Share This Article:

The Discursive Constitution of Ocean Sustainability

Full-Text HTML XML Download Download as PDF (Size:1602KB) PP. 306-330
DOI: 10.4236/aasoci.2015.512030    2,696 Downloads   2,950 Views  


As part of a search for political responses to protect and conserve marine ecosystems, this study explores the discourse on ocean affairs with a special emphasis on the articulation of the concept of sustainability. Drawing on the discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, it is argued that post structuralism offers important insights on the construction of the discourse on maritime-related affairs. The analysis shows that the discourse on ocean affairs is closely tied to the empty signifier “management”, while the analysis of the empty signifier “sustainability” confirms the traditional three dimensional structure comprising economic, social and environmental dimensions, supplemented by an institutional one. The article shows that the use of such signifiers is necessary to define sustainability in all its complexity. In this context, it is argued that Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory provides an approach to grasp the ambiguity of the concept of sustainability. It helps to explain the practice of institutions in rephrasing existing objectives and activities in compliance with sustainability without really changing their business as usual approach. The paper concludes with an estimation of how useful it is to adhere to sustainability in ocean affairs especially in view of the complexity, uncertainty and continuous change of marine ecosystems.

Cite this paper

Kronfeld-Goharani, U. (2015) The Discursive Constitution of Ocean Sustainability. Advances in Applied Sociology, 5, 306-330. doi: 10.4236/aasoci.2015.512030.


[1] Adams, W. M. (2006). The Future of Sustainability: Re-Thinking Environment and Development in the Twenty-First Century. The World Conservation Union.
[2] AID Environment National Institute for Coastal and Marine Management/Rijksinstituut voor Kust en Zee (RIKZ), Coastal Zone Management Centre, the Netherlands (2004). Integrated Marine and Coastal Area Management (IMCAM) Approaches for Implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity. Montreal: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD Technical Series No. 14.
[3] Atkinson, G., Dubourg, R., Hamilton, K., Munasinghe, M., Pearce, D., & Young, C. (1997). Measuring Sustainable Development: Macroeconomics and the Environment. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.
[4] Baumgartner, S., & Quaas, M. F. (2010). What Is Sustainability Economics? Ecological Economics, 69, 445-450.
[5] Behnam, A. (2012). From UNCLOS to Rio + 20 and the Oceans Compact. International Ocean Institute.
[6] Belsey, C. (2002). Poststructuralism. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[7] Bijma, J., Portner, H. O., Yesson, C., & Rogers, A. D. (2013). Climate Change and the Oceans—What Does the Future Hold? Marine Pollution Bulletin, 74, 495-505.
[8] Bodiguel, C., Gréboval, D., & Maguire, J. J. (Eds.) (2009). Factors of Unsustainability and Overexploitation in Marine Fisheries—Views from the Southern Mediterranean, West Africa, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Circular, No. 1037.
[9] Borggreve, B. R. A. (1888). Die Forstabschatzung. Berlin: P. Parey.
[10] Brandt, W. (1980). Das überleben sichern. Gemeinsame Interessen der Industrieund Entwicklungslander. Bericht der Nord-Süd-Kommission/Independent Commission on International Development Issues, Koln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch.
[11] Caras, T., & Pasternak, Z. (2009). Long-Term Environmental Impact of Coral Mining at the Wakatobi Marine Park. Indonesia, Ocean & Coastal Management, 52, 539-544.
[12] Clark, M. R., Tittensor, D., Rogers, A. D., Brewin, P., Schlacher, T., Rowden, A., Stocks, K., & Consalvey, M. (2006). Seamounts, Deep-sea Corals and Fisheries: Vulnerability of Deep-Sea Corals to Fishing on Seamounts beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction. Cambridge: UNEPWCMC.
[13] Clark, W. C., Crutzen, P. J., & Schellnhuber, H. J. (2005). Science for Global Sustainability: Toward a New Paradigm. CID Working Paper No. 120, Cambridge, MA: Science, Environment and Development Group, Center for International Development, Harvard University.
[14] Conservation International (2009). Proceedings of the 2008 Annual Seascapes Strategy Workshop, Kota Kinabalu, 11-13 December 2008. Arlington, VA: Conservation International.
[15] Costanza, R. (1999). The Ecological, Economic, and Social Importance of the Oceans. Ecological Economics, 31, 199-213.
[16] Crutzen, P. J. (2002). Geology of Mankind. Nature, 415, 23.
[17] Culler, J. (1986). Ferdinand de Saussure (Second Revised ed.). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
[18] Daly, H. E., & Cobb, J. B. (1989). For the Common Good. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
[19] Day, J., Dudley, N., Hockings, M., Holmes, G., Laffoley, D., Stolton, S., & Wells, S. (2012). Guidelines for Applying the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories to Marine Protected Areas. Gland: IUCN.
[20] Doney, S. C. (2009). Ocean Acidification: The Other CO2 Problem. Annual Review of Marine Science, 1, 169-192.
[21] Doney, S. C., Ruckelshaus, M., Duffy, J. E., Barry, J. P., Chan, F., English, C. A., Galindo, H. M., Grebmeier, J. M., Hollowed, A. B., Knowlton, N., Polovina, J., Rabalais, N. N., Sydeman, W. J., & Talley, L. D. (2012). Climate Change Impacts on Marine Ecosystems. Annual Review of Marine Science, 4, 11-37.
[22] Drexhage, J., & Murphy, D. (2010). Sustainable Development: From Brundtland to Rio 2012. Background Paper Prepared for Consideration by the High Level Panel on Global Sustainability at Its First Meeting, 19 September 2010, UN Headquarters, New York.
[23] Editorial (2002). Introduction to the Special Issue on Capacity Building. From the 1992 Earth Summit to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development: Continuing Challenges and New Opportunities for Capacity-Building in Ocean and Coastal Management. Ocean & Coastal Management, 45, 541-548.
[24] European Science Foundation (2006). Navigating the Future-III. Position Paper 8, Nov. 2006.
[25] FAO Committee on Fisheries (2012). Ocean Governance and the Outcomes of Rio+20. Thirtieth Session Rome, Italy, 9-13 July, COFI/2012/6/Rev.1.
[26] Feely, R. A., Sabine, C. L. S., & Fabry, V. J. (2006). Carbon Dioxide and Our Ocean Legacy.
[27] Food and Agriculture Organization (1995). Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Rome: FAO.
[28] Food and Agriculture Organization (2012). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. Opportunities and Challenges. Rome: FAO.
[29] Glasze, G. (2008). Vorschlage zur Operationalisierung der Diskurstheorie von Laclau und Mouffe in einer Triangulation von lexikometrischen und interpretativen Methoden.
[30] Glasze, G., & Mattissek, A. (2009). Handbuch Diskurs und Raum: Theorien und Methoden für die Humangeographie sowie die sozialund kulturwissenschaftliche Raumforschung. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.
[31] Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (2002). Status of Coral Reefs in East and North Asia: China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. In C. R. Wilkinson (Ed.), Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2002 (pp. 153-162). GCRMN Report, Townsville: Australian Institute of Marine Science.
[32] Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands (2008). Policy Brief: Strategic Interventions for Developing Capacity to Improve Governance of Oceans, Coasts, and Small Island Developing States over the Period 2008 to 2018.
[33] Greenpeace (2010). Introduction to
[34] Grotius, H. (1609). Mare Liberum. Leiden: Brill.
[35] Guijt, I., & Moiseev, A. (2001). Resource Kit for Sustainability Assessment. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN. Part A x + 83 pp., Part B viii + 172 pp., Part C iv + 92 pp.
[36] Haas, P. M., Keohane, R. O., & Levy, M. A. (1993). Institutions for the Earth: Sources of Effective International Environmental Protection. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
[37] Hartwick, J. M. (1990). Natural Resources, National Accounts, and Economic Depreciation. Journal of Public Economics, 43, 291-304.
[38] HELCOM (2009). Marine Litter in the Baltic Sea Region: Assessment and Priorities for Response. Helsinki, 20 p.
[39] Ho, R. K., & Joyce, J. (2004). Building Local Capacity through Coastal Strategy Development in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Tropical Coast, Coast to Coast. From Demonstration to Replication, 11, 42-46.
[40] International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (2004). Gender Agenda: Women in Fisheries: A Collection of Articles from SAMUDRA Report. India: ICSF.
[41] International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) (2001). Forging Unity: Coastal Communities and the Indian Ocean’s Future. Proceedings of the Indian Ocean Conference, Chennai, 9-13 October 2001.
[42] IOC/UNESCO, IMO, FAO, UNDP (2011). A Blueprint for Ocean and Coastal Sustainability. Paris: IOC/UNESCO.
[43] Jorgensen, M. W., & Philipps, L. J. (2002). Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method. London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: SAGE Publications.
[44] Kaul, I. (2013). Global Public Goods. A Concept for Framing the Post-2015 Agenda? Discussion Paper 2/2013, German Development Institute.
[45] Keller, R., Hirseland, A., Schneider, W., & Viehover, W. (Eds.) (2010). Handbuch Sozialwissenschaftliche Diskursanalyse: Band 2: Forschungspraxis. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
[46] Kimball, L. A. (2005). The International Legal Regime of the High Seas and the Seabed beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction and Options for Cooperation for the Establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Marine Areas beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction. Technical Series No. 19, Montreal: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 64 p.
[47] Laclau, E. (1990). New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time. London: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Incorporated.
[48] Laclau, E. (1996). Emancipation(s). London: Verso.
[49] Laclau, E. (2000a). Identity and Hegemony: The Role of Universality in the Constitution of Political Logics. In J. P. Butler, E. Laclau, & S. Zizek (Eds.), Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (pp. 44-89). London: Verso.
[50] Laclau, E. (2004). Glimpsing the Future. In S. Critchley, & Marchart, O. (Eds.), A Critical Reader (pp. 279-328). London and New York: Routledge.
[51] Laclau, E., & Mouffe, C. (2001[1985]). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London and New York: Verso.
[52] Laclau, E., & Mouffe, C. (2006). Hegemonie und radikale Demokratie. Zur Dekonstruktion des Marxismus. 3. Aufl. Wien: Passagen-Verlag.
[53] Madina, M. (Ed.) (2008). The Beauty of the Beast. The Present and Future of Elasmobranches in Europe. Madrid, Brussels, Washington, Juneau and Providencia: OCEANA.
[54] Maribus (Ed.) (2010). World Ocean Review 2010: Mit den Meeren leben. Hamburg: Maribus in cooperation with the Cluster of Excellence “The Future Ocean” and the International Ocean Institute (IOI), Halifax, Ca.
[55] Methmann, C. P. (2010). “Climate Protection” as Empty Signifier: A Discourse Theoretical Perspective on Climate Mainstreaming in World Politics.
[56] Mora, C., Wei, C. L., Rollo, A., Amaro, T., Baco, A. R., Billett, D. et al. (2013). Biotic and Human Vulnerability to Projected Changes in Ocean Biogeochemistry over the 21st Century. PLoS Biology, 11, e1001682.
[57] Nabers, D. (2007). Crises, Hegemony and Change in the International System: A Conceptual Framework. GIGA Working Papers, No. 50.
[58] Nabers, D. (2009). Filling the Void of Meaning: Identity Construction in US Foreign Policy after September 11, 2001. Foreign Policy Analysis, 5, 191-214.
[59] National Research Council (1999). Our Common Journey: A Transition toward Sustainability. Washington DC: National Academy Press.
[60] Neumayer, E. (1999). Weak versus Strong Sustainability. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
[61] OSPAR Commission (2008). Protecting and Conserving the North-East Atlantic and Its Resources. Annual Report of the OSPAR Commission 2007/08.
[62] Ott, K. (2014). Institutionalizing Strong Sustainability: A Rawlsian Perspective. Sustainability, 6, 894-912.
[63] Parris, T. M., & Kates, R. W. (2003). Characterizing and Measuring Sustainable Development. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 28, 13.1-13.28.
[64] Pearce, D., Markandya, A., & Barbier, E. B. (1989). Blue Print for a Green Economy. London: Earthscan.
[65] Pitcher, T. J., & Cheung, W. W. L. (2013). Fisheries: Hope or Despair? Marine Pollution Bulletin, 74, 506-516.
[66] Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992).
[67] Robinson, J. (2004). Squaring the Circle? Some Thoughts on the Idea of Sustainable Development. Ecological Economics, 48, 369-384.
[68] Royal Society (2005). Ocean Acidification Due to Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. Policy Document 12/05.
[69] Sanders, J. S., Gréboval, D., & Hjort, A. (2011). Marine Protected Areas: Country Case Studies on Policy, Governance and Institutional Issues. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper, No. 556/1, Rome: FAO.
[70] Schultz, J., Brand, F., Kopfmüller, J., & Ott, K. (2008). Building a “Theory of Sustainable Development”: Two Salient Conceptions within the German Discourse. International Journal of Environment and Sustainable Development, 7, 465-482.
[71] SCOR/IOC Symposium Planning Committee (2004). Meeting Report: The Ocean in a High-CO2 World. Oceanography, 17, 72-78.
[72] Scott, M. (2012). WordSmith 6.0.
[73] Service, R. E. (2012). Rising Acidity Brings an Ocean of Trouble. Science, 337, 146-148.
[74] Skjærseth, J. B. (2002b). Towards the End of Dumping in the North Sea: The Case of the Oslo Commission. In E. L. Miles (Ed.), Environmental Regime Effectiveness: Confronting Theory with Evidence (pp. 65-86). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
[75] Spangenberg, J. H. (2002). Environmental Space and the Prism of Sustainability: Frameworks for Indicators Measuring Sustainable Development. Ecological Indicators, 2, 295-309.
[76] Sweeney, D., & Bruce, G. (2007). The City as a Learnscape—Integrating Sustainability Learning in the Townsville (Qld, Australia) Urban Environment. Pacem in Maribus XXXII Conference, Waves of Change: Women, Youth and the Sea, 5-8 November 2007, Attard, Malta.
[77] The Global 2000 Report to the President. Entering the 21st Century. (1980). A Report Prepared by the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of State. In G. O. Barney (Study Director), Washington: US Government Printing Office.
[78] Tournadre, J. (2014). Anthropogenic Pressure on the Open Ocean: The Growth of Ship Traffic Revealed by Altimeter Data Analysis. Geophysical Research Letters, 41, 7924-7932.
[79] Turley, C. (2005). The Other CO2 Problem.
[80] Underdal, A. (2010). Complexity and Challenges of Long-Term Environmental Governance. Global Environmental Change, 20, 386-393.
[81] United Nations (2002). Report of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August-4 September 2002, New York, A/CONF.199/20.
[82] United Nations Environment Programme. (2006). Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High Seas. UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Studies No. 178, Switzerland: UNEP/IUCN.
[83] United Nations Environmental Programme—World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) (2008). National and Regional Networks of Marine Protected Areas: A Review of Progress. Cambridge: UNEP-WCMC.
[84] United Nations General Assembly (1982). World Charter for Nature. A/RES/37/7.
[85] United Nations General Assembly (2005). Oceans and the Law of the Sea. Report of the Secretary-General. 16th Session. A/60/63. New York.
[86] United Nations General Assembly (2006). Oceans and the Law of the Sea. Report of the Secretary-General. 61st Session, A/61/63. New York.
[87] United Nations General Assembly (2009). Official Records. 58th Plenary Meeting. Friday, 4 December 2009. 64th Session, A/64/PV.58. New York.
[88] United Nations General Assembly (2010). Oceans and the Law of the Sea. Report of the Secretary-General, 65th Session, A/65/69, Add. 2. New York.
[89] United Nations General Assembly (2012). 50th Plenary Meeting. Monday, 10 December 2012. 67th Session. A/67/PV.50. New York.
[90] United Nations General Assembly (2012). The Future We Want. Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly on 27 July 2012, 66th Session, A/RES/66/288. New York.
[91] Visbeck, M., Kronfeld-Goharani, U., Neumann, B., Rickels, W., Schmidt, J., van Doorn, E., Matz-Lück, N., Ott, K., & Quaas, M. F. (2014). Securing Blue Wealth: The Need for a Special Sustainable Development Goal for the Ocean and Coasts. Marine Policy, 48, 184-191.
[92] Wang, H. (2004). Ecosystem Management and Its Application to Large Marine Ecosystems: Science, Law, and Politics. Ocean Development & International Law, 35, 41-74.
[93] WBGU, Wissenschaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveranderungen (2013). Welt im Wandel. Menschheitserbe Meer. Hauptgutachten. Berlin: WBGU.
[94] WBGU, Wissenschaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveranderungen (1998). Welt im Wandel, Strategien zur Bewaltigung globaler Umweltrisiken. Berlin: WBGU.
[95] Williams, C. C., & Millington, A. C. (2004). The Diverse and Contested Meanings of Sustainable Development. The Geographical Journal, 170, 99-104.
[96] World Bank Institute (2004). Capacity Enhancement for Social Development: Building on Local Context and Process.
[97] World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). Our Common Future. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
[98] World Meteorological Organization (2010). Implementation Plan for the Global Observing System for Climate in Support of the UNFCCC.
[99] World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002). Plan of Implementation.
[100] Worm, B., & Branch, T. A. (2012). The Future of Fish. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 27, 594-599.
[101] Young, O. R., Osherenko, G., Ekstrom, J., Crowder, L. B., Ogden, J., Wilson, J. A., Day, J. C., Douvere, F., Ehler, C. N., McLeod, K. L., Halpern, B. S., & Peach, R. (2007). Solving the Crisis in Ocean Governance: Place-Based Management of Marine Ecosystems. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 49, 20-32.

comments powered by Disqus

Copyright © 2017 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.