Tadaki, “Is there space for politics in the environmental bureaucracy?”

Tadaki, M. (2020). “Is there space for politics in the environmental bureaucracy? Discretion and constraint in Aotearoa New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment.” Geoforum. url

This paper examines how bureaucrats exercise discretion in an environmental bureaucracy. Drawing upon interviews, documentary evidence, and time spent within Aotearoa New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment during 2016–2017, I examine the contours of bureaucratic discretion exercised in relation to freshwater policy development and implementation support. Bureaucrats make consequential choices about the design of implementation projects, strategically coordinate civil society involvement in policy development, and set organizational objectives that are not inconsistent with the formal policy positions of the government, while exceeding these positions at the same time. Discretionary politics take different forms across the organisation, and careful legitimation is needed to narrate any specific action as authorized by enabling legislation or differently scaled objectives of the bureaucracy. While discretionary action can reinforce dominant patterns of political-economic power, discretionary activities can also subvert these patterns, and sometimes, intentionally so. Looking for a plurality of intentions and practices behind putatively neoliberal language can reveal frontiers for formulating and engaging in an environmental bureaucratic politics.