Authoritarian Environmental Governance: Insights from the Past Century

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21 Scopus citations


For over a decade, nature–society geographers have focused on neoliberal and, more recently, postneoliberal environmental governance. Meanwhile, regimes in many nations have become less democratic and other countries, such as the United States, have elected leaders sympathetic to autocrats. Yet despite the spread of authoritarianism, nature–society geographers have as of yet devoted little attention to the subject, which hampers us as we confront this authoritarian moment. This article addresses this oversight but by examining the past rather than the present. Drawing on work by historians in general and environmental historians in particular, I explore authoritarian environmental governance in the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and Nazi Germany, three countries and eras largely overlooked by nature–society geographers. I focus in particular on agricultural collectivization, industrialization and river development, and nature conservation under authoritarian regimes. Understanding past authoritarian environmental governance will enable nature–society geographers to better reckon with the environmental ramifications of a possible new authoritarian era. Key Words: authoritarianism, environmental governance, Nazism, socialism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-323
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 4 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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