Out of the (Green) Shadow: Divergent Voluntarisms and Neoliberalizing Urban Environmental Governance

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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
Stream: Sociology, Geography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Harold Perkins

Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Ohio University
Athens, OH, USA

Dr. Perkins studies the political economy of urban environments in North America. He is interested specifically in the transformations of forests, parks, and waters. His research projects scrutinize the role that capitalist growth coalitions have in making these aspects of the urban environment uneven and how their distribution then contributes to concomitant social and environmental injustices. He also studies the agency of nonhuman organisms and their roles in urban transformations as well. Dr. Perkins' work is primarily qualitative in methodology.

Ref: I08P0809