‘Producing the Green Economy’: an innovative approach

Bram Buscher, Associate Professor of Environment and Sustainable Development at the
Institute of Social Studies, and author of Development 55.1 ‘Greening the Economy’ describes the project ‘Producing the Green Economy’, in which he is currently involved.

Project leaders: Ken MacDonald (Toronto) and Catherine Corson (Mount Holyoke)

In a transnational world that has given rise to the expansion of finance capital and associated forms of ‘global’ governance, merging economic and ecological rationales for environmental protection increasingly define and transform nature through market logics and market devices.  These transformations are encapsulated in the emergent global discourse of ‘The Green Economy.’ Defined as an effort ‘to unite under a single banner the entire suite of economic policies and modes of economic analyses of relevance to sustainable development’, it promises to supersede discourses of sustainable development and has gained prominence particularly in preparation for the UN Conference on Environment and Development, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The project ‘Producing the Green Economy’ seeks to gather a global collective of scholars who, using a common methodology and data sharing approach – Collaborative Event Ethnography - can collect data at Rio and subsequent regional events to analyze the complex cultural and political geographies involved in the production of ‘The Green Economy’. This research project begins from a premise that economies are relational phenomena that need to be brought into being, and that bringing economies into being requires the invention of new regimes of measurement, centralization and accumulation of information, translation and circulation of knowledge, production of interpretive frames, and alignment and articulation of actors. Economies, in other words, require new products and services, ‘networks’ of enrolled actors, and channels of distribution, but also measurements that make objects subject to market exchange.  This requires intentional acts of orchestration and performance, which become apparent and open to observation at meetings and events held on the logics and mechanisms that underpin ‘The Green Economy’. 

The primary challenge with understanding these processes of production is that meetings and events are dispersed across time and space, held in different parts of the world at different times for different actors. Accordingly, the primary goals of this project are: i) to collaboratively investigate the production of ‘The Green Economy’; ii) to develop a collaborative ethnographic approach to studying a set of dispersed, but connected policy-making sites, involved in that production; and iii) to establish a network of researchers and partners in different regions of the world who study emergent forms of transnational environmental governance.

The project is unique theoretically in that it contributes to an understanding of transnational environmental governance by revealing the ways in which understandings of nature and, consequently, ecological dynamics are affected both through configurations of power and through attempts to govern the use and distribution of nature by institutions that are ostensibly created to protect the environment.  It is empirically significant as it provides data showing how actors are drawn into dominant projects of governance, like ‘The Green Economy’.  It is also notably significant methodologically as it redefines both the idea of the ethnographic ‘field’ in which fieldwork’ is conducted and transforms what is conventionally thought of as an individualist methodological approach into a collective and collaborative endeavour as researchers design appropriate data collection instruments and share insights and data. This project will generate crucial new insights into understanding ‘The Green Economy’ as an emerging dominant paradigm of global environmental governance and its likely implications for people and natures and ecological dynamics around the globe.  It also contributes to the establishment of strong north-south collaborations among partners, and to training students in innovative new methodologies as well as promoting diversity in scholarship across gender, race and culture.

See the interview with Bram Buscher in Development 55.1 ‘Neo-liberal Conservation and the Cementing of Inequality’.


Photo: webtreats/flickr