accompany neo-liberal governmental technologies to devolve autonomy from state institutions to an active user base, whilst retaining some ‘control at a distance’. The expectation is that individual subjects will incorporate control mechanisms and internalize norms and that this leads to new publicly auditable forms of self-regulation. The article questions the underlying assumption that policy necessarily accomplishes its strategic effects through governmentality. For this purpose, it draws on an ethnographic case study of how policy produced a new power/knowledge regime and how different societal actors and ‘user’ groups responded to that. The study specifically investigates the Mexican policy of irrigation management transfer during the 1990s, by which government transferred the public control over irrigation districts to locally organized water users’ associations (WUAs). The article argues that governmental technologies make and govern the ‘water user’ by discursively and materially constituting an organizational arrangement for user management (WUA), more than by directly acting on individuals’ self-regulated conduct. The analysis contributes to a broader reflection on the role of power/knowledge in natural resources management and decentralized resources governance.

Article
Power/knowledge and natural resource management: Foucaultian foundations in the analysis of adaptive governance
Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen , Martijn Duineveld & Monica Gruezmacher

In this paper, we present a conceptual framework extending Foucaultian insights on the relations between power and knowledge to link up with current insights into studies of natural resource management (NRM) and more broadly environmental studies. We classify discourses in NRM according to understandings of social–ecological systems and argue that grasping those larger contexts can push NRM in a different direction, forming a base for more informed and inclusive decision-making. We then reconstruct the importance of materiality, the physical world, for the functioning of NRM within social–ecological systems. The concept of livelihoods is added to our developing Foucaultian frame, as material/discursive entwinements which structure responses of many stakeholders in NRM. Finally, we present an expansion of Foucaultian NRM into adaptive governance thinking as a logical outcome of basic insights into power/knowledge, developed and contextualized in current NRM and its critical analyses.

Article
Materiality in natural resource management: a systems theory view
Vladislav Valentinov

This short paper is a commentary on Van Assche et al.’s article [(2017). Power/knowledge and natural resource management: Foucaultian foundations in the analysis of adaptive governance. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, this issue]. A Luhmannian systems-theoretic perspective proposed in this commentary reaffirms the Foucaultian conceptualization of natural resource management as a site for the interaction of discourses constituting social reality through radical entwinements with materiality, with livelihoods being a key example of such entwinements. Several extensions of Duineveld et al.’s argument are proposed. First, the Luhmannian perspective stresses the problematic nature of such entwinements in view of the inherent system–environment adaptation problems. Second, the idea of livelihoods advocated by the authors is interpreted as the reflection of the sensitivity to the environment beyond the limits imposed by the systemic operational closure and complexity reduction. Third, it is argued that even though specific discursive constructions of materiality may underpin adaptive governance with respect to specific environmental segments, they cannot guarantee system–environment adaptation in any general sense, primarily in view of the unknowability of the environment and the incommensurability of discourses.

Natural capital and the political economy of wetland governance in Alberta

The legitimacy of wetland decisions depends on how science and values are integrated and reflected in wetland management decisions. Natural capital and ecosystem services (ES) have become integral to how we think about ecosystem management however there is no consensus on how these concepts should be applied in management. Through the example of Alberta’s wetland policy, we show how policies designed to mainstream natural capital and ES in decision-making are aligned with liberal governance arrangements that emerged in the nineteenth century. There is a governance gap between individual wetland decisions and collective ecological outcomes. The Alberta wetland policy highlights three challenges to embracing the natural capital metaphor in a liberal government context: lack of consensus on policy objectives; case by case enforcement of policy leading to continued wetland drainage; and minimal consequences for non-compliance. The combination of norms about what is fair in terms of government intervention in land use decisions and scientific uncertainty about wetland ecosystem function makes it difficult to achieve consensus on limits to wetland loss contributing to continued loss of wetland ecological function. The discussion highlights the necessity of renewed political discourse about freedom, power, and justice in relation to collective economic and ecological security.

Weber, M., Krogman, M., Foote, L. & Rooney, R. (2017) Natural capital and the political economy of wetland governance in Alberta. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. Online first.

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