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The Environmental State: Nature and the Politics of Environmental Protection

Journal Title Sociological Theory
Published Date July 10, 2023
Research Type
Authors Christopher Rea


Basic oppositions between economic growth and environmental protection are well understood by sociologists, but the state’s role in environmental protection and regulation is underspecified in sociological theory. We define the environmental state and theorize two structuring forces central to its provision of environmental welfare. First, culturally distinctive constructions of nature shape environmental politics and statecraft. State actions linked to charismatic “special” nature often win broad political support, whereas actions linked to less resonant “ordinary” nature do not. Second, historical legacies of developmentalism shape environmental coalitions. Arms of the environmental state that combine extractive pasts with newer regulatory responsibilities are better able to build broad support, whereas narrowly regulatory or developmental arms struggle to do so. We illustrate the relevance of each process for the politics of environmental regulation and of technoscientific expertise. Both processes help explain the varied efficacy of environmental states and set the stage for their comparative study.

Rea, C. M., & Frickel, S. (2023). The Environmental State: Nature and the Politics of Environmental Protection. Sociological Theory, 0(0).