Oceans and Impasses of “Sustainable Development”

Living reference work entry


One of the most powerful concepts to emerge in the multiple discursive practices that together form the conceptual and politico-pragmatic terrain of “sustainable development” is “environmental sustainability.” In the emerging discourse of environmental awareness, this concept reveals its polyvalence as a speech act largely through the absences of meaning. The history of the term as now understood has its foundations in the Brundtland Report (Our common future, 1987. http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf); despite the strength of this document in founding a global awareness, the definitions offered therein have created a foundation for fundamentally opposed drives toward understanding environmental sustainability, largely due to the privileging of neoclassical economics in land-based models for sustainable development. From ocean-based perspectives, the privileging of land-based, economically-driven modeling of sustainable development produces weak forms of “environmental” sustainability even in the best examples of current analytic approaches; the central concern of the discourse of environmental sustainability currently is to disarticulate the current paradigm through the tensions inherent in the discursive fields across which sustainability discourse produces its hegemonic (economic) properties. Major drivers of environmental pressures on the ocean originate outside of ocean systems – on land. In its “unsettling” nature, however, its divergence from land-based temporalities and spatial properties, the ocean offers multiple points at which the discourse of (land-based) sustainability collapses within its own tensions to reveal horizons of representation that offer a glimpse into the full complexity, and excitement, of reenvisioning an entire discourse of the (contested) future.


Ecosystems Sustainable development Environmental sustainability Brundtland Report Neoclassical economics 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Woodbury UniversityBurbankUSA

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