Paradoxically, environmental management problems are rarely viewed as… management problems. Ecological, social, political, ethical, geographic, cultural, technological problems and so on, yes, but not problems that would belong to management as a discipline. To me, they are essentially strategic management problems, i.e. a problematique of how to achieve a given level of (here, environmental) performance, by leading organised action, while confronted to competition and opposition.
And when colleagues finally hear that by environmental management I really mean management, they then quite often assume that this implies a form of pragmatism that is at the antipodies of critical perspectives. As one of them put it when interviewing me, a management perspective seems to imply accepting the power relations in a situation and proposing to make amicable deals in that context. How, indeed, could this be compatible with a critical perspective?
This stereotypical view rests on a mistaken understanding of management. Strategic management (of a business for example) is not about accepting a situation in a non-challenging way and making do with it, but about designing and carrying out decisive action for change in the situation, in the face of existing power relations and with a clear intention to change them.
In the case of environmental management, the essence of the SEMA framework is to refuse confusing our de facto (often quite poor) collective management of ecological systems with decisive strategic actions for change. A serious concern for environmental issues is bound to result in a perspective that critiques specific social systems regarding their ability to provide sustainability. [Here insert download for book chapter.]
The “Environmental Research on Society” lecture cycle, available on the site develops some of the issues raised by this perspective of strategic and critical analysis.