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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2018

The socioenvironmental state: political authority, subjects, and transformative socionatural change in an uncertain world

Nightingale, Andrea


The ‘socioenvironmental state’ conceptualisation probes how contested, shifting, emergent boundaries of the state contain the possibilities for transformative change in the Anthropocene. The paper outlines a research programme capable of addressing the questions: who becomes authorised to govern change, who is required to make changes on the ground, and what subjectivities and pathways emerge in the context of rapid rate change? The conceptualisation unpacks three boundaries: state– society, its socionatural emergence, and the relationships between boundary-making and belonging to address these questions and better account for the successes and failures of attempts at governing an uncertain, rapidly changing world. In this analysis, ‘environmental change’ arises as a stochastic, relational becoming – ecologies and resources are emergent with the social-politics of governing them – suggesting that more analytical attention is required on how ‘environmental challenges’ and their ‘drivers of change’ are conceived and delimited. Together, these theoretical insights help reveal the way that the micro-politics of local resource use and the contradictory acceptance and refusals of authority and subjection are not only products of, but also productive of, larger scale political economies, socionatures, governance, and political struggles. The aim is to contribute towards a reimagination of political authority that begins to capture the complex interplay between our attempts at governing a changing world and the inadvertent authorisations, inclusions, and exclusions that we produce in those efforts. The paper partially illustrates the conceptual ideas with an account of forestry and climate change in Nepal. In a context wherein programmes to govern resources have become of global concern, probing the implications of these points is crucial. It is not only that states govern resources with particular consequences for ‘environmental change’ or ‘sustainability’, but also that the act of governing resources (re)produces the socioenvironmental boundaries of the state with profound implications for how future transformations can unfold.


political ecology; state formation; Nepal; feminist theory; authority; belonging; political subjectivity; environmental governance; socionature; Anthropocene

Published in

Environment and planning E: nature and space
2018, volume: 1, number: 4, pages: 688-711

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development
Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU)

UKÄ Subject classification

Gender Studies
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Human Geography

Publication Identifiers


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