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Re-discovering the social: neo-liberalism and hybrid practices of governing in rural natural resource management

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 12:08 authored by Vaughan HigginsVaughan Higgins, Lockie, S
Since the 1980s, natural resource management (NRM) in rural Australia has been underpinned by rationalities and technologies of governing that constitute agricultural landscapes and resource managers in economically rational terms. While it is tempting to interpret these forms of regulation as part of a broad shift away from social forms of governing, this paper argues that ‘the social’ remains of crucial significance in understanding how both natural environments and the capacities of individuals to manage these environments are constructed. Drawing upon recent work in the Foucauldian-inspired literature on governmentality and, in particular, Stenson and Watt's (Urban Studies 36(1) (1999) 189–201) concept of hybrid governance, this paper examines how particular representations of ‘the social’ are assembled through strategies of NRM. Using the National Landcare Program (NLP) and Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) as examples, we consider how ‘social’ data is being incorporated into resource management strategies, and how this re-shapes both ‘the social’ and NRM as domains of governance. While the NLP and NHT incorporate concerns about social responsibility, they define these in terms of the capacity of individuals to respond to changing economic circumstances. This effectively defines land managers as socially and ecologically responsible only to the extent that they have the managerial capacities to pursue economically ‘rational’ practices. In concluding, we argue that hybrid practices of governing are indeed evident in NRM in Australia and that the concept of ‘hybrid governance’ requires further attention in understanding how rural spaces are made knowable and shaped as objects of knowledge.


Publication title

Journal of Rural Studies










School of Social Sciences


Pergamon-Elsevier Science Ltd

Place of publication

The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford, England, Ox5 1Gb

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Copyright © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

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