Enacting Reflexive Governance: The politics of Dutch transitions to sustainability

Carolyn Hendriks, John Grin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    How does steering for sustainability work within the world of contemporary politics, where roles are increasingly ambiguous and power dispersed? This paper explores this question empirically by studying the practice of reflexive governance - a mode of steering that encourages actors to scrutinize and reconsider their underlying assumptions, institutional arrangements and practices. The practice of reflexive governance has been conceptualized in various ways: as a strategic process of opening up and closing down, as a state-led activity of facilitating socio-technological transitions, and as a mode of network co-ordination to promote system innovation. What all these accounts underplay is the political context of reflexive processes, and the politics that they generate. This paper offers an alternative conceptualization of reflexive governance that situates sites of reflexivity within a broader discursive system composed of multiple arenas, actors and forms of political communication. Applying this framework to a Dutch case study reveals a host of struggles involved in enacting reflexive governance, particularly as actors try to reconcile the demands of reflexivity (being open, self-critical and creative) with the demands of their existing political world (closed preferences, agenda driven, control). The analysis sheds light on the work - and indeed politics - involved in legitimizing more reflexive modes of governing for sustainability.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)333-350
    JournalJournal of Environmental Policy and Planning
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


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