Corporations and the governance of environmental risk

The authors sketch a framework within which the contributions to this theme issue can be understood. In particular, they discuss various frames of reference or ways of thinking that can be brought to bear on the challenges that arise in evaluating attempts to govern environmental risks. The discussion is divided into three sections. First, they discuss the factors that have led to the emergence of new ways of governing those corporate activities that are associated with the generation or management of environmental risks. Second, they problematise these new forms of governance, adopting the United Nation’s Global Compact as an example, and drawing particularly on the insights derived from the contrasting perspectives associated with communicative and strategic action. As an alternative to both of these perspectives, they next focus on the Foucauldian concept of governmentality. The need for analyses to consider (a) the nature of the ways in which different risks are problematised, (b) the character of different governance regimes, (c) the significance of the organising ideals that guide the operation, and (d) the evolution of the multidimensional processes through which risks are governed, are highlighted. They conclude by suggesting that new ‘governmental technologies’ are unlikely to enable either ‘governance at a distance’, for instance, by creating opportunities for new forms of engagement and new spaces of accountability, or ‘governance of the self’, for example, by instilling values and developing technologies which allow corporations to govern their own activities more effectively.

Gouldson A; Bebbington J (2007), Environment and Planning C, 25, pp.4-20.