The Limits to Thinking Sustainably: approaching sustainable development through its socio-material geographies

Authors: Jessica Hope*, University of St Andrews
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Development, Latin America
Keywords: political ecology; infrastructure; sustainable development; Latin America; materiality
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As climate change accelerates to become the “defining development issue of the twenty first century” (Taylor 2018:351), so too does the need for a response. Since 2015, sustainable development has fronted the United Nation’s Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), linking states, multilateral development banks and institutions, NGOs, civil society organisations and, increasingly, the private sector with a US$90 billion “plan of action for people and planet” (UN 2015). As sustainable development is being remade by Agenda 2030 and reconstituted through global development infrastructure, I argue for a move away from discursive readings of sustainable development (Becker et al., 1999: Redclift 2005: Swygedouw 2010) and rather for an analytical approach rooted in its new socio-material geographies.

In this paper, I extend geographical treatments of infrastructure with political ecology to examine new road infrastructure in the Amazon, building on an assemblage reading of sustainable development (Hope 2020) to argue that doing more work on the socio-environment worlds, knowledges, and politics co-constituted with new infrastructures would take us further in our critique and analysis of sustainable development – revealing hard infrastructure as a crucial and determining component of sustainable development’s wider socio-technical-environmental assemblage, as well as how emergent socio-material geographies inform, frame and enable various socio-environmental behaviours, knowledges, politics and futures.

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