Sustainability Storylines and the Politics of Distribution

By Judith Rogers.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper details a methodology and a method for analyzing discussions about and for sustainability as text, drawing on Foucauldian perspectives on discourse analysis and questions of power, governmentality and social change. The paper demonstrates how dominant discourses about sustainability structure and limit the way in which the concept can be spoken and written about. Often presented as a clear choice between two future possible worlds – one of decline and one of control - the tightly storied character of much sustainability discourse leaves little choice for the future, because who would chose a future of unsustainability, of decline? The paper highlights in particular how the use of generalised language and cultural stereotypes masks underlying conflict because the villains in the storylines – consumers or people - remain apolitical concepts referring to everyone, but at the same time, no one in particular. This leads to a diffusion of responsibility so that everyone and at the same time no one is to blame. This effectively writes out the possibility of considering questions of distributional equity in a meaningful way simply because "we" are all in this together.

Keywords: Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Sustainability, Sustainable cities, Storylines

The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context, Volume 11, Issue 2, June 2015, pp.13-27. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 717.938KB).

Dr. Judith Rogers

Senior Lecturer, Landscape Architecture Program, School of Architecture and Design, RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Judy Rogers is a senior lecturer and program director in the Landscape Architecture Program at RMIT University Australia. Her research is concerned broadly with the way in which claims about and for sustainability are constructed and then deployed, and with what effects. An interest in social sustainability has led her to consider the way in which distributional issues and questions of equity are framed in sustainability discourse.