Digital Labor and Campus 'Sustainability Leaders': A Feminist Political Ecology Perspective

Authors: Ingrid Nelson*, University of Vermont
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Gender, Higher Education
Keywords: digital natures, feminist political ecology, higher education institutions, sustainability
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 25
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Who can become a sustainability professional and what kinds of work counts towards embodying green leadership? In the context of university campuses in the United States, the role of the professional sustainability officer is relatively new. While such positions are proliferating, I argue that these positions require a skillful dance between public relations and accountancy labor in the production of a particular ‘green’ aesthetic in linked online and offline spaces. Aspiring and actual campus sustainability professionals are attempting to embody a form of audit culture that tends to sideline critical political questions of power and that prioritizes the production of the sustainability profession’s most valuable resource: data. Recent literature critiquing audit culture argues for caution, as governing through numbers can move decisions affecting particular places and people from political spheres to a technical realm of algorithms designed and managed by experts and executives. I offer a feminist political ecology perspective on making sustainable campus landscapes and sustainability leaders through digital, embodied practices and discourses that celebrate techno-utopianism. I draw from my multi-site event ethnography of sustainability conferences and digital networking spaces, discourse analysis of institutional reports, advertisements and campus initiatives to identify key practices and narratives that demand collective critical inquiry.

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