Rescaling environmental governance: watersheds as boundary objects at the intersection of science, neoliberalism, and participation
This paper is concerned with the rescaling of environmental governance, and with the social construction of environmental and governance scales in particular. With the aid of case-study data from Canada, it is argued that watersheds, as particular forms of rescaled environmental governance, have increased in popularity because of their status as boundary objects: that is, a common concept interpreted differently by different groups. The paper shows how particular features of the watershed approach—namely, their physical size and the shared discursive framings they employ (‘stakeholder’ and ‘integration’)—make the watershed concept both cohesive enough to travel among different epistemic communities, and plastic enough to be interpreted and used differently within them. As such, it is suggested that the trend of the uptake of the so-called ‘watershed approach’ reflects and is shaped by ideologies underpinned by three different, and occasionally competing, epistemic communities: the scientific, neoliberal, and grassroots communities. These arguments corroborate constructivist accounts of the political nature of boundary drawing, bring science into discussion on the relationship between neoliberalism and public participation, and contribute to environmental governance literatures by providing an alternative explanation for the uptake of watersheds in recent decades. Keywords: scale, environmental governance, boundary object, water, watershed, Canada
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