(Post)Democratic Carbon Accounting: Creating the Climate for Disagreement

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the relationship between carbon accounting and 'the political'. There are numerous methodologies by which a given territory can calculate its carbon footprint, each corresponding to a perspective on its share of planetary emissions. However, standardisation by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) means that governments of all scales primarily draw upon a production-based approach, considering point-source emissions over their role in emissions released beyond territorial bounds. As planetary emissions increasingly spiral beyond dangerous levels, this thesis responds to an urgent need to consider how this accounting shapes what (in)action is seen as legitimate. Theoretically, this thesis observes that literature considering the relation between society, democracy, accounting and calculation draws heavily on both a Foucauldian understanding of statistics as a form of power-knowledge and deliberative models of democracy. Building upon critiques that such approaches insufficiently attend to the uncounted, it develops the political thinking of Jacques Ranciere to argue that present accounting practices and standards are depoliticising, limiting the parameters of what perspectives can count. In doing so, it takes seriously the post-democracy critique - wherein current consensual, technocratic modes of policy-making evacuate opportunities for the political - and, in turn, considers how accounting might be repoliticised. Furthermore, in uniting Ranciere's notion of the 'distribution of the sensible' with scale it attends to ambiguities within Ranciere's schema and offers a way forward for Human Geography's scale debate. Empirically, this thesis draws upon research conducted between 2016 and 2018 on the carbon accounting practices in the City of Manchester, England. It draws upon a series of interviews with policy-makers, accountants and climate change activists across the United Kingdom and an analysis of grey literature. Moreover, this is the first study to explicitly adopt an autoethnography of accounting, participating with the Manchester CO2 Monitoring Group and completing a series of carbon inventories for the city. In this regard, this study can also be considered a piece of scholar-activism concerned with preserving the possibility for the political. Whilst there is no ideal way to account for a carbon footprint, it is argued that conducting multiple accounts and making accounting decisions visible can increase the opportunities for disagreement.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorErik Swyngedouw (Supervisor) & Alison Leigh Browne (Supervisor)


  • mathematics
  • post-politics
  • post-political
  • ethnoaccounting
  • auto-ethnoaccounting
  • post-democracy
  • the political
  • accounting
  • carbon
  • scale
  • Ranciere

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