Governing carbon conduct and subjects: insights from Australian cities



Publication Details

Dowling, R., McGuirk, P. & Bulkeley, H. (2018). Governing carbon conduct and subjects: insights from Australian cities. In A. Luque-Ayala, S. Marvin & H. Bulkeley (Eds.), Rethinking Urban Transitions: Politics in the Low Carbon City (pp. 185-202). Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.


Governance to foster low carbon urban transitions occurs at multiple scales, through myriad means, and diverse institutions. Examples of each abound in the urban carbon governance literature, identifying, for instance, the importance of multilevel governance, business, government and third-sector actors, and across measures as diverse as formal regulation, financial incentives and provision of low carbon technologies. Across numerous policy domains, the increasing government focus on conducting carbon conduct is explored. There has been considerable policy and scholarly debate on 'behaviour change' governance measures; those designed to engender a low carbon transition by changes in the behaviour of individuals, as householders, workers, travellers and so forth. In Australian cities, for example, a recent audit found that more than two-thirds of a total of 900 local carbon reduction initiatives across Australia's capital cities, for example, had a focus on changing individual action. Other key pieces of empirical research have also identified the frequency and intensity of behaviour change mechanisms in urban carbon governance. Scholarly debate has focused on the efficacy of such governmental programmes, and in particular the assumption of a response being triggered by information, as well as critiques of the political implications of such programmes regarding individualization and responsibilization. These discussions are points of departure for our chapter; while they offer important insights they do not exhaust the purchase of such programs in understanding the possibilities for a low carbon transition. Rather than asking whether the subject addressed in behaviour change governance accords with the subject most likely to change, or whether the subject of behaviour change is politically regressive or progressive, we step back to pose a question that must precede such analyses: that is, what subjects are constituted through urban carbon governance and, relatedly, how and by whom are carbon acting subjects constituted. And we do so via an inductive analysis of behaviour change-oriented carbon governance interventions enacted in Australian cities.

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