Publication Type:Book Chapter
Source:Workshop "How do you manage? Unravelling the situated practice of environmental management" (2012)
Keywords:Ecological Modernisation, enactment, Environmental manager, Neoliberalism, standards, technology of the self
This paper introduces a case study from Germany about an environmental manager of a water treatment plant and her understandings and doings of interpreting rules and classification seemingly required to fit the agent's organisation's technical and environmental reality into a questionnaire designed by a non-governmental standard-setting authority. We will explore the implications of practices of interpreting rules and classification in a reflective dialogue between the corporate agent of ecological modernisation and a social scientist.
In the shift from command and control regulatory discourses and instruments towards neoliberal, i.e. more flexible regulations, requiring organisations to control themselves, organisations are faced with the task to ensure that environments and publics are not to be threatened by their operations and business. However, within the (not anymore new) type of neoliberal regulation, the means and methods to be used for achieving these prescriptions are not determined by governmental authorities. A widespread reaction by organisations to engage with the legal requirements which are experienced as both positive-flexible and at the same time negative- underdetermined is to hire officers who are to co-ordinate a variety of management schemes. This picture can be extended to include non-state regulations, such as voluntary environmental or technical standards. In these cases, as well, organisations have to interpret the standards, norms and statements distributed in written and verbal ways; and they have to devise appropriate reactions to the requirements of such softer forms of regulation.
This study focuses on a widespread moment in such processes. The water treatment plant's managers decided to carry out a standardised checking procedure entitled 'Technical Safety Verification' devised by a non-governmental standard setting agency (which we abbreviate as Triple-W). As a preparatory and elementary step of this procedure, the treatment plant was asked to provide responses to over two hundred questions on the status of their organisation. The environmental manager had been asked to co-ordinate the response to these questions. This is where we will focus on: how did this officer translate the questionnaire into the treatment plant's reality? Which instruments did she use to make sense of the questions and relate them to the organisation-as-she-knew-it? And, how did she experience the responses to her translations?
To start with, the environmental manager could only conceptualise the requirements by Triple-W as diffuse. This meant, she had to provide a reading, interpretation and translation of the requirements into a determinate state, i.e. less or not diffuse. As part of this, she engaged in learning-from-other-organisations, to get to know 'successful' translations. At a later stage, however, she was faced with a multiplication of the issue: the translation's product, i.e. the material effect of all her work, was, again, perceived as diffuse by other organisational actors of the treatment plant.
Following these translations promises to reflect about the agency of the manager and re- consider which realities is given voice to and which are silenced. We will relate the realities- represented and the realities-missing to the promises of the neoliberal regulatory approach and its implications to engender (un)sustainability.