Assessing communities of unreceptive receptors: an investigation into environmental impact assessment's formation of environmental subjects

Student thesis: Phd


EIA's contribution to increased environmental awareness is a posited means by which EIA's contribution to a substantive level of environmental protection can be measured. However, little research has been done to evaluate and properly contextualise this increased environmental awareness in members of the public who participate in EIA and its associated processes of public participation. Utilising a Foucauldian understanding of power and governmentality, this research has shown how this process of becoming environmentally aware takes place within a broader application of governmental power and it is within this context which the success (or otherwise) of steering towards a greater environmental awareness must be evaluated. The biopolitical intentions EIA has for managing environmental life in general draws strict boundaries of expertise and authority in governing the environment, and as products of this formation of governmental power the public become subjects of expert direction. In opposition to this, the public produced a rural environment and local community as defined and governed by forms of experiential knowledge, which although pertaining to a truth-oriented mentality of rule, exerted a similar biopolitical control over the environment and immutable form of authority and expertise within it. It is contended that for EIA to penetrate bounded environments and disrupt their totalising environmentalities, the tool must extend the meaning of uncertainty to explicitly recognise the conflict that exists between actors and their respective environments. In this way, EIA can contribute to a form of self-reflexive and -critical environmental citizenship deemed necessary for a thorough investigation into the political dimensions of the environment and its associated substantive measures of enhancement and protection. Employing a realist governmentality approach to the case-study of the 2016 public inquiry in shale energy proposals in Lancashire, this research generated discourse analyses of key policy documents and public contributions to the inquiry in addition to a 'lived experience' of the inquiry as a participatory space through participant observation. The key findings were that at the policy level, the participating member of the public is produced as both a trustee and an expert, heightening the potential for conflict. Further to this, the experiences of the public inquiry added to this potential by seeking to impose on the participant an individualised, silent identity which was directly contradicted by the public during 'non-technical' sessions who sought to participate actively and collectively. Within their contributions the public produced further internal conflicts, with aspects of this discourse relying on existing institutionalised forms of knowledge and expertise to respond to environmental problems, while in others asserting that localised and personal experiences were necessary. EIA as a technique of government can have a leading role in defining the environment in both a physical, surrounding sense and as a mentality. To do so and challenge essentialised and concrete ideas regarding the environment avoiding the acts of exclusion that underpin them becoming normalised the thesis builds on the analysis to make a proposition for a more effective agonistic EIA process.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarys Jones (Supervisor) & Adam Barker (Supervisor)


  • Advanced liberalism
  • Subjectification
  • Technologies of power
  • Governance
  • Biopower
  • Environmental awareness
  • Public participation
  • Fracking
  • Agonistic pluralism
  • EIA effectiveness
  • Governmentality
  • Environmentality
  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
  • Public inquiry

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