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Equity, efficiency and "empowerment": The construction of gender and the environment in development discourse

Simoneel Hoshang Davierwalla, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation takes a critical standpoint on developmentalism, a theoretical perspective which conceptualizes development as more than an apolitical, socio-economic endeavor: Instead, development is presented as an artificially orchestrated network of institutions and practices which have systematically created the objects of which they spoke. It molds and arranges them in specific and limited ways in order to reproduce relations of dominance. This dissertation will explore the power/knowledge nexus within the Gender, Environment and Development (GED) discourse that has been articulated by the United Nations within the Sustainable Human Development paradigm, to examine the problematization of the concepts of gender and the environment and their subsequent appropriation and bureaucratization to reproduce relations of dominance. French philosopher Michel Foucault through his complex analysis of power and knowledge, lends the most appropriate framework to critically examine the negotiation and balance of power through the analyses of discourse. This dissertation uses Foucault's fundamental insights into the nature and dynamics of discourse, power and knowledge to analyze dominant disciplinary and normative mechanisms, and thereby to illustrate how the West has produced discourses about the Third World to maintain dominance over it. In addition to the analysis of development as a discourse of power, this dissertation studies in depth the complex constructions of gender and the environment within the development discourse of the United Nations using a unique tripartite methodology which reveals the power/knowledge nexus embedded within representative gender, environment and development discursive texts. It emphasizes the objectification of Third World women and the environment as mere resources to the economy via the textual rules of formation and policy. Therefore, through its deconstruction of "underdevelopment" as articulated within the discourse on gender and the environment, this dissertation allows for the anthropologization of this domain in a manner oppositional to those based on liberal and individualistic Western notions of equity, efficiency, rationality, progress, growth and empowerment. In this way, it illustrates the spaces created by the trajectories of the three major strategies through which development has been deployed.

Subject Area

Communication|Public administration|Social structure|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Davierwalla, Simoneel Hoshang, "Equity, efficiency and "empowerment": The construction of gender and the environment in development discourse" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9638951.