chapter  3
24 Pages

Producing sustainable development: The discourse from Stockholm to Johannesburg

The discourse of sustainable development has dominated the politics of environment and development since the publication of the Brundtland Commission’s report, Our Common Future, in 1987. Whilst the concept has been criticized for being too vague, full of contradictions and of doubtful scientific value (Frazier, 1997: 182; Lipschutz, 2009: 137), as a discourse it has established certain fields of visibility, constructed particular forms of truth as legitimate and useful, and empowered specific actors as necessary authorities for its implementation. It has been made concrete in innumerable projects, institutions, research programmes and deliberative forums, and it has provided the dominant framework for thinking about environment and development for over three decades. As John Dryzek notes, ‘it is arguably the dominant global discourse of ecological concern’ (2005: 145), and Bill Adams acknowledges its capacity ‘to restructure development discourse and reorganize development practice’ (2001: 1). A recent collection edited by Adger and Jordan begins with the assertion that ‘the concept of sustainable development commands wide, almost universal, support’ (2009: 3). This chapter shows how the discourse has been produced since 1987, and considers some of the political effects of these constructions.