Sustainable Orientalism: A review

I have proposed the concept of Sustainable Orientalism on my latest paper published by the Department of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In this paper I offer the concept of Sustainable Orientalism to examine contemporary institutions that shape the idea of sustainability in Western cities, and how their characteristics are transmitted to non-Western contexts.

Since 1990, Western institutions have developed robust scientifc frameworks with a series of methods to achieve sustainability in the built environment. These assessment methods are part of a cultural and political vision that separates sustainable development between the “advanced” (Western Europe, North America) and the “less-advanced” (Latin America, Africa, South Asia). Orientalist approaches to environmental justice imply that the projection of nonWestern urban environments by Western assessment frameworks not only reproduces the outlying territories; it works them out, or animates them, using narrative techniques, and historical and exploratory attitudes of scientifc ideas generated in the West. It traces the circulation of thoughts, ideologies, and identities regarding environmental sustainability across space and time. I explore examples in Africa, Brazil, India, and Mexico.

With the Sustainable Orientalism concept I argue that the practices of sustainability in the built environment are formed and illuminated by canons of taste, value, and goodness. If the transmission of Western conceptions of sustainability to non-Western contexts is justifed by the distortion and manipulation of the latter’s urban environments and local cultures, it eventually frames these cities as mysterious, less developed, chaotic, and in need of corrective study and tutelage from the West.

Online link:

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