Accepted Paper:

Black-boxing sustainable development: Environmental Impact Assessment on the River Uruguay  

Author:

Nicolas Baya-Laffite (Université de Lausanne)

Paper short abstract:

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) scripts collective action through black-boxing the politics of governance. The case of pulp mills on the River Uruguay, allows showing how the EIA authoritative governance script is reinforced rather than undermined by opponents to controversial projects.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on STS and sociology of policy instruments, this paper offers an original account of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a technology that scripts collective action through black-boxing the politics of governance. After tracing the global trajectory of the instrument from the US NEPA 1979 to the rest of the world, the paper looks at EIA struggles in the case of pulp mills on the River Uruguay between 2003 and 2013. In examining the this case where the substantiation of the concept of sustainable development was at stake, the paper shows how, as actors seeking to halt projects because of their potential harmful impact follow the choreography of EIA, the authoritative governance script is reinforced rather than undermined. The paper concludes to the existence of a tragic aspect to this, in that those wishing to block a project through the EIA are actually making it stronger. This points to a subtle de-politicization of sustainable development struggles resulting from the evolution of instruments in use, and a need for their re-politicization.

Panel T036
Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means