Policies, resistance and states in the Green Economy in the South

by Dr Carl Death, University of Manchester, carl.death@manchester.ac.uk

‘Breadth and depth’ of research are two obvious advantages to those attending the ‘Green Economy in the South’ conference in Dodoma. The range of papers, topics, perspectives and case studies covered over three days of panels has been impressive in its breadth; whereas the opportunity to raise questions, debate them, and return to them in later panels (or over dinner) with researchers working on related topics enables a depth of engagement rarely possible at large conferences.

These two advantages are of course in addition to the political, intellectual and social rewards of attending a conference in the South, with much greater participation from Southern researchers than is also normally possible at conferences in Europe or North America.

If the breadth of topics covered is constantly stimulating, it is the possibility of reiterated in-depth discussions across and between panels that is particularly rewarding.

Three specific themes are worth highlighting in terms of questions which have been raised at almost every session in different ways and from different angles: alternative policies, local agency, and the role of the state. All three raise important issues for those concerned with developing a critical perspective on the politics of the green economy.

Policy and political economy

In his opening keynote address on the first day, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Dodoma, Professor Idris Kikula, posed the challenge of finding alternative policies for a green economy.

Not all the papers presented over day 1 and 2 propose policies, but all have engaged with policy-relevant issues in some form in a wide range of areas covering payments for ecosystem services, REDD+, carbon markets, conservation programmes, poaching, land reform, community based natural resource management, mining and resource extraction, agriculture and biofuels.

Whilst it would be naïve to assume that policy impact follows scientific research in a linear fashion, it is important for even critical and theoretical research to acknowledge the constraints and debates which policy-makers face, and to contribute in some way to these debates. Perhaps even more vital, however, is for critical research on the green economy to illuminate how policies are made, for who, by who, and according to which values.

Beyond victimhood: agency & resistance

This raises the second major issue which seems to have arisen in almost every panel: local agency and resistance. Critical perspectives on the green economy can sometimes seem to suggest that local communities are victims of land grabs, climate change, coercive conservation and ‘Western’ knowledge. On the other hand, a major theme of sessions like the plenary on ‘Carbon and livelihoods’, and panels on ‘Political ecologies of carbon in Africa’, ‘NRM, governance and neoliberalisation’, and ‘Political economy and justice’ has been to show the myriad and heterogeneous ways in which subaltern populations resist hegemonic discourses, through evasion, disruption, resilience, counter-conduct, re-appropriation, subversion and direct confrontation.

Part of the crucial task of critical research on the green economy is to highlight, understand and explain the recalcitrant politics of subjects who demand to be governed differently. They might not always be ‘civil’ in the way liberal theorists expect, but social struggles are central to the politics of the green economy.

The role of the state

The site and ‘great enframer’ of many of these struggles is the southern state. Many of the papers of the last few days have struggled, explicitly or implicitly, with the ‘questions of the state’ in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Whether approaching the state as an autonomous institution (a government and bureaucracy), a hegemonic force, a weak or corrupt regime, or an assemblage of governing techniques, the role of states in the politics of the green economy is crucial.

States can be territorialising, dominating, co-opting of resistance and in thrall to capital, as many of the papers here have shown, but states also have remarkable potential power and legitimacy for rewriting political and economic rules. Many state elites are genuinely committed to searching for more equitable and sustainable development paths. The task of creating a genuinely green economy – one that is low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive – will require not just persuading political elites or challenging corporate power, however, but building ‘green states’ with quite different power relations and governmental rationalities.

What can critical perspectives achieve?

These three issues of policy, agency and the state have re-emerged in different ways over the first two days of the conference, and should be at the forefront of critical research on the green economy. Such critical perspectives require consideration of power and knowledge, discourse, ethics, values, and above all politics.

Somehow it is necessary to both show the world as it is, whilst also demonstrating that it does not have to be this way. The breadth of approaches in evidence here means there cannot be any common conclusion or shared ‘outcome’ from a conference like this, but its value is in the depth of analysis into these crucial questions. Such an agenda may not produce the sorts of policy solutions easily digested by policymakers and vice-chancellors, but the discussions so far have absolutely confronted some of the most pressing and urgent political and environmental issues facing both the South and the North today.


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