UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Mother nature, father profit Matheson, Gabrielle


Embedded, but rarely made explicit within liberal environmental rhetoric, is a focus on the individual as the primacy locus of change. Proponents of this atomized conception of responsibility suggest widespread environmental degradation— the product of individual overconsumption and poor decision making— can be addressed through individual lifestyle changes. According to this logic, individuals can ‘do their bit’ for the environment by buying ‘green,’ recycling, consuming less, and ‘living lightly.’ Despite the ostensible neutrality, the individualization of responsibility is in fact a deeply gendered notion. The injunction to make eco-friendly lifestyle changes results in an intensification of household labour and responsibility women undertake disproportionately. While there is a body of environmental sociological literature that recognizes this gendered division of eco-labour, there have been few efforts to critically theorize this gender gap. Contributing to these theoretical efforts, I argue that a gender-blind environmental approach based on ‘the individual’ as a homogenous, apolitical theoretical concept, depoliticizes environmental degradation as a space of political contestation. Without acknowledging the variation amongst individuals, the individualization of responsibility obfuscates the power asymmetry built into structures of the status quo, thereby stifling critique and the possibility of necessary structural change.

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