Conjuring the state

Authors: Rosemary-Claire Collard*, Simon Fraser University, Jessica Dempsey*, University of British Columbia, Emilie Cameron, Carleton University
Topics: Economic Geography, Environment
Keywords: The state, biodiversity loss, environmental assessment, meso-scale, national interest
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 23
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The relentlessness of biodiversity loss, despite decades of environmental agreements and lawmaking, is forcing mainstream recognition of this loss’s systemic drivers, like growth and profit-maximization. The state would seem an unavoidable site of analysis in efforts to understand these drivers: it authorizes nature’s extraction, use, and pollution, and polices those who oppose its decisions and/or authority; as Christian Parenti writes, the state “delivers” nature to capital. Yet the state’s presence in policy and scholarly debates over biodiversity loss is at times shadowy and cursory. In this paper we explain the methodology we have been using to investigate on whose authority and to whose benefit biodiversity loss is occurring. To apprehend the broader patterns in how states are behaving (not just what they are saying), we look across a major regulatory process –– environmental assessment –– that creates relatively standardized ways of deliberating and considering economic benefits and impacts to nature. Rather than look to EA regulation directly, our meso-scale approach investigates the archive of what is produced under its auspices – what decisions are made, how the state deliberates and justifies its decisions, as well as how nature and socio-economic benefits are known and represented. We find the state is not only a central, conflict-of-interest-ridden actor in these processes; it is reproduced through them. In its justifications for major environmentally-destructive developments, the state conjures a national scale through invocation of national public interest and benefit. Despite contestation, the state’s authority is exercised through its authorization of these developments.

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