Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Review: Environmentality: Technologies of Government and the Making of Subjects

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Review: Environmentality: Technologies of Government and the Making of Subjects

Article excerpt

Arun Agrawal. Environmentality: Technologies of Government and the Making of Subjects. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005. 325 pp. ISBN: 0-8223-3492-5. US $22.95 paper. Acid-free paper.

In the early 1920s the villagers of Kumaon in northern India set hundreds of forest fires to protest the colonial British state's environmental regulations. By the 1990s these village communities had become careful and persistent conservators of the forests. This transformation in thinking and practice provides the starting point for Arun Agarwal's compelling and theoretically challenging analysis of environmental agency. Agrawal's study identifies a key aspect in the development of environmental identities and behaviors in the shift from centralized to decentralized decision-making with the communities in Kumaon and between the communities and the government.

The author demonstrates the rich analytical possibilities that might be developed through an engagement of thinking on political ecology with scholarship on common property and feminist environmentalism. The approach that emerges from such an engagement, what Agarwal calls "environmentality," can help to contribute to a fuller understanding of transformations in environmental thought and practices of conservation. Bringing together a concern with power/knowledge, institutional arrangements and human subjectivities, the approach to environmentality calls upon Foucault's post-structuralist work to explain the development of environmental subjects and practices that govern their activities. As Agarwal demonstrates, changes in the relationships between states, community decision makers and non-elite residents contribute to the emergence of new technologies of government, in terms of environmental regulation, the implementation of which is in turn variously contested.

What is perhaps most striking about Agrawal's work is the extensive character of his research. The author spent time in almost forty villages in Kumaon, interviewing hundreds of residents and personally examining the condition of village forests. His fieldwork was supplemented with archival research into local records to obtain a clear sense of changes in the relations between states and localities over time. …

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