Review of Rob Krueger and David Gibbs’ The Sustainable Development Paradox

James A. Throgmorton. 2008. Journal of Planning Education and Research 27, 4 (Summer): 513-515.

This article reviews a 310-page collection of essays edited by Rob Krueger and David Gibbs. On the whole, I find it to be a rich and insightful collection of interpretations, which ultimately fails to fulfill its admirable ambitions. It falls short primarily because it is written in such a way as to exclude and often implicitly demean the very readers it ultimately needs to persuade: practitioners, scholars, scientists, workers, businesspeople, elected officials, and other people whose lives and livelihoods are embedded in the daily
practices and boundaries of organizations, professions, disciplines, governments, markets, and built environments. A signal consequence of this pattern of exclusion is that the contributors strongly tend to deny or disregard the enormous challenge that advocates of sustainability face (in the United States at least), especially from political commentators who condemn sustainability as a Leftist plot. These criticisms notwithstanding, I still find
myself influenced by the book and persuaded on a few crucial points. Three strike me as being most important for anyone interested in helping to imagine and construct a more sustainable future: (1) the notion that we live in “a cyborg world,” (2) the need to foreground and name different socioenvironmental futures, and (3) the idea that the substantive content of sustainability will be context dependent and hence vary
from place to place. But if these points have merit, they also pose a profoundly difficult (if inescapable) challenge: how to transform ordinary day-to-day institutions, practices, and cultural understandings in a way that recognizes the “cyborgian” nature of our contemporary situation and is open to addressing two crucial questions: Which kind of cyborg world do we want to inhabit? And how do “we” bring that world into being? These questions need to be posed in such a way that professionals, ordinary people, and elected representatives can understand and act on.

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