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Neoliberalising nature: the logics of deregulation and reregulation

  • Physics


This and a companion paper examine a new and fast-growing geographical research literature about neoliberal approaches to governing human interactions with the physical environment. This literature, authored by critical geographers for the most part, is largely case study based and focuses on a range of biophysical phenomena in different parts of the contemporary world. In an attempt to take stock of what has been learnt and what is left to do, the two papers survey the literature theoretically and empirically, cognitively and normatively. They are written for the benefit of readers trying to make some sense of this growing literature and for future researchers of the topic. Specifically, they aim to parse the critical studies of nature’s neoliberalisation with a view to answering four key questions posed, variously, in many or most of them: what are the main reasons why all manner of qualitatively different nonhuman phenomena in different parts of the world are being ‘neoliberalised’?; what are the principal ways in which nature is neoliberalised in practice?; what are the effects of nature’s neoliberalisation?; and how should these effects be evaluated? Without such an effort of synthesis, this literature could remain a collection of substantively disparate, theoretically informed case studies unified only in name (by virtue of their common focus on ‘neoliberal’ policies). Though all four questions posed are answerable in principle, in practice the existing research literature makes questions two, three, and four difficult to address substantively and coherently between case studies. While the first question can, from one well-established theoretical perspective, be answered with reference to four ‘logics’ at work in diverse contexts (the focus of this paper), the issues of process, effects, and evaluations are currently less tractable (and are the focus of the next paper). Together, the two pieces conclude that critical geographers interrogating nature’s neoliberalisation will, in future, need to define their objects of analysis more rigorously and/or explicitly, as well as their evaluative schemas. If the new research into neoliberalism and the nonhuman world is to realise its full potential in the years to come, then some fundamental cognitive and normative issues must be addressed. These issues are not exclusive to the literature surveyed and speak to the ‘wider’ lessons that can be drawn from any body of case study research that focuses on an ostensibly ‘general’ phenomena like neoliberalism.

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