Constructing the ‘Social’ in Sustainable City Discourse

By Judith Rogers.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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

This paper is based on a case study of a recent Australian Government House of Representatives Inquiry into Sustainable Cities 2025 and explores the way in which the idea(l) of a future Sustainable city is currently understood and framed in discourse. Using examples from the inquiry it argues that the dominant focus in Australia at least on individual wastefulness has led to the ‘social’ in ‘sustainability’ being constructed almost entirely as a site of consumption. In most accounts ‘progress’ towards sustainability relies on individual consumers changing their ‘behaviour’ and learning to live within the limits of the ‘planet’. The ‘social’ is reduced down to ‘a behavioural stimulus-response mechanism’ (Szerszynski, Lash and Wynne 1996, p. 4) which sits alongside increasingly technocratic, solution based, ‘path of least resistance’ approaches (like energy taxes) that effectively ‘standardizes the problem and the human agents it encompasses’ (Szerszynski, Lash and Wynne 1996, p. 5).

The paper explores some of the dangers implicit in this reductive and instrumental approach to sustainability which increasingly revolves around calls for restriction, control and containment, implemented with a series of ‘don’ts’, or ‘do less’. In all of this there is little recognition of distributional questions like who has access to which resources and in what quantities? The paper argues that this culture of ‘blame’ will not lead to either social or environmental ‘sustainability’ and points to the need for a critical interrogation into the way in which ‘social sustainability’ is currently spoken and written about as a way of moving forward.

Keywords: Social Sustainability, Consumption, Environment, Discourse

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.37-46. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.148MB).

Dr. Judith Rogers

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

Judy Rogers teaches history and theory in the Landscape Architecture Program, School of Architecture and Design, RMIT. She has an undergraduate degree in History and postgraduate in Environmental Science. Her research is concerned broadly with the way in which claims about sustainability and sustainable cities 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.

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