Environmentality Through Governmentality- An Unfinished Project

Elizabeth Vasquez

  • I’m a junior majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and minoring in Environmental Policy and Planning. I am interested in philosophical discussion about environmental issues and how philosophy and politics affect global change.

Quincy Bienkowski

  • I’m a junior majoring in Aerospace Engineering specializing in Energy and the Environment and attaining minors in PPE and Mathematics. I enjoy studying all aspects pertaining to energy. The main reason I am so interested in energy is my conception of its limitless potential. With enough energy, all problems could be solved. With that being said, sustainability goes head in hand with this. 

Olivia Davis

  • I am a senior majoring in Political Science. After graduation I plan to work at an HR department for a couple years, then I am moving out to Oregon to be closer with some of my family. I also work as a bather so spend a lot of my time working with dogs:). 

Rainey Blankenship

  • I am a senior majoring in political science with a concentration in legal studies. Prior to graduation, I plan to continue my education by pursuing a path in law and hope to attend Liberty University School of Law. I am interested in the relationship between global environmental issues and the political; specifically, the way in which the political shapes environmental change. I believe this relationship is one directly intersecting with intellectual property protection, an area of law I am interested in pursuing.
Editor’s Note: The following video exhibits an environmentality in operation. Specifically one can see how adjustments in the town’s planning and composition are reactive to the dictates of ecological sciences. The adjustments made to how people interact and live with wildlife is accompanied by governmental projects such as youth programs, the dictates of wildlife biologists and the policing of both human and non-human populations. For our purposes, Policing and Normalization need not be thought of as Blacksburg PD banging on your door. Policing, that is, the enactment of disciplinary measures supported through populational surveillance, can come in soft forms, such as a wildlife biologist telling people to stay away from a gorging bear, or to carry pepper spray or wear bells. We can also think about how strategies of deterrence are enacted to keep the townsfolk from inviting more security threats (read bears for now) into their habitats by removing fruit trees. These are subtle adjustments to living conditions that signify changes in governing rationalities related to environmental needs. You’ll see that technological changes accompany the incorporation of wildlife into the town of Canmore’s infrastructure and this shows a link between technological development, shifts in “environment” and the construction of space relative to the perceived needs of wildlife populations supported with ecological knowledges.

Death, “Chapter 12: Governmentality” 

Core Ideas

Michel Foucault is known for his work surrounding the concept of ‘governmentality’ or governmentality studies; the art of government concerning the ways in which the government ‘conducts people’s conduct’ (112). It is Foucault whose critique embodies a lens producing ‘ethos of investigation;’ explaining how things happened and how they differ from previous interactions, rather than why they happened (118). Although Foucault is widely known for his analysis of governmentality studies, he is often overlooked for his contributions to environmental theory. While he himself never addressed the environment in his critical studies, others have engaged with his work, resulting in his analytical legacy leaving its mark in fields such as ‘political geography, environmental history and environmental politics’ (114). 

Historical Productions of Nature

Two of Foucault’s publishings, Security, Territory and Population (2007) and The Birth of Biopolitics (2008), provide great insight to the concept of ‘governmentality.’ Foucault brings emphasis to the nature of governmentality, it is not something that comes readily made and it may not last forever (114). 

Ecopolitics and Green Governmentality

Two key thinkers picked up on the critical linkage of ‘the environment’ to governmentality that Foucault skipped over in his studies, those two being Tim Luke and Paul Rutherford. These authors formulated the concepts of ecological or green governmentality to signify the critical linneage between Foucault’s work in governmentality. Rutherford is credited with the concept of ‘eco-politics,’ expanding Foucault’s theorizating of governmental practices concerning the population domain to the environment. Luke is credited with the attention he brings to the ‘eco-knowledges,’ that in turn invoke ‘enviro-discipline’ (115-116). 

Conclusion- The Unfinished Product

Foucauldian studies have led to the expansion of environmental theories by allowing modern critical thinkers to denote a linkage between ‘the environment’ (environmentality) and ‘governmentality.’ Environmental governmentality studies remain an unfinished product that must be examined through the lens of Foucault’s analytical legacy (methodological ethos) to constitute intellectual inquiry resulting in a new theory of environmental governmentality (119). 

Darier, “Foucault and the Environment: An Introduction”

When looking at the current environmental status, people in the North are concerned and starting to get anxious. For many years now people have been discussing the idea that better technological innovations and scientific knowledge may not be the way for us to better ourselves. In “Discourses of the Environment,” Eric Darier mentions, “…very few experts would volunteer a resolutely optimistic outlook for the environment in the future,” (Darier, 2). Each different field of ecological sciences have been fighting and researching ideas for environmental issues. Despite most fighting the same problem, basically nothing unites them. Callliot even mentioned that we need to maintain a united world view. Everyone in inconsistent circles with contradictory demands creates an overlap which then only causes conflict.

There is a main issue around two groups: the “nature-skeptical,” which feel nature can only make sense through social construction, and the “nature-endorsing,” which feel “an irreducible positivist reality outside human interpretations” (Darier, 3). However, it remains important for people to be able to find a middle ground between the controversy in Manichaean framing, or seeing things as in black and white. In turn, Michel Foucault brought to light a heated debate in environmentalism in terms of essential and necessary conditions for the emergence of an ecological/environmental movement. Foucault is thought of as one of the most influential thinkers, even though he never addressed the environmental issue directly and was not really a fan of Nature. 

The best way to see Foucault’s contributions is to study his work. There are actually three Foucauldian approaches: archeological, genealogical, and ethical, so you have to be mindful of the time period. His articles, books, etc. were all written in scholarly vernacular which made them hard for others to read in general. One would often have to have outside knowledge in order to understand his writings. Then on top of that many people had different interpretations of his writings. Looking at the first approach, the archeological approach, “attempts to undertake excavations of historical texts,” (Darier, 9). The purpose of this approach is to show various historical layers for what did or can constitute as knowledge. Though this approach is considered to be “ill-defined,” it also adopts a “truth-claim” which in itself shows the reliability through factual backgrounds in detailed studies.

Foucault’s second or “middle” approach is a genealogical one. While, as per Foucault, this approach is very broad and touches on a multitude of philosophical, ecological, governmental, etc. topics, in many ways was a response to critiques of his first approach. By adopting genealogy, Foucault “tried to distance himself further from structuralism and detached empiricism,” (Darier 14). In this section, Foucalt further argues his point about the broader complexity of social practices, power, and knowledge itself. That all of these things must continuously be challenged through discourse and practice.

In response to the Marxist critique of archeology, Foucalt dives into ‘power’. In referring to power, he made a careful effort to never explicitly define his conception of power. Only to say what it is not. It is not something “which the State or a dominant class has or possesses,” (Darier 17). It is not a zero-sum game and is, in-fact, mostly relational and hardly entails absolute domination for those who are subjected to power still maintain some choice, however limited. Foucault also makes a point that power has a ‘heterogeneity between a public right of sovereignty and a polymorphous disciplinary mechanism’(ibid.) which allows power to create many unintended consequences that are not always bad. That power is more complex and is not inherently bad as most contemporary scholarship regarding Foucault’s conception of power is that it is a creative force.. 

Ironically enough, Foucalt’s last section has a focus on ethics. This is because he saw ethics as a technique for the normalization of the population. In a way, it was a form of imposing power through others by creating and normalizing the behavior of populations through individuals. Nearing the end of his life, Foucalt aimed to answer questions regarding individuals, subjectivities, and the constant struggle with normalization. He firmly believed that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were far too simple to accept. That discourse must take place on each individual’s behalf in order to move forward. So, Foucalt’s ethical approach focussed on the individual disengaging from normalization to the practice of freedom.It is possible to remake ourselves without normalization and to understand the ways in which we are free and he sketches how in a lecture series entitled Technologies of the Self. Many have seen Foucalt as pessimistic, but Darier makes it clear that Foucalt was instead just a very good skeptic and philosopher.

Darier, Rutherford, “The Entry of Life into History”

As previously mentioned by Death, Michel Foucault’s work has been applied to many critical studies, but is rarely applied to critical environmental studies. Paul Rutherford, another critical thinker, steps in to denote the linkage of Foucault’s ideas of biopolitics/governmentality and contemporary environmental problems by providing three propositions that are as follows: (1) The modern environmental crisis is parallel to what Foucault called ‘the regulatory biopolitics of the population.’ (2) It is biopolitics that gives rise to new areas of scientific development. (3) Biopolitics gives rise to new and developing techniques that can simultaneously manage the environment and population, thus ‘ecological governmentality’ (37-38). Foucault characterized biopolitics as a new form of power concerned with the fostering of life through biopower of the individual or the species body. Regulatory controls administer said life, which Foucault characterized as ‘biopolitics of the population’ (39). This constituted a parallel growth of ‘the institutions of state power alongside the techniques of biopower.’ Rutherford labels the rise of biopower/biopolitics as the ‘entry of life into history;’ new techniques and regulations allowed for modification of ‘the life processes’ as a political project (42). Rutherford wants to emphasize that knowledge is central to that which makes up the objects that biopower operates through, therefore biopolitics and expertise are inherently linked (44). 

Rutherford feels that Foucalt’s approach does not sufficiently explain the way that political and economic problems in society led to similar problems in nature and the environment, and so he attempts to draw those comparisons in this text by defining different biopolitical relations. Particular to our discussion on environmentality, he shows that ecology and environmental management are forms of biopolitics, “as these originate in, and operate upon, the same basic concerns for managing the ‘continuous and multiple relations’ between the population, its resources and the environment” (45). As a social policy, the ecological is inherently biopolitical as it exists to regulate populations of humans through relationships with non-humans.

In Rutherford’s discussion of government rationality, he again points out the relation of power and knowledge in biopolitics, but also how it goes beyond those two factors. In government analysis, there exists a ‘triple domain’ in government (46). Human governance is delineated by self-government, government of others, and the state’s government. This is to illustrate the broadness of what ‘government’ means, that there is a large scope that extends from self reflection to the regulation of entire populations. As political discourse around governance evolved, new theories came to be. One major theory was raison d`état, or reason of state. What was different about this was that it regarded the government as no longer focused on governing territory, but things, and meant to manage the social body to ensure a prosperous population. It meant that governmental laws were inherent in the state rather than natural or divine law. Foucalt described ‘reason of state’ as growing from two political technologies: police and diplomatic-military practices. This marked a sort of introduction into the police state. But how do we know what the interests of the state are and how do we manage them? The way that this new type of society is administered is by gaining exhaustive knowledge of the state’s resources. Acquiring this knowledge, in police theory, is meant to ensure the well-being of the population and thereby strengthen the state through the enactment of discipline and surveillance within populations. Though raison d`état and police science are a part of modern government rationality, these theories do not fully encapsulate the idea.

Rutherford moves the discussions toward liberalism and security, and how these ideas are also necessary to understand government rationality. The influence of liberalism was an important development in the evolution of government. It should be noted that in this sense, ‘liberal’ does not necessarily mean ‘opposite of conservative’ or any sort of economic ideology. It is viewed by Foucalt, and written in this text as, “a  specific practice of government that embodies a  continuous reflection on not only the limits of government but also its necessity” (48). Essentially, liberalism came to be as a critique of the state of reason, and asserts that the state is not its own end and government does not equal state. Another way it differs from the police state is that the interests of the population don’t necessarily align with those of the state. Because the state is unable to achieve the total knowledge that the police state seeks, according to liberal theorists, the state’s ability to act beneficially is impacted by the fallibility of its knowledge. Liberalism “dissolved the immediate unity between knowledge and government” (49), and in doing so brought about a new configuration known as ‘governmentality’ which emphasized a relationship between less formal bodies of knowledge and administration.

The question that Rutherford had previously pointed out regarding the incompleteness of Foucalt’s idea of the problematization between population and environment can be answered more fully by three major social developments: (1) modern biology, (2) European population increases that led to mass migrations, and (3) new international capitalist markets.The rise of these three factors relate modern biopolitics with the emergence of population and resource problems. The growth of capitalism also meant the growth of production, particularly industrialism as a system of production, becoming a large factor in the problems of global pollution and resource exploitation.

As ecology rose as a rationale behind political economy, ecological discourse gave way to regulatory science and ecological governmentality causing a rise in environmental legislation, enforcement agencies, regulation (such as intervention in industrial settings), and planning. 

The growth of regulatory science and the use of environmental impact assessments became two major aspects of ecological governmentality. As biopolitics and governmentality are concerned  with enforcing the conduct of a population, ecological sciences are fundamental to biopolitics due to the importance of regulating the relationships held between the human and non-human as a political project.