Center for Interdisziplinary Research

How do you manage? Unravelling the situated practice of environmental management

Date: May 29 - June 2, 2012

Convenors: Ingmar Lippert (Augsburg), Franz Krause (Gloucester, UK), Niklas Hartmann (Lancaster, UK)

2012 is the year of 'Rio+20', the United Nations' Conference on Sustainable Development. Invoking 'humanity's' dependence upon and responsibility for 'biodiversity' and 'the biosphere' as well as for 'the climate' and 'the planet' has gained currency once again. Optimist actors, scholars, policy-makers and activists alike, push for more environmental management. They are accompanied by critics, suggesting that sustainability talk is part of the apparatus responsible for environmental and social crises. Others, then, argue for localist sustainability transitions-sometimes posited against, sometimes conceptualised as complimentary to, 'management'. In this 'intellectual climate' twenty-five scholars from across Europe, Colombia and the United States convened in late May for the five-day workshop 'How do you manage? Unravelling the situated practice of environmental management'. Bringing together deeply empirical, often ethnographic work from science and technology studies (STS), environmental anthropology, sociology, human geography, history, social psychology and law as well as by conservation and renewable energy practitioners, the workshop aimed to open up the black boxes of 'environment', 'management' and 'sustainability' simultaneously, which are often still taken for granted.
The workshop resulted in three significant moves. Conceptually, crucial was attention to what participants came to call hegemonic environmental practices: the continually and laboriously reenacted practices of imagining and knowing the environment and construing as well as physically constructing manageable objects according to a dominant (Western, modern) logic. This conception of practices allows for a critical engagement without positing particular sets of practices as (un)sustainable or (non)transformative a priori.
Methodologically, the workshop showed the value of work which is at once deeply empirical and enters into substantial dialogue with contemporary social theory, without necessarily engaging in 'middle range' theorising. Participants concluded that not only is there still much to be learned from scrutinising individual cases; but also it is inspiring to see how different theoretical notions and analytical devices highlight the characteristics of different sites-such as laboratories, offices, and parks-and bring to the fore the siting-work of actors-translations of issues between sites.
Ethically, engaging with hegemonic environmental practices demands attention to power relations as well as to questions of recognition and attribution of agency. The post-colonial question 'who is allowed to speak, and in which way?' as well as the feminist question 'how to form alliances when we are divided along multiple axes of oppression?' remain pertinent also in the context of environmental management. Studies of environmental management as situated practice and recent theorising of 'the non-human'-from feminist scholarship to the currently emerging geophilosophy in (non-)human geography-can only gain from more intensive mutual engagement.
The workshop 'How do you manage?' was conceptualised by the Environment, Management, Society Research Group ( and hosted by ZiF-Bielefeld University's Institute for Advanced Studies-with the kind support of Volkswagen Foundation.


Kristin Asdal | Oslo | NOR, Silvia Bruzzone | Amiens | FRA, Ignacio Farias | Berlin | DEU, Jürgen Hauber | Freiburg i. Br. | DEU, Fiona Hayes | Hiddenhausen | DEU, Werner Krauss | Geesthacht | DEU, Isabelle Mauz | Saint-Martin d'Hères | FRAU, Liana Müller | Trondheim | NOR, Jukka Nyyssönen | Tromsø | NOR, Kenneth Olwig | Alnarp | SWE, Israel Rodriguez-Giralt | Barcelona | ESP, David Rojas | Ithaca, NY | USA, Lisiunia A. Romanienko | S. Dayton, FL | USA, Roger Strand | Bergen | NOR, Lucy Suchman | Lancaster | GBR, Louise Torntoft Jensen | Kopenhagen | DNK, Paula Ungar | Bogota | COL, Claire Waterton | Lancaster | GBR, Andrew J. Whitehouse | Aberdeen | GBR

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