A contribution to the critique of political ecology: sustainability as disavowal

Winter 2009

By reflecting on ‘sustainability’ as a word whose sudden public importance derives from the contradictions associated with its lexical history, this essay argues that ‘sustainability’ functions as an ambiguous ‘ecological’ supplement to the principal political norms of neoliberalism. ‘Sustainability’ expresses a need for social and natural ‘damage control’ that at one level acknowledges how capital accumulation on a world scale erodes the forms of human and non-human life that serve as its conditions of possibility. At the same time, ‘sustainability’ operates according to a psychic logic of disavowal, representing these living conditions of capital accumulation as themselves forms of ‘living capital’ (as opposed to ‘living energy’) so as to safeguard itself against any movement toward a more radical critique of the self-regulatory biopolitical power of neoliberal capitalism.

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