Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Geography and Earth Sciences
Environmental health effects from chemicals are an example of risks associated with modern, industrialized, technologically advanced, capitalist society. In Canada approximately 23,000 substances have been in commercial use despite never being assessed for their risks to human health and the environment. The assessment, management and regulation of environmental health risks from “existing” chemical substances can be viewed as an emerging and contested domain of governance whereby an increasing number of diverse stakeholders are seeking to shape its constituent actors, rule systems, knowledge inputs, and orientation. Using a multi-method case-study of Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan, this thesis examines how governance and decision-making rationales, knowledge inputs, influence, and authority become constructed, negotiated and (de)legitimized in practice, and the role and significance of “space” in these processes. Sources of data include scientific, policy and legal documents, participant observation and key informant interviews. Findings reveal that stakeholders divergently interpret evidence and exploit scientific uncertainties using various tactics that (de)legitimize particular claims and policy prescriptions to favour their interests. This has significant implications for how “precaution” and “weight-of-evidence” are operationalized. The concepts of “scale-frames” and “boundary-work” reveal how stakeholders construct and spatially bound political and epistemic legitimacy and authority through contested definitions and rationales of accessibility, inclusion and exclusion. To gain the influence and legitimacy that is needed for effectively shaping environmental health policy stakeholders must (re)define the jurisdictional and epistemic spaces in which knowledge, evidence and rationales are created and institutionalized. Bringing contested modes of subject-making around expertise and technical capacity to the fore assists in explaining why particular forms of knowledge production and interpretations of evidence are adopted while others are downplayed. This in turn perpetuates particular kinds of risk assessment and management tools and approaches that benefit some and marginalize others. Prevailing “governmentalities” are supported by, and mutually reinforce, broader neo-liberal political-economic ideals and interests.
Edge, Sara, "The Socio-spatial Construction of Knowledge, Power and Influence in the Governance of Environmental Health Risks from Toxic Chemicals in Canada" (2012). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7253.
McMaster University Library