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    The (slow) tragedy of improvement: Neoliberalism, fisheries management & the institutional commons

    Bresnihan, Patrick (2019) The (slow) tragedy of improvement: Neoliberalism, fisheries management & the institutional commons. World Development, 120. pp. 210-220. ISSN 0305-750X

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    This paper contributes theoretically and empirically to debates on the relationship between neoliberalism and the institutionalization of the commons through an analysis of recent efforts to implement community-managed lobster fisheries in Ireland. This initiative has been influenced by international examples of co-management systems in small-scale, inshore fisheries, and is presented as a “third way” for resource management, moving beyond the limited management choice of privatization or centralized state control. The paper is based on interviews and fieldwork with the fisheries managers, scientists, and inshore fishermen involved in the development of the co-management plan. In the paper, I use the analytic framework of governmentality to examine how these efforts to institutionalize the fisheries commons represent both continuity and discontinuity with the long tradition of liberal thought and biopolitical “improvement”. I argue that the continuity stems from the initial formulation of the problem of overfishing as one of unregulated exploitation of a resource; the novelty lies in the critique of existing institutional models, namely privatization and state regulation, that fail to adequately reflect and enable the capacities of local communities to self-manage the resources they exploit. Understanding neoliberal governmentality in terms of “improvement” helps us to understand and take more seriously the rationale behind efforts to devise better institutional responses to the problem of overfishing. The concept of “improvement” helps to broaden the analysis of neoliberalism beyond an often narrowly defined focus on market mechanisms and profit incentives; it shifts the focus of analysis away from the regulatory moments of “enclosure” to the ongoing, often frustrated efforts to align fishers’ economic interests with the “long-term” common good. The article argues for a more ambivalent reading of the commons that places greater focus on how localized, collective action can be valued and incorporated within evolving governmental and economic arrangements.

    Item Type: Article
    Keywords: commons; neoliberalism; governmentality; fisheries; Europe; Ireland;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Geography
    Item ID: 12142
    Identification Number:
    Depositing User: Patrick Bresnihan
    Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2020 16:55
    Journal or Publication Title: World Development
    Publisher: Elsevier
    Refereed: Yes
    Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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