Environmental Governance through Partnerships

Environmental Governance through Partnerships

A Discourse Theoretical Study

New Horizons in Environmental Politics series

Ayşem Mert

Transnational partnerships have become mainstream across levels and issues of environmental governance, following their endorsement by the UN in 2002. Despite apparent success, their desirability as a way of governing human interactions with the planet’s ecosystems has not yet been properly investigated. In this revelatory book Ayşem Mert combines post-structuralist discourse theory and ecocriticism to analyse three discourses that have been rooted into the logic of partnerships: privatisation of governance, sustainable development and democratic participation. Ultimately, Mert argues that these discourses help understand both the potential and structural limitations of sustainability partnerships.

Chapter 6: Partnerships and the discourse of sustainable development

Ayşem Mert

Subjects: environment, environmental politics and policy, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy, public policy


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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