The environmental state and the glass ceiling of transformation

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

What are the capacities of the state to facilitate a comprehensive sustainability transition? It is argued that structural barriers akin to an invisible ‘glass ceiling’ are inhibiting any such transformation. First, the structure of state imperatives does not allow for the addition of an independent sustainability imperative without major contradictions. Second, the imperative of legitimation is identified as a crucial component of the glass ceiling. A distinction is introduced between ‘lifeworld’ and ‘system’ sustainability, showing that the environmental state has created an environmentally sustainable lifeworld, which continues to be predicated on a fundamentally unsustainable reproductive system. While this ‘decoupling’ of lifeworld from system sustainability has alleviated legitimation pressure from the state, a transition to systemic sustainability will require deep changes in the lifeworld. This constitutes a renewed challenge for state legitimation. Some speculations regarding possible futures of the environmental state conclude the article.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17 - 37
JournalEnvironmental Politics
Volume29
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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