Green Governmentality and Systems of Power

Green Governmentality emerged from Michel Foucault’s ideas of governmentality, the characteristic systems of power in modern neo liberal democracies. The area of study aims to understand how various state and non-state authorities promote and encourage specific systems of knowledge that foster particular practices within populations, resulting in an individual’s self-governance.

Green governmentality attempts to understand the environment as a site of power where meaning is constantly negotiated. Rutherford points to three key aspects of green governmentality: environmental discourse, technological rule, and environmental subjectivity.

Environmental discourse refers to the powers which construct reality. Rutherford describes how the understanding of climate change as a global issue was constructed intentionally, and power was given to certain bureaucracies authorized to speak in climate, such as the IPCC. These global bureaucracies obscure the scope of regional and local change.

Technological rule refers to the role of power in strategies to address climate impacts. These interventions feed into and support the discursive framing of problems. Modeling operates through lens of science to produce authoritative accounts of the state and ways to fix it, which benefit certain locals over others.

Lastly, environmental subjectivity refers to governance of the self. Green governmentality governs at a distance, encouraging people to make choices for themselves, that in turn, favor the interests of the state. A major facet of this relates to individual action and identity- it allow the question, “what will you do for the climate?” to not only be asked, but to shape identity. Individuals come to understand themselves in relation to their way of living, striving for a more ‘correct’ way to exist.

I can’t offer much of a critique as this idea of new to me, though I am surprised I did not come across these theories earlier, as my thesis tackles power dynamics, creation of liberal democratic economies, and the role of individuals in supporting transformation to a new economic system. I am curious to read more perspectives on green governmentality to determine how accurate Rutherfords three key concepts are. It appears that Foucault’s concept of governmentality may also lend itself to notions of utopia and possibilities of change- who has power to make change. Concepts of self governance are also very relevant to benefit corporations and consumers of ethical products.

Stephanie Rutherford discusses Green Governmentality in Companion to Environmental Studies (p. 208).

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