Theory critique: Green Democracy

This is the fourth of a series of theoretical critiques I am doing on entries in the volume, Companion to Environmental Studies (Castree et. al. 2018). The entry called Green Democracy (section 2.8) was written by Amanda Machin. 


In this entry, green democracy is presented as political theory applied to environmental concerns. Machin’s review segregates strategies of green democratic thought into three forms: extending rights; crossing boundaries; and deepening participation. Throughout, Machin suggests that green democracy involves the hopeful maintenance of democratic principles in order to serve—and be served by—“green” (Mavin does not define) aims. 

The first strategy, extending rights, involves using procedural law to grant non-human nature and future generations a place in politics. The second, crossing boundaries, argues for both green politics at transnational and decentralized, local scale, and ultimately theory that helpfully articulates the interconnectedness of multi-level governance (across scale). The third category of strategy mentioned, deepening participation, involves discourse theory of citizenship and notions of deliberative democracy, concluding that public forums, debate and protests deepen democracy toward socio-environmental aims. 


Machin’s entry on green democracy is informative but slight. And, unfortunately, “green democracy” does not make any moves across disciplines and maintains the naivetes of environmentalism, and does not offer creative paths forward. Take this passage, for example: “A healthy democracy requires a healthy environment, and a situation of environmental hazard would destabilise the measures and commitment to values that underpin democracy…Green democrats agree that democratic and environmental goals are connected” (Castree et. al.2018, p. 185). In the last sentence we see emphasis on connections between democracy and environment, but no specific details (and not by my exclusion in selecting the quotation); and in the earlier sentence, we see something of an implicit purity, rendering democracy not actually equipped to deal with environmental issues of our times, which very much include hazards. For that, this concept of green democracy seems to get us nowhere new in making sense of our environmental challenges together. 

Application to Framework

I will not use this concept in my framework, though I may use some of the references (Irwin 2015 looks like an interesting piece) and background information. Instead of this entry, what does seem compelling, and I will review next week, is the entry on green governmentality (2.12) which engages Foucault’s concept of governmentality. This seems more robust and helpful for my framework. 

Photograph: Banana Leaf. Ecuador, 2015. Georgia M. Reid.


Machin, Amanda. “Interdisciplinary Environmental Inquiry.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 184–87. London ; New York: Routledge, 2018.