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Green citizenship: a review and critique

Teena Gabrielson a a Department of Political Science, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming, USA Version of record first published: 01 Jul 2008.

To cite this article: Teena Gabrielson (2008): Green citizenship: a review and critique, Citizenship Studies, 12:4, 429-446


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Citizenship Studies Vol. 12, No. 4, August 2008, 429–446

Green citizenship: a review and critique

Teena Gabrielson*

Green citizenship: a review and critique Teena Gabrielson* Department of Political Science, University of Wyoming,

Department of Political Science, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming, USA

( Received 30 May 2007; final version received 19 November 2007 )

This paper reviews the literature on green citizenship and argues that the concept of citizenship has done much to advance green theory building internally but that in order to deepen an already substantial area of scholarship, promote a more inclusive and emancipatory environmental politics, and augment their contribution to the larger body of citizenship studies, greens will need to broaden their approach to the concept. This review highlights the tendency within green theorizing to privilege particular conceptions of the natural world and humans’ relations to it, and draws attention to the work of those scholars explicitly engaged in incorporating the social construction of nature into their theories of green citizenship. The essay concludes by identifying three particular areas in which green theorizing has contributed to citizenship studies.

Keywords: green citizenship; social construction of nature; emancipation

In both the citizenship and environmental literatures one need not look long to find narratives of declension. Within the citizenship literature, this narrative begins with a once rich and robust ancient public sphere directed towards the good life, which was privatized in modernity and now, as evidenced in security, consumerist and green discourses, is directed towards the maintenance of mere life alone. From the environmentalist perspective, a once thickly animated natural world in which humans considered themselves only a part became, in modern times, the dead matter or mere resources for the use and improvement of humans’ comfort; a perspective often considered by greens to be largely responsible for the ecological crisis we currently face. In both tales, modernity marks the turning point from our once great past to our near certain future demise. I begin with these parallels not because they directly inform the literature on green citizenship, but because they act as a sort of specter haunting the literature and inhibiting the movement towards a richer engagement with the full range of postmodern perspectives on citizenship. Where the narrative of civic declension lionizes an ancient understanding of citizenship that was grounded upon an homogeneous demos, the narrative of environmental declension idealizes a fairly narrow conception of the natural world and humans’ appropriate relationship to it. Together these narratives present a particular challenge for conceptions of ecological citizenship in that any progressive green politics must move beyond both of these barriers in order to advance an understanding of citizenship that is both inclusive and emancipatory. In one of the earliest articles dedicated explicitly to the concept of ecological citizenship, van Steenbergen explains his effort to integrate questions of citizenship and the environment as

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follows: ‘Current discussions seem to concern “two cultures”: one dealing with citizenship problems and the other with environmental problems, and so far these two cultures have not met. In this chapter I shall try to bring these two cultures together by raising the issue of the possible meaning (or, better, meanings) of ecological or environmental citizenship’ (1994, p. 142). 1 Since this early exploratory essay, the field of green citizenship has burgeoned; it has both broadened its reach and deepened its theoretical foundation. From the perspective of one recent reviewer, the field has now come of age (Latta 2007, p. 377). Despite this maturation, the body of literature on green citizenship is still unfortunately and unnecessarily narrow. As will become clear in the body of this review, much of the literature on green citizenship, and particularly the earliest studies, were directed, for the most part, inwardly in order to attenuate some of the key oppositions that characterized much of early green scholarship – ecocentric/anthropocentric; statist/eco-anarchist; deep/shallow green; radical/ reformist – and to construct a more attractive environmental discourse. Towards these ends, the concept of citizenship has done much to advance theory building among green political theorists. However, one of the consequences of harnessing the language of citizenship to the end of sustainability has been a rather anemic conception of citizenship which is advanced instrumentally and thereby diminishes the concept’s democratic potential (Latta and Garside 2005, p. 3, Latta 2007, p. 379). In a recent edited volume dedicated to the topic, Dobson and Bell take a position well established in the literature as a whole when they observe that contributors to the book consider a variety of issues ‘as part of an inquiry into the nature, possibilities, and limits of citizenship as a way of promoting sustainability ’ (2006, p. 7, emphasis added). In Latta’s recent review of the literature, the author argues that ‘the existing literature tends to treat ecological citizenship primarily as a normative and institutional tool for promoting a greener future’ an emphasis that has ‘muted the democratic sensibility that citizenship might bring to the politics of nature’ (2007, pp. 379, 381). Accepting this logic, another critique of the concept, included within Dobson and Bell’s volume, favors notions of environmental justice over conceptions of environmental citizenship as a ‘vehicle for securing change’ (Agyeman and Evans 2006, p. 200). In keeping with these critiques, this essay affirms the need for green theorists to refocus on the democratic and egalitarian aspects of citizenship in their theorizing. However, unlike the reviews mentioned above, this essay aims to identify those instances where conceptions of green citizenship tend to idealize particular conceptions of the natural world and humans’ relations to it, and to draw attention to the work of those scholars explicitly engaged in incorporating the social construction of nature into their theories of green citizenship. The essay urges green political theorists to reject the narratives of declension that lurk about the intersections of citizenship and environmentalism, and to look outward so as to make deeper connections with other bodies of literature that inform contemporary understandings of citizenship. In the spirit of van Steenbergen’s early work, I argue that a more compelling account of citizenship and further advances in both green thinking and citizenship studies would stem from a deeper integration of the two bodies of literature. Much of the contemporary normative literature on citizenship is dominated by the liberal and civic republican frameworks. If T.H. Marshall’s definition of citizenship as ‘a status bestowed on those who are full members of a community’ (1950, p. 14) issues in the modern study of citizenship, Aristotle’s definition as one who ‘shares in decision and office’ and has the capacity ‘to rule and be ruled finely’ (1984, pp. 87, 91) is cited nearly as often. As appropriated by scholars of green citizenship, these two frameworks offer contrasting conceptions that are often characterized in the following way: the liberal model emphasizes citizenship as a public status that ensures the holder of civil, political and social rights; while the civic republican model, renewed by the communitarian challenge to liberalism, emphasizes the public duties, virtues, and practices of citizenship. 2 The following review begins with those conceptions of

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green citizenship that are located primarily within the liberal tradition, it then turns to those that draw most heavily from civic republicanism, and concludes with conceptions of green citizenship that move beyond these frameworks in significant ways.

Green citizenship and the liberal model

For many greens the liberal model is an attractive one for addressing environmental issues both for what it avoids and for what it offers. Unlike the more radical green approaches, the liberal model seeks to avoid the tendency to assert sustainability as the exclusive end of citizenship because of its commitment to value pluralism. Among the advantages of a liberal approach is a conception of rights that can be extended both in terms of the appropriate range of subjects to whom the rights and duties of citizenship apply, and in the substantive content of social rights historically considered critical in liberal democracies. 3 As an example of the first approach, Christoff (1996) argues that the rights of both animals and future generations must be represented by ‘ecological citizens’ and formalized in culture, law, and constitutional rights (on constitutional rights also see Hayward 1998, 2000). He argues for a ‘hierarchy of value’ in which ‘universal ecological values or principles (like conservation of bio-diversity, the basic needs of future generations)’ trump ‘particular ecological values (such as protection of individuals of a species) and “narrow” anthropocentric values’ – a position that he acknowledges ‘compromises’ liberal democracy (1996, pp. 163–164). Christoff’s ecological citizen is motivated by the material condition of environmental degradation and depends upon an ‘environmental solidarity’ born of the revitalization of civil society and the associational opportunities created both by it and a reformed green state (1996, p. 159). Christoff’s essay offers an excellent overview of the potential of a ‘reformed liberalism,’ but does not fully consider the thorny issues involved in negotiating an ecological ‘hierarchy of value’ with liberalism’s commitment to value pluralism. Using the second approach, environmentalists have argued for extending the content of social rights to include, for example, substantive rights for fresh air and clean water (Dean 2001, p. 491). Such an approach has been useful in pressing questions of intergenerational justice (Barry 1977, 1978) and has been central in the literatures on environmental racism and environmental justice; literatures which probe the intersections of social justice and environmental degradation within a liberal, rights-based model (Faber 1998, Bullard 2005; see also Agyeman 2005). These examples illustrate the extent to which greens have adapted the liberal model and its emphasis upon rights in order to address environmental concerns. However, for many, and particularly for deep greens, the liberal model embodies the instrumental rationality, anthropocentrism, and economic expansionism largely responsible for environmental degradation (Naess 1973, Goodin 1992). From this vantage point, the ‘environmental’ approach is entirely insufficient to the challenge of ecological crisis. One response to this problem has been to distinguish environmentalism from what is conceived to be the more ecologically attractive and radical ideology of ecologism. Dobson writes, ‘Environmentalism argues for a managerial approach to environmental problems, secure in the belief that they can be solved without fundamental changes in present values or patterns of production and consumption,’ whereas ‘Ecologism holds that a sustainable and fulfilling existence presupposes radical changes in our relationship with the non-human natural world, and in our mode of social and political life’ (2000a, p. 2). Dobson argues that the radical potential of the ideological approach derives from its commitment to the ‘limits to growth’ hypothesis, a vision of sustainable society, and ecocentrism. His work has spawned a large body of literature dedicated to specifying the commitments of ecologism, some of which will be addressed in the following section of this essay (Hayward 1995, 1998, Dryzek 1997, Smith 1998, Dean 2001). 4

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Yet, for liberals, the ideological approach violates what might be considered liberalism’s most basic premise and one of the most significant achievements of modern political thought: the priority of the right over the good. The ecological approach requires deep attitude change among most individuals because it asserts a teleological model that articulates a thick conception of the good. In response to such models, several recent works have begun to set forth a theory of green liberalism (Wissenburg 1998, Barry and Wissenburg 2001, Hailwood 2004, Wissenburg and Levy 2004). Initiating this effort, Wissenburg (1998) seeks both to identify liberalism’s compatibility with green thinking and to assess essentially how green liberal policies might become without violating the fundamental commitments of liberal political thought (also see Beckman 2001). To take a brief example from a careful and well argued book, Wissenburg maintains that liberals must reject the deeper green positions of ecocentrism and the intrinsic value of nature on the following grounds: the first violates the most basic premise of liberal thought, the freedom to construct one’s own life plans; and the second is confused by its failure to recognize that all value stems from a subject. 5 Wissenburg’s liberalism endorses an anthropocentric egalitarianism and asserts that even if an object only has external value it may still be protected on the grounds that it is ‘completely insubstitutable’ and essential to a subject’s plan of life (1998, p. 207). Wissenburg’s chief end is to maintain liberalism’s distinctive commitment to value pluralism while still advancing environmental interests. While the liberalism he advocates rightly identifies the extent to which the ideological approach unreasonably restricts individual autonomy, it fails to acknowledge the extent to which a particular conception of the natural world – as property – is entrenched in liberal thought. In response to those who would argue that environmental citizenship merely extends liberal rights, Bell (2005) argues that environmental concerns appropriately integrated into liberal thought actually strengthen liberalism by dislodging the privilege of property and expanding value pluralism to individuals’ relations with the natural world. Bell urges that a more coherent liberalism would envision the environment as a ‘provider of basic needs’ and ‘a subject about which there is reasonable disagreement’ (2005, p. 190). The significance of this conception for liberal thought and its potential then for advancing green initiatives should not be underestimated. Bell’s approach reveals the illiberal tendencies of the liberal tradition when applied to our understanding of humans’ appropriate relation to the natural world. But, rather than accept the deep green alternative (which privileges a different conception), Bell’s contribution is to provide a means for integrating a hierarchy of value regarding environmental concerns into liberal thought while simultaneously advancing liberalism’s commitment to value pluralism by extending it to our understanding of humans’ appropriate relation to the natural world. In keeping with this extension, at the policy level, Wissenburg argues that ‘the only policy strategy that is really compatible with liberal-democratic principles is ecological modernization’ which he defines in the following way:

Ecological modernization conceives of the environmental problem as a matter of fact rather than morals. It is a means-oriented approach, built around the assumption that given preferences and desires ought to be and can be answered in a different, ecologically responsible way. It does not neglect the processes of preference-formation in civil society but assumes preferences to be inviolable. It presumes that it is not the task of the political system to adapt people to an ideal society but the other way around. (1998, p. 65)

Wissenburg’s liberalism is not inconsistent with sustainability but demands that individuals must be the source of change, rather than the state, and, that change may take any number of possible forms. In Wissenburg’s analysis, liberals may be obliged to act in a manner consistent with deep green demands, but the theory does not ‘exclude the possibility of turning the planet into a giant steel-grey Manhattan’ (1998, pp. 208–209).

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Avoiding such an outcome rests on the necessity of changing citizen preferences, a challenge Wissenburg argues deliberative democracy cannot meet and that turns to indoctrination at the hands of communitarians. Stopping short of the critical question regarding the exact character of green virtues and the institutions that might be responsible for cultivating them, Wissenburg concludes, ‘the development of sustainable preferences, of a sustainable attitude and character, is the responsibility of each and every single individual’ (1998, p. 226). This focus upon the ‘responsible individual’ as the primary solution to environmental problems is convincingly critiqued by Maniates (2001). Maniates argues that the ‘accelerating individualization of responsibility’ which recommends as solutions to environmental crisis planting a tree, riding a bike or recycling is undermining our ability to effectively imagine and respond to environmental threats and depoliticizing the issue (2001, p. 34). In its stead, Maniates encourages the re-politicization of environmental issues through a reframing of those issues that accounts for their structural and institutional features and endorses deliberative and participatory democratic decision-making processes. Pursuing another line of criticism, Stephens (2001) has argued it may well be that the conception of the self at the very center of Wissenburg’s liberalism limits any discussion of the practices of virtue that can be pursued. Stephens’s critique is a formidable one because it points to the question of whether the liberal model can effectively cultivate the virtues of environmental citizenship without placing its fundamental commitment of the prioritization of the right over the good in jeopardy. Stephens’s affirmative response advocates a different kind of liberalism. He argues that contemporary green liberals must take a pragmatic approach and endorse the more relational self at the center of a perfectionist, Millian liberalism in order to ‘inculcate virtues of care in relation to the natural’ (2001; see also Stephens 1996). While Stephens chooses to turn to an alternative conception of the self from within the liberal tradition, other greens have found the civic republican and communitarian traditions more conducive to their effort to articulate and shore up green commitments.

Virtue, duty, the practices of citizenship, and civic republicanism

The recent revival of the civic republican tradition (Dagger 1997, Petit 1997, Oldfield 1998) has brought to the fore an understanding of citizenship that emphasizes virtue, duty, self- governance, and community. Ecological concerns have enlivened this already throaty debate regarding the appropriate virtues and responsibilities of citizenship (van Steenbergen 1994, Smith 1998, Dean 2001, Dobson 2000b). So much so, that many greens working within this tradition agree with Dobson’s point that ‘one of ecological citizenship’s most crucial contributions to contemporary theorizing is its focus on the duties and obligations that attend citizenship’ (Dobson 2000b, p. 41). The emphasis within the republican tradition on the common or public good supports the green effort to restrain excessive self-interest and its environmentally detrimental effects. Yet, greens differ on how best to incorporate the natural world within the humanist conception of the common good central to civic republicanism. For Dobson, this means that ‘obligations are owed primarily to strangers, distant in both space and time; and that they involve the virtues of care and compassion, practiced in both the private and the public sphere’ (2000b, p. 59). While for others, like Mark Smith, these duties are extended to the natural world ‘by displacing the human species from the central ethical position it has always held’ and adopting ecocentrism resulting in ‘a new “politics of obligation”’ (1998, p. 99). In a similar vein, Curry (2000) encourages an ‘ecological republicanism’ in which the political is firmly grounded in the larger context of the natural world, yet not determined by it. Curry outlines an understanding of community that would apply to both the natural and the

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social and then bolsters this definition with the civic republican notion that all communities require certain practices to sustain them. 6 In Curry’s model, the common good, which necessarily includes the natural environment, only can be maintained through the exercise of active citizenship, or the shared commitment to a set of practices that uphold the public good against the corrupting influence of self-interest. To humble human interests within a larger ‘republic of life’ Curry draws upon Machiavelli’s conception of virtu´ , which he argues ‘involves an extended sense of embodied relationships, in lived communities and specific places – a link which recognizing and revaluing the natural dimension would strengthen’ (2000, p. 1069). This emphasis upon locality or place is a prominent one, both among those greens drawing on the civic republican tradition to strengthen conceptions of community and among those relying on post-structuralist or post-colonial scholarship to critique the more violent abstractions of neo-liberalism. Curtin argues that ‘liberal imperialism’ and the conception of citizenship it entails ‘has been used to marginalize both peoples and places, especially those peoples who understand themselves – or are defined by others – as being defined by their connections to particular places’ (2003, p. 296). On a similar note, Reid and Taylor argue that ecological citizenship ‘is to speak first of citizens embodying their particular places of ecological experience with common concerns (and concerns grounded in the commons) potentially leading to expansive spatiotemporal horizons of responsible action’ (2000, p. 440). Such positioning guards against what Reid and Taylor refer to as ‘body-blindness,’ a consequence of ‘technocratic managerial ideologies of industrial capitalism’ that contributes to environmental degradation (p. 440). However, each of these authors also struggles to negotiate the exclusiveness that such a robust conception of community demands and the moral necessity to respect value pluralism, a point discussed further below. Like Curry above, Curtin argues that ‘the moral orbit of citizenship’ must ‘be extended to ecological communities’ (2003, p. 293). Curtin also emphasizes the role of civic practices in the construction of that community. However, where Curry relies upon the civic republican tradition primarily to broaden our understanding of community, Curtin uses the communitarian critique of the modern liberal conception of moral identity in order to urge an ecological citizenship that ‘requires that we see our moral identity as partially defined by public practices’ that allow us to achieve cooperative goods for the ‘more-than-human community’ (2003, p. 303, emphasis added). John Barry’s work (1996, 1999, 2002) shares with the above an emphasis on the practices of citizenship as a means to cultivating virtue and constructing an ecological identity, but rejects the ideal of one integrated human and ecological community. 7 Barry explains the turn to citizenship among greens as a response to the problem of convincing large numbers of people to adopt attitudes and behaviors consistent with sustainability. Because institutional restructuring is insufficient alone, Barry argues that such reforms must be ‘supplemented with changes in general behavior (weak green citizenship) and values and practices (strong green citizenship)’ (2002, p. 147). 8 To affect such a change of heart and mind, Barry advocates a virtue-based conception of citizenship in which intellectual virtues, or a basic ecological literacy grounded upon scientific knowledge, and moral virtues such as self-reliance, self-restraint (1999, pp. 67–69, 228), prudence, foresight (1999, p. 35) and the consideration of non-citizen interests (2002, p. 148) are gained through the practices of citizenship. Barry’s ideal, like Curtin’s (2003) above, is one which cuts very deep – to the core of one’s ‘moral character’ or identity . He writes, ‘Essentially the greening of citizenship is an attempt to encourage and create an identity and mode of thinking and acting, and ultimately character traits and dispositions that accord with the standards and aims of ecological stewardship’ (2002, p. 145). 9

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Two particular problems are worthy of mention regarding the identity approach, both related

to the depth of its claim. The first holds that such an approach would seem to urge a sort of deep

conversion that few can be expected to make. I share the ‘grave doubts’ of Ball regarding ‘whether the entire human species, or a substantial portion thereof, can create and learn an entirely new moral language within the ever-diminishing time available to them’ (2001, p. 98). 10


second problem, identified by Light (2002), is that identity models are particularly vulnerable


charges of exclusivity. By identifying environmental concerns as appropriate to a particular

world view, identity theorists run the risk of alienating those who do not share such a view. Instead, Light (2002) favors a citizenship model in which duties to the natural world are

articulated as interests and the participatory practices of nature restoration become a means, not

of transforming one’s identity, but of ‘working simultaneously to restore nature and to restore

the participatory and strong democratic elements of their local communities’ (2002, p. 159). Light argues that the appropriate goal of ecological citizenship is to negotiate citizen interests while moderating them with attention to the environment. Thus, Light shares Barry’s interest in democratic practices but sees nature restoration as a means to strengthening democratic practice, where Barry sees democratic practice as a means of reattaching humans to the natural world. First and foremost among the practices Barry emphasizes are deliberative democratic forms. There are three primary advantages that recommend these forms: first, Barry asserts such forms are appropriate to the consideration of environmental questions because human relations with the natural world are marked by uncertainty, contingency, and plurality; second, Barry argues these forms are more likely to persuade citizens to consider the interests of ‘affected non- citizens’ than would a system of simple representation; and finally, these practices serve as a substitute for the agricultural practices that once attached humans to the non-human natural world and thereby provide the means by which citizens can ‘reconnect’ with and ‘remind’ themselves of their dependence upon it (2002, p. 138). Barry’s citizenship ideal of ‘ecological stewardship’ is based upon the model of agricultural stewardship. Barry argues that the ‘democratic procedures and institutions through which societies debate, argue about, and ultimately organize and regulate their relations (or what I have called elsewhere their “metabolism”) to the environment are the modern substitute for direct experience of the “land” that characterizes agricultural stewardship’ (2002, p. 138, emphasis added). Barry’s understanding of what motivates the individual within agricultural stewardship and how it translates to ecological stewardship is of particular concern because it is at the core of his conception of green citizenship and takes up one of the most significant obstacles facing greens today. Addressing this issue requires we ask: what kind of experience is critical to the cultivation of virtues under the agricultural stewardship model; what motivates individuals to engage in those practices; and how can democratic practices essentially recreate that experience? Barry’s effort to emphasize the extent to which contemporary citizens’ experience of the natural world is largely mediated at times causes him to lose sight of the fact that citizens of modern liberal democracies – urban, suburban, and rural – do have direct experience of the non- human natural world. It is impossible not to. My concern in raising this issue is that Barry unwittingly privileges a particular conception of the natural world in his articulation of this ideal and in doing so re-creates a kind of privilege endemic to the social world of liberal democracies rather than the virtues that supposedly stem from contact with the natural world. Barry explains that our normative concerns for the earth take on different epistemological frameworks at the macro and micro levels. Concern at the global level requires an abstract understanding of universal processes whereas at the micro level we may ‘arrive at ethically richer and stronger attachments to parks, gardens, allotments, forests, watersheds, mountains, particular animals and species’ (1999, p. 128); a sentiment that pervades the works of Curry, Curtin, and numerous others as well.

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Barry acknowledges that such attachments to landscape are important in the ‘constitution of collective identity’ and may also be a way of preserving ‘cultural heritage’ (1999, p. 126). While Barry does not expand upon this notion, recent work at the intersections of geography and citizenship suggests that such landscapes may have democratic associations, but they are far more likely to be ‘landscapes of national identity and power which may also mark the power and domination of an elite’ (Desforges et al. 2005, p. 441). Thus, I would argue we would do well to adopt a more critical attitude in our understanding of such landscapes and the motives that drive individual attachments to them (see Olwig 1995). Further, greater effort should be made to attend to the diversity of experiences that mark humans’ relations with the natural world – rural, suburban, and urban. To return to the question at hand, it seems more likely that the parallel Barry seeks to draw rests on the particular experience of transforming the natural world for productive ends, an experience which, he claims, instills specific kinds of knowledge as well as the virtues Barry recommends. If democratic processes are to take the place of agricultural ones, then we must understand both what motivates the individual to partake in such practices and the means by which those practices instill the desired virtues. In the ideal of agricultural stewardship, sustainable environmental practices are rewarded because they redound to the individual. Likewise, knowledge gained through direct experience of the land further contributes to the prosperity of the agricultural operation and lastly, the virtues of moderation and restraint in consumption are cultivated by the experience of what production entails. Thus, attachment, interest, agency, and knowledge all contribute to the cultivation of the particular virtues Barry extols under agricultural stewardship. Yet, the agricultural stewardship model that informs Barry’s ideal only contributes to the desired virtues where individuals own, control, and are tied to particular pieces of land. In the agrarian ideal, as articulated by individuals like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the social context was as important to this ideal as the natural. The agricultural practices and vices of American farmers in the early nineteenth century, when land was widely available, offer one alternative, and contemporary farming practices under agri-business offer another. What Barry’s model fails to sufficiently entertain is that individuals’ direct experience of the natural world – even productive and transformational experiences – can be, and often are, alienating. Thus, the larger social-political context within which one’s interaction with the natural world occurs may significantly alter the experience of the interaction. Such models need to be even more attentive to the extent to which individual interactions with the natural world are not only socially constructed, but conditioned by social relations – a point very trenchantly made by Williams


For the contemporary citizen, Barry’s contention is that participation in democratic decision- making on environmental issues, or what he refers to as ‘ecological collective management’ combined with scientific instruction, can instill the virtues of sustainability. Yet, if democratic deliberation is to act as a surrogate for agricultural practices, access alone to these processes must be sufficient to motivate individuals to participate in decision-making on environmental issues, and participation in the process must instill green virtues. 11 This is a rather tall order. Barry is strongest in his explanation of how deliberative democratic processes make possible the transformation of citizen preferences. Thus, to the extent that open, transparent, deliberative processes create opportunities for both persuasion and agency it is possible to see how these practices might, slowly over time, lead to greater citizen involvement and green successes in both attitude transformation and public policy. Early empirical evidence also suggests positive results on this score (Smith 2004). But, as Barry recognizes, no such outcome is assured. People might also be persuaded that Wissenburg’s global ‘steel grey Manhattan’ is the most desirable solution.

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Finally, Barry is weakest in explaining why the opportunity to participate alone would motivate someone to participate . A threat to one’s health or employment due to a proposed developmental project or environmental regulation might constitute such motivation. Alternatively, Barry seems to imply that our ‘ethically rich’ and nationalistic attachments to ‘place’ and the ‘stronger moral commitments’ they entail will provide that motivation (1999, pp. 127–128). Unfortunately, such a conception relies upon an unreasonably narrow conception of the natural world; a position that is inconsistent with Barry’s stated commitment to recognizing a plurality of human’s interests and relations to the physical environment. I would argue that this commitment is better attained by the kind of position Biro advances as a ‘denaturalized ecological politics’ or ‘a politics that retains a sense of the essentiality of one’s connection to place but does not rely on a reified naturalization of these places’ (2005, p. 211). Such a politics requires the inculcation of an inherently critical attitude – a disposition notably missing from the list of virtues mentioned above. Developing such a critical attitude – towards the categories of both nature and politics – is also essential to Meyer’s goal of establishing a more ‘expansive environmental politics’ (2001, p. 138). Meyer argues that these categories are more usefully conceptualized in a dialectical relationship where on the one hand, ‘the way we shape the boundaries and realms of human life are [acknowledged to be] political decisions that affect our understanding of what the natural world is and how we as humans interact with it’, and on the other ‘is the fact that this natural world shapes who we are – precisely the “we” that construct the boundaries in the first place’ (2001, p. 136). Both ‘experience’ and ‘place’ then come to be key categories for negotiating the nature–politics relationship and articulating its complexity and diversity. 12

Space, scale, and citizenship

The liberal and civic republican models emerge from an understanding of the polity where territory, state sovereignty, citizenship rights and duties, and, at times, a homogeneous national culture are wed in a single ideal. The above conceptions of green citizenship challenge key aspects of these models, but still largely work within them. Yet, as Gilbert and Phillips contend, ‘A framework of citizenship based on an evolution of rights (civil to political to social) within a national context provides a categorization and typology that are too limited for contemporary realities’ (2003, p. 318). The transnational character of environmental degradation, globalization, the logic of neo-liberalism, and widespread migration are some of the most prominent factors altering the contexts of contemporary citizenship. Much of the more recent work on citizenship – feminist, multicultural, queer, transnational, post-colonial, and green – addresses both the unbundling of the traditional ideal of citizenship in contemporary political practices and the theoretical attractiveness of conceptions of citizenship with alternative spatial foundations. In the last section, I reviewed several essays that draw upon the geographic concept of ‘place’ to articulate and advance green concerns. Here, the geographic concepts of ‘space’ and ‘scale,’ particularly as they interact with categories of difference, play an important role in the theorizing of green citizenship. In contesting the notion of universal citizenship, feminists were among the first to demonstrate the linking of public space, through the public/private opposition, with the logic of exclusion (see, for example, Yuval-Davis 1997, Lister 1997, 2007). For these theorists and a host of others (including queer theorists, critical race theorists, and multiculturalists, to name a few) the traditional liberal and republican conceptions of citizenship – despite the extension of formal civil, political, and social rights – fail to sufficiently include, acknowledge, or recognize the diversity of people in modern, pluralist, liberal democracies (Young 1990, Taylor 1992, Kymlicka 1995).

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Attending to the spatial dimensions of citizenship more specifically, historians, political theorists, and geographers working on these issues have shown how ideological commitments

and institutional practices create and reinforce hierarchical orderings of citizens within the polity which correspond to differential rights, liberties, and political access at any one time (Shklar 1991, Massey 1994, Sibley 1995, Kerber 1997, Rocco 2004, Castles 2005, Ong 2006). Today, the problems raised by differential citizenship have been exacerbated by the economic migration prompted by globalization, the strategic and uneven embrace of neo-liberal logic by nation- states, and the nationalist response of securitization. As Yasemin Soysal explains, ‘The same global-level processes and institutional frameworks that foster postnational membership also

This paradox manifests itself as a deterritorialized

expansion of rights despite the territorialized closure of polities’ (1998, p. 206). As rights are universalized, fears over withering social entitlements and national security often fuel nationalist sentiments. Thus, differential access to the rights and entitlements of citizenship has grown under the conditions of globalization (Ong 1999, 2006, Castles and Davidson 2000, Benhabib 2004). Translating the implications of this point more specifically for greens, Jelin (2000) argues that environmental rights have now become a central component of human rights and in that capacity continue to wear away at the sovereignty of the nation-state, which must in turn address

these issues in order to maintain its legitimacy. The transnational and global character of ecological problems also clearly challenges both the legitimacy and capacity of nation-states (van Steenbergen 1994, Christoff 1996, Dean 2001). These developments suggest the extent to which green concerns are involved in the ‘production, reconfiguration, or contestation of particular differentiations, orderings and hierarchies among geographical scales’ or a politics of scale (Brenner 2001, p. 600). For Jelin, like Maniates above, this means the individualist approach of most liberal democracies is inadequate. What is needed is a collectivist approach aimed at creating new political spaces internationally in which environmental citizens network and advocate change. Such spaces may also provide the opportunity for negotiating the tensions between universalist rights and positions of difference on environmental issues. Jelin urges, ‘For environmental rights, the key issues are the scale of social action on one hand; the social meaning of nature on the other’ (2000, p. 55). The first requires a range of institutionalized decision-making structures in which individuals and groups might participate to advance their claims, while the second demands sensitivity to the particularist conceptions of, and myriad relations to, the natural world that stem from cultural difference. Yet, it is also critical to remember that scales are socially constructed categories and therefore liable to re-hierarchization in the process of political contestation. Jelin’s work is particularly useful for her attention to questions of space, scale and diversity as analytical categories in the theorizing of green citizenship. These considerations are also taken up in Szerszynski’s (2006) more empirically grounded essay which examines the visual practices of citizenship in an effort to understand the potential for, what might be called, scalar crossings – of the global and local – by citizens on environmental questions. Szerszynski probes the understandings of local landscape among different social groups in the coastal plain of West Cumbria in northern England in an effort to understand the sort of ‘transformation of perception’ necessary to ‘foster the kind of enlarged thinking demanded by environmental citizenship’ (2006, p. 85). In doing so, Szersynski’s work avoids asserting a privileged conception of the natural world, takes social difference seriously, and seeks to understand the mechanisms by which environmental understandings intersect with practices of citizenship. Further challenging territorially bounded conceptions of citizenship, recent work in human geography offers a relational and topological way of conceptualizing space that Desforges argues can be ‘utilised in order to advocate new, normative and potentially liberating spaces of political

reify the nation-state and its sovereignty

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practice ’ (Desforges et al. 2005, p. 443). These conceptions emphasize the themes of networks, connectivity, propinquity, diversity, and the translocal as a means of reconceptualizing citizen relations (Massey 1994, Amin et al. 2003, Amin 2004). Building on this work, Gilbert and Phillips (2003) argue for a performative conception of environmental citizenships through which citizens act to defend and enhance democratic rights and to enlarge the spaces of democratic struggle. In keeping with the dynamic, participatory, and emancipatory components of their conception, the authors imagine citizenship as a ‘continual process of creation and transformation of both society and nature’ (2003, p. 319). Gilbert and Phillips’s conception effectively avoids the reification of nature and its potential for exclusion through the notion of ‘socio-ecological citizenships’ (2003, p. 328). This concept acknowledges the differentiated and multilayered character of contemporary citizenships and in doing so rejects any notion of an essentialist grounding for green commitments. Thus, citizenship becomes a means of articulating and defending environmental concerns within a context of competing claims (both among and within individuals). Persuasively, the authors argue that ‘the dichotomy between nature and society is ineffective in describing contemporary realities; rather, nature and society are both integral to and irreducible to each other’ (2003, p. 320). Such theorizing successfully challenges the narratives of declension, with which I began this essay, but may not offer a sufficient response to asymmetries of power in the articulation of competing conceptions of citizenship. In his Citizenship and the Environment (2003), Dobson offers the most extended recent development of the concept of green citizenship. Regarding the issue of space, one of Dobson’s most significant achievements is his reconceptualization of the political space of ecological citizenship as the ‘ecological footprint’. Like many greens, Dobson turns to citizenship as a means of addressing the problem of cultivating ecologically enlightened attitudes and behaviors among citizens within liberal-democratic states. But, rather than grounding his model in a virtue ethic or seeking to extend the political community to include the non-human natural world, Dobson advocates a redistributive model grounded in the consummate political virtue, justice. Dobson’s post-cosmopolitan citizenship – of which ecological citizenship is the pre-eminent example – rejects the contractual basis of obligation in the liberal and republican models for one grounded in historical and material conditions. Dobson advocates a transnational and associational conception of citizenship in which the space of political obligation is produced by ‘the material production and reproduction of daily life in an unequal and asymmetrically globalizing world’ (2003, pp. 21, 30). By altering the traditional conception of obligation,

Dobson extends the political space of citizenship such that ‘inhabitants of globalizing nations are

always already acting on

agreement, relationship, or the like”’ (2003, pp. 49, 67). The duty of sustainable living then extends to the public and private spheres, is expressed through the ‘feminine’ virtues of care and compassion, and urges active participation in those networks dedicated to sustainability. 13

Dobson’s non-contractual conception of obligation is grounded upon a materialist conception of harm that reaches beyond territorial boundaries and both backwards and forwards in time. Dobson’s work is admirable for its attention to the vast inequalities created and sustained by globalization – and sure to be exacerbated by climate change – and the demands for justice these necessarily make upon industrialized liberal democracies. Also commendable is the grounding of his understanding of obligation in the historical and material practices of liberal-democratic states and citizens. Yet, Dobson’s emphasis on asymmetrical obligation unnecessarily violates the commitment to equality associated with citizenship and portrays civic duty as a largely individualistic and elitist exercise. As Latta argues, ‘The economically (and ecologically) powerful are the political agents of Dobson’s ecological citizenship, while those on the other side of unequal material relations

strangers to whom we have some “antecedent action, undertaking,

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remain passive counterparts, objects of an imperative for ecological distribution instead of active citizens in the reconfiguration of global futures’ (Latta 2007, p. 384). 14 Also problematic are Dobson’s recommendations for implementing his ideal notion of citizenship. Dobson endorses the public school system, as does Barry (1999), as an appropriate means for cultivating ecological citizenship. But, more than that, as a way of ensuring its centrality to the curriculum, Dobson writes: ‘A case could be made that the entire curriculum be taught through these citizenships [ecological and environmental], because practically every theme in the curriculum is importantly present in them’ (2003, p. 194). Such an ambitious position assumes agreement on the ends of education and uses citizenship as the vehicle by which environmental concerns would come to trump all others. As Carlsson and Jensen (2006) have shown, the effectiveness of environmental education in motivating student action and attitude change in public schools depends, in large part, on the pedagogical approach taken. Genuine participatory processes, in which environmental ends and values can be seriously debated and student decisions implemented, result in greater success. Clearly, such programs require initiative, dedication, flexibility, imagination, and coordination among numerous individuals. Where possible, the adoption of such programs should be encouraged. Nonetheless, the schools remain only one venue for gaining environmental literacy and engaging in environmental decision-making, one which, in many nations, is fraught with public contestation over the value of such programs and the appropriate relation of environmental to nationalist ends. In offering a model of sustainable citizenship, Bullen and Whitehead (2005) provide one example of this tension. Taking much from Dobson’s work, and the newer topographical and relational studies in geography, Bullen and Whitehead define sustainable citizenship as:

a trans-human community of being which crosses time, space and substance

a form of unbounded

and relational citizenship – unbounded to the extent that it challenges the traditional spatial, temporal and subjective boundaries of citizenship, and relational in the sense that it requires a keen awareness of the connections which exist between social actions, economic practices, and environmental process. (2005, p. 504)

However, the authors part ways with Dobson on two particular points. First, they argue that sustainable citizenship must be extended to the non-human (2005, p. 504) because failing to do so assumes ‘that the citizen predates the various bio-ecological processes which enable citizenship to even be conceived of in the first place’ (2005, p. 507). The authors argue that such a restrictive view of citizenship reinforces the opposition between humans and animals, society and nature. Second, they argue that despite the theoretical innovativeness of the concept, there is significant evidence to suggest wariness regarding the capacity of the public schools as an effective vehicle for policy implementation. Based on empirical evidence drawn from a case study on the institutionalization of a curriculum for global citizenship and sustainable development in Welsh schools, the authors found that ‘the homogenizing tendencies of school-based learning tend to result in the standardization of teaching around nationally conceived boundaries and educational institutions’ thereby negating much of what makes notions of sustainable citizenship compelling (2005, p. 512). Bullen and Whitehead’s recognition of the contingent character of citizenship and their emphasis upon agency offer a welcome new direction to the primary concentration upon duty and obligation within the citizenship literature. While the recognition of industrialized countries’ obligation to developing nations is an absolute necessity, a conception of citizenship must also be attractive – it must encourage participation, deliberation, and collective action in a manner that Dobson’s theory largely leaves unaddressed.

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I have argued in this essay that the body of literature on green citizenship, as a whole, is unnecessarily and unfortunately narrow; a problem that stems primarily from the tendency to make citizenship instrumental to the attainment of green ends. Where others have demonstrated the extent to which this approach diminishes the discursive breadth of the concept of citizenship and thereby blunts its democratic potential, this review alerts readers to a second and related problem associated with the instrumental approach. Namely, that it tends to delimit political contest regarding the appropriate relation of humans to the natural world. The above pages illustrate how a wide variety of green conceptions of citizenship tend, either explicitly or implicitly, to entrench or privilege particular constructions of the natural world and human relations to it. This tendency is exacerbated by the instrumental approach to citizenship and results in conceptions which are unattractive for their exclusionary and elitist leanings. Despite this shortcoming, this review also demonstrates that greens are particularly well situated to attend to this problem and thereby contribute to the larger body of citizenship studies. Among green theorists, there is an increasing effort to recognize and theorize the significance of culturally diverse valuations of the natural world and the variety of humans’ relations to it for the practices of citizenship. While this work is still at an early stage, I want to emphasize the importance of it both for advancing a more inclusive and emancipatory environmental politics and for deepening our understanding of the historic embeddedness of the concept of citizenship within the nature/culture dualism such that we might theorize these relations in new and more compelling ways. Further work is necessary in specifying the ways in which cultural contestation regarding understandings of and attachments to ‘nature’ are played out in political arenas. Scholarship directed toward theorizing the logics of such contestation and the strategic imperatives that inform the conceptualization of citizenship by those in positions of power would contribute much to the literature on green citizenship. 15 Such work would also deepen what I consider to be another significant contribution of green theorists to the larger body of citizenship studies, which is attention to the scalar dimensions of environmental problems, and relatedly, citizenship practices. While the popular bumper sticker argues we ought to ‘think globally and act locally’, Szerszynski’s (2006) work demonstrates that the processes that might allow us to do so are varied and fairly opaque, therefore requiring significant empirical study. Thus, thinking in terms of a politics of scale provides insight into our conceptualizations of environmental problems, environmental thinking, citizenship practices and the relations among these. A final contribution of green theorists to the larger body of citizenship studies is the increased attention to and enlarged scope of citizen obligation in most conceptions of green citizenship. While this emphasis has provided an important correction to the earlier focus on rights, I would suggest that, today, greens ought to leaven the focus on guilt, responsibility, and burden with larger measures of critical reflectiveness, agency, hope, and opportunity. On this, we might do well to remember Thoreau’s opening lines to Walden : ‘I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up’ (1992, p. 1). The last decade has shown significant and promising growth in the literature on green citizenship. Where the concept of citizenship has proven useful in bridging the oppositions that characterized the first wave of green political thought, the character of environmental issues has challenged many of the oppositions that constituted traditionally modern conceptions of citizenship thereby deepening our understanding of both environmental issues and contemporary citizenship (Dobson 2006). As the evidence of anthropogenic climate change mounts and the

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window of opportunity for democratic action narrows, the call to study the questions that animate the literature on green citizenship becomes an imperative.


A previous version of this essay was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Western Political Science Association, Las Vegas, March 2007. The author would like to thank the participants at this event and especially R. McGreggor Cawley, Piers H.G. Stephens, Peter Nyers, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions on previous drafts of this article.



I have chosen the term ‘green citizenship’ for this review because of its level of generality; I use this term to encompass the more developed conceptions of citizenship advocated by particular authors such as ‘environmental citizenship,’ ‘ecological citizenship,’ ‘ecological stewardship,’ ‘sustainable citizenship,’ and so forth. Throughout, I make an effort to use the terms chosen by the authors, in large part because there is no shared understanding of the distinction between say ‘ecological’ and ‘environmental’ citizenship.


Such an abbreviated delineation obviously reduces the complexity and richness of each of these political traditions (and ignores much of the most interesting and nuanced work by scholars of both traditions). Not surprisingly, the strongest advocates of each tradition have made the most of the oppositions outlined above.


This review does not cover the extensive literature on animal rights and the attendant theoretical and moral questions that arise in seeking to extend either the notion of rights or of subject status in this way.


The primary contribution of Dean’s essay is a pair of typologies that map the moral discourses grounding traditional conceptions of citizenship and those of green thinking. His typology offers four models of traditional citizenship: entrepreneurism, survivalism, conformism, and reformism. While the companion green typology includes: ecological modernization, deep ecology, green communitarianism, and eco-socialism. Dean favors eco-socialist citizenship which is founded upon two ethical premises: a principle of co-responsibility and an ethic of care which he argues result in a ‘system of human rights founded on the ideal of the independent citizen’ and a ‘system [of care] founded on the recognition of human interdependency’ (2001, p. 501). For other ideological approaches see Ball and Dagger (1991) and Vincent (1992).


Wissenburg (1998) also rejects what he calls radical individualist methods or ‘eco-terrorism’ as inconsistent with liberalism; a point that might be refined given the tradition of civil disobedience within the liberal paradigm.


His criteria for community include: a material and social connection among members and some kind and degree of awareness of other members.


The morality that informs Barry’s ‘ethic of use’ is relational: it distinguishes between two distinct moral spheres, that which defines humans’ obligations to one another and that which defines humans’ obligations to the non-human world. Ideally such an ethic ‘stresses the rather obvious idea that the participants are not an undifferentiated “humanity” facing an equally undifferentiated “nature”’ (1999, p. 61).


Barry’s position here also signals the rejection of deep green eco-anarchism in favor of democracy and the acceptance of a meaningful role for the state in addressing environmental problems (1999); yet his more recent work steps perilously close to justifying authoritarian techniques (2006).


See also Thomashow (1995). For a more radical conception of environmentalism as identity politics see Sandilands (1999). For a conception of environmental virtues that does not run nearly as deep see Connelly (2006).


While Barry, in particular, seems to be moving away from such a position, relying on identity as the grounding for his civic model opens the door to such charges.


On this point, Barry writes, ‘citizenship within the context of collective ecological management becomes a way of transforming urban dwellers into “ecological stewards”, giving those who may have no direct experience of nature some responsibility for, and democratic input into, managing the metabolism between society and the environment’ (1999, p. 259).


See Chaloupka and Cawley (1993) for another take on this kind of project.

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13. Dobson’s integration of feminist contributions to the literature on citizenship is fairly shallow. For an excellent critique of the literature from a feminist perspective see MacGregor (2006).

14. A similar point is made by Hayward who seeks to illuminate the extent to which more traditional conceptions of citizenship can secure the same ends with greater coherence and attractiveness (Hayward 2006).

15. For example, new biotechnologies of the state and issues of security have altered mainstream understandings of citizenship in ways that greens must consider (Isin 2004, Muller 2004, Walters 2004). The concept of eco-terrorism and its power to marginalize citizens engaged in non-violent protest is also an important one for thinking more strategically about conceptions of green citizenship (Smith 2005). Another recent example of the promise of this type of work is Agrawal’s Environmentality: technologies of government and the making of subject (2005) which uses Foucault’s concept of governmentality to track the relationship between changing government policies and the related construction of citizens’ environmental subjectivites.


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