Environmentality judiciously fired: Burning questions of forest conservation and subject transformation in the Himalayan foothills

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    ‘Environmentality’ is a term used to describe the means by which regulatory processes simultaneously redefine both the environment and the subjectivity of those whose environment is being governed by regulation. Today it is considered a key concept of political ecology. Its most comprehensive and influential articulation is by way of a case-study of the development of community forestry in Kumaon in north India. The case-study argues that the decentralised regulatory system created by the British colonial regime in 1931 created an ‘environmental subjectivity’ among forest users which had not previously existed. However, this article presents evidence that suggests that concern for forest protection – and, thus, ‘environmental subjectivity’ – can be found in Kumaon before the creation of local forest governance; in addition, the article questions the case-study’s interpretation of evidence adduced for ‘environmental subjectivity’ in Kumaon today. Following a discussion on methodology, the article concludes that the case-study’s Euro-centric conception of ‘environmentality’ as an ‘analytical optic’ – derived from the narrow meaning of ‘governmentality’ proposed in the work of Michel Foucault – has resulted in an analysis which systematically elides the agency and beliefs of local people. This optical limitation has implications for other ‘environmentality’ studies. Other forms of analysis, which seek to disclose and decentre features of Western theoretical perspectives on political processes that are internally related to imperialism, are said to offer the potential for outcomes that constitute a non-imperial alternative based on dialogue and mutual understanding.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)462-480
    Number of pages19
    JournalEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and Space
    Issue number2
    Early online date13 Sept 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

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    • Environmentality
    • Governmentality
    • Colonial relations
    • imperialism

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
    • Development
    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Political Science and International Relations


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