The condition of sustainable development : a realist explanation of the causes of unsustainable development in the sugar industries of Barbados and Australia

Drummond, Ian, 1955-

Economics; Geography
June 1996

Thesis or dissertation

© 1996 Ian Charles Drummond. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis is concerned with the idea of sustainable development. It is concerned to understand how the theory and practice of sustainable development might be progressed. The central tenet of the thesis is that unsustainable practices and events are most usefully understood as outcomes which are conditioned by underlying social structures and processes. In itself, this is hardly an original or profound assertion. However, what is attempted here is a multi-layered explanation of unsustainability which objectifies and elucidates the significance of different elements of causation and thus one which may suggest new and potentially useful ways of achieving sustainable development in practice. It is argued that a realist understanding of causality informed by insights from regulation theory is particularly relevant to this agenda. From a realist perspective, unsustainable practices and events are understood as reflecting not just tendentially expressed real causal mechanisms and contingent factors, but also the conditions which activate the mechanisms involved. In practice, these conditions are largely defined by what regulationists term the 'mode of social regulation'. Thus it is suggested that regulation designed to promote sustainable development needs to be just as concerned with the nature of 'modes of social regulation' in general as it is with specific, concrete controls on development.

The first three chapters of the thesis outline and review current thinking on sustainable development, realism and regulation theory respectively. The theoretical constructs developed in these early chapters are subsequently tested, refined and evaluated in their application to case studies of cane sugar production in Barbados and Australia. Chapter 4 outlines and justifies the methodology adopted in the research. Chapter 5 provides a general description of cane sugar production and consumption and the global sugar economy. This provides a context for the subsequent analysis of the two case studies. Chapters 6 and 8 begin with some background information on Barbados and Queensland respectively, and then continue by outlining the current situation of the sugar industries in these two locations. These two basically descriptive chapters are each followed by further chapters which analyse and interpret the dynamic and often unsustainable patterns of development which have occurred in these two locations. The analysis here attempts to develop the type of multi-level, realist, analysis articulated in earlier chapters. Instances of unsustainability are interpreted as the outcomes of plural, but co-active elements of causation. Specific attention is focused on how the inherent unsustainability of extant accumulation systems and social structures is apparently translated into more significant forms of unsustainability, and within this, on the ways in which current modes of social regulation appear to legitimate and license this process of translation. Chapter 10 then attempts to synthesise the analysis of the case studies and to identify any generally relevant insights into the nature of sustainable development. The final section of the thesis, presents an evaluation of this project and the conclusions reached, and suggests how this approach and methodology defined in this research might be further tested, refined and progressed.

Department of Geography, The University of Hull
Marsden, Terry; Rees, Judith A. (Judith Anne), 1944-
Sponsor (Organisation)
Economic and Social Research Council (Great Britain)
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