A Discourse Theoretical Study
New Horizons in Environmental Politics series
Chapter 6: Partnerships and the discourse of sustainable development
The most paradigmatic of all discourses that shape sustainability partnerships is that of sustainable development itself. It is their raison d’etre, as well as the logical space in which CSD partnerships, in all their variety, appear as a single type of institution. It is not only into partnerships that the discourse of sustainable development has sedimented, but several other types of institutions as well: the UN’s environment and development programmes in particular, but most UN system institutions use the term in their mission statements; international summits are held in the name of sustainable development; governments construct sustainable development programmes; corporations write sustainable development reports and establish their own global ‘council’ on the matter, and NGOs make sure that they merge it with their various aims and demands. Wherever one looks, one can find it is constantly reified. Such omnipresence makes it difficult to analyze social phenomena, as it inhibits the construction of a uniform reality; what Arturo Escobar (1995: 5), following Michel Foucault, calls ‘colonization of reality’. To critically analyze such hegemonic discourses, Ivan Illich’s concept of ‘radical monopoly’ is useful. He observes that certain (‘manipulative’) institutions not only limit other modes of thought, but also make alternative institutions, technologies and lifestyles impossible. This chapter analyzes the colonization of reality by the sustainable development paradigm. The next section traces its ideological roots (developmentalism and environmentalism) in Western myths.
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