Relational environmental governance: A critical framework for praxis with the material world

Authors: , , , , , , ,


Environmental governance (EG) has become a hegemonic concept for understanding and transforming environmental decision-making processes that operate beyond the state. However, political ecologists, drawing from a diverse set of theoretical frameworks, have critiqued the concept for being malleable, vague, and apolitical, which has enabled its appropriation in ways that conceal inequality and difference, advocate techno-managerial fixes, and espouse neoliberal solutions. Political ecologists have approached EG more critically with the conceptual tools of neoliberal natures, environmental regulation, and eco-governmentality. In this article, we contend that these conceptualizations, while theoretically rich, are limited in their capacity to capture a diversity of governance contexts, processes, and actors and to drive both scholarly analysis and radical change. Thus, we put forward a conceptual framework of relational environmental governance (REG) that captures the dynamic and unequal interactions among heterogeneous human and non-human actors by which socio-ecological arrangements are structured, controlled, and transformed. Drawing from a variety of relational traditions, the framework comprises four key "moves" related to i) ontological understandings of EG processes as full of unequal power relations and heterogeneous actors, ii) epistemological privileging of intersections among racialized, gendered, queer and/or alternative or Indigenous knowledges in EG processes, iii) methodological emphasis on conducting research relationally with diverse EG actors, and iv) a praxis of engagement with EG processes to change how socio-ecologies are controlled and address crises of sustainability.

Keywords: Political ecology, environmental governance, human geography, relationality, praxis

How to Cite: Kenney-Lazar, M. , Johnson, A. , Sultana, F. , Himley, M. , Bebbington, A. J. , Havice, E. , Rice, J. & Osborne, T. (2023) “Relational environmental governance: A critical framework for praxis with the material world”, Journal of Political Ecology. 30(1). doi: