The Discursive Constitution of Ocean Sustainability


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.

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

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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