Journal Article | The Collaborative Management of Sustained Unsustainability: On the Performance of Participatory Forms of Environmental Governance
In modern democratic consumer societies, decentralized, participative, and consensus-oriented forms of multi-stakeholder governance are supplementing, and often replacing, conventional forms of state-centered environmental government. The engagement in all phases of the policy process of diverse social actors has become a hallmark of environmental good governance. This does not mean to say, however, that these modes of policy-making have proved particularly successful in resolving the widely debated multiple sustainability crisis. In fact, they have been found wanting in terms of their ability to respond to democratic needs and their capacity to resolve environmental problems. So why have these participatory forms of environmental governance become so prominent? What exactly is their appeal? What do they deliver? Exploring these questions from the perspective of eco-political and sociological theory, this article suggests that these forms of environmental governance represent a performative kind of eco-politics that helps liberal consumer societies to manage their inability and unwillingness to achieve the socio-ecological transformation that scientists and environmental activists say is urgently required. This reading of the prevailing policy approaches as the collaborative management of sustained unsustainability adds an important dimension to the understanding of environmental governance and contemporary eco-politics more generally.