The environments of environmental impact assessment: Transforming neoliberal environmental governance from within

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The transformation of neoliberal environmental governance is beset by conceptual and empirical complexity. Utilising a governmentality conceptual and analytical framework, this piece seeks to illustrate how, on their own terms, environmental governance interventions create the potential for change via a modality I have labelled the temporalised environment. Through a discourse analysis of select guidance and regulatory documents, a programmer’s view of environmental impact assessment in England and Wales is generated. As both an object and a technology of governmental power, I show how the environment can reinforce extant neoliberal logics (as ‘artefact’) or be productive of a new re-socialised, globalising form of biopower (as ‘aspiration’). I explore the risks posed to the transformative potential of the latter ‘aspirational’ environment in terms of difficulties distinguishing between its neoliberal and non-neoliberal effects, its capture by neoliberal institutions, and the scalability of its transformation from local to global. I argue that these can only be adequately mitigated if a continued critical disposition is adopted towards the defining features, purpose and functionality of an environment. I propose a series of straightforward questions to aid this process. Overall, this distinction between artefactual and aspirational environments is intended to be heuristic, orienting those strategising against neoliberal environmental governance towards the instabilities internal to the logic of specific interventions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Early online date21 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2020


  • Governmentality
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Neoliberalism
  • Environmental governance
  • Biopower


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