Out of the (Green) Shadow: Divergent Voluntarisms and Neoliberalizing Urban Environmental Governance
Recent work in critical geography demonstrates the often harmful consequences of neoliberalization on the environment. Less certain is the role that neoliberal governance through voluntarism plays in environmental transformations. Specifically, it is unclear how critical governance theories concerning the nonprofit dichotomy and the shadow state are pertinent to situated, local environmental voluntarisms. I therefore use four examples of environmental voluntarism in three Milwaukee, Wisconsin neighborhoods to test their theoretical and practical import for understanding the context-based nuances of local political and environmental processes. Qualitative data gathered from 36 in-depth interviews suggest that local markets are emerging for voluntary environmental labor and that these markets may or may not be ‘spontaneous.’ Grassroots voluntarism satisfies locally grown, yet still exclusionary market requirements for environmental labor. Where local market conditions for volunteer labor are fostered by extra-local state and nonprofit investors, concern for institutional ‘returns’ trump social and environmental benefits. These important nuances necessitate increased attention to the local as a site for contextual and (dis)empowering processes of environmental neoliberalization through divergent voluntarisms.
Keywords: Neoliberalization, Environmental Governance, Voluntarism, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Shadow State, Political Ecology, Qualitative Methods
Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Ohio University