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Marine spatial planning (MSP) is advanced by its champions as an impartial and rational process that can address complex management issues. We argue that MSP is not innately rational and that it problematises marine issues in specific ways, often reflecting hegemonic agendas. The illusion of impartial rationality in MSP is derived from governmentalities that appear progressive but serve elite interests. By understanding the creation of governmentalities, we can design more equitable planning processes. We conceptualise governmentalities as consisting of problematisations, rationalities and governance technologies, and assess England’s first marine plans to understand how specific governmentalities de-radicalise MSP. We find that progressive framings of MSP outcomes, such as enhanced well-being, are deployed by the government to garner early support for MSP. These elements, however, become regressively problematised in later planning phases, where they are framed by the government as being difficult to achieve and are pushed into future iterations of the process. Eviscerating progressive elements from the planning process clears the way for the government to focus on implementing a neoliberal form of MSP. Efforts to foster radical MSP must pay attention to the emergence of governmentalities, how they travel through time/space and be cognisant of where difference can be inserted into planning processes. Achieving progressive MSP will require the creation of a political frontier early in the process, which cannot be passed until pathways for progressive socio-environmental outcomes have been established; advocacy for disenfranchised groups; broadening MSP evaluations to account for unintended impacts; and the monitoring of progressive objectives.
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04/09/2019 → …