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The uses of messiness: understanding climate governance in practice

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Coordination, organisation, alignment, integration, multi-level governance, subsidiarity, coalition-making, harmonisation, orchestration: these are all different words which have become a standard part of the climate change governance vocabulary. They all have one thing in common: they represent attempts to introduce ‘order’ in governance institutions to facilitate the delivery of climate change policy. While the actual vocabularies to describe governance arrangements across spaces and scales have changed in the history of climate change policy, they have maintained a core idea: institutional ordering makes the climate change landscape governable. What if governing would require, instead, a deliberate engagement with messiness? In this lecture I will offer an initial exploration of the uses and risks of messiness as a form of climate change governance. My proposal emerges against the backdrop of multiple, overlapping proposals to deliver order as a priority response to the urgent challenge of climate change. Ordering is part of the collective quest to make sense of an indeterminate World. An engagement with on-the-ground contexts of action suggests that ordering efforts tend to be inadequate, incomplete, and often deviate attention from immediate priorities at hand. From the active designation of the pure and impure as a form of social regulation (cf. Douglas, 1956) to the fortress of consciousness that helps us to typify normality (cf. Foucault, 1961) ordering efforts are linked to multiple forms of conscious and unconscious oppression. Climate change imposes a different perspective. The scale of the challenge asks for acting without certainty, and for embracing hope and possibility as a means to reach more sustainable futures. My hypothesis is accepting messiness is a workable alternative for delivering realistic, on-the-ground climate change action with the potential to transform this world. Governance as messiness resonates with feminist alternatives to despair in the Anthropocene. In an urban context- the setting that my scholarship explores- embracing messiness requires: 1) a revisable approach to climate action strategies, 2) an openness to multiple forms of climate knowledge and the role of knowledge holders, and 3) a recognition of the body as a mediator of climate change action.

This talk is part of the Department of Geography - main Departmental seminar series series.

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