Gender, Environmental Governmentality, and the Discourses of Sustainable Development

Authored by: Emma A. Foster

Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment

Print publication date:  June  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415707749
eBook ISBN: 9781315886572
Adobe ISBN:


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The story of international environmental politics tends to be narrated through a catalogue of international and United Nations (UN) summits that have ‘become firmly established as landmark moments of environmental governance’ (Death 2011:1). Not only have these summits marked changes to the discursive field for understanding environmental problems and policy solutions, most notably with the launch of the concept of sustainable development in the early 1990s; they have simultaneously integrated and constructed particular understandings of gendered ecological subjects (as empirical bodies) alongside symbolic gender norms (Bretherton 1998, 2003; Foster 2011, 2014). For example, assumptions about women having a natural capacity to care and nurture, and the interrelated construction of the Earth as symbolically feminine (or more importantly maternal), have at points been reflected in the discourses of sustainable development during various summits (Foster 2011). This is only one example of the gender norms and assumptions that have been emphasized in UN sustainable development discourses. The promulgation of gender norms and assumptions has at least two outcomes: first, it works to legitimize various environmental policy ‘solutions’, and second, it works to entrench heteronormative gender expectations.

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