GNH as ‘Governmentality’
Researcher Simeon Teoh recently highlighted Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH), not only as a philosophy, but as a specific ‘conduct of conduct’, related to the Foucauldian notion of ‘governmentality’ (Teoh, n.d.). This characterization of GNH puts it in direct confrontation with other such governmentalities such as Neoliberlism which emphasiszes the use of external mechanisms to motivate particular actions from subjects in a society. In contrast, GNH promotes key pillars that guide how the government makes decisions and promotes specific actions amongst subjects by enforcing the morality of such pillars. However, the recent promotion of various environmental conservation efforts in Bhutan, specifically PES schemes and Ecotourism, have much more in common with a Neoliberal rather than a GNH governmentality. While these forms of conservation have their origins in neoliberal economic concepts, case studies and specific praxis have shown mixed success results. Successful PES and Ecotourism ventures have not fully actualized neoliberal principles, and have rather relied on continuous state support for ongoing maintenance (Fletcher & Breitling, 2012). What does this mean for actualizing authentic GNH ‘conduct of conduct’? Should Bhutan continue to seek such mechanisms that claim origin in alternative governmentalities? Or can such mechanisms be adapted to an authentic GNH strategy?
Whatever the case, it must be paramount that policy makers recognize such neoliberal origins and adapt accordingly if they want to avoid the outcomes of such a ‘conduct of conduct’. In other words, if Bhutan wants to govern through GNH philosophy, then GNH principles must be at the core of whichever conservation initiatives they choose to adopt. Otherwise, the type of actions promoted amongst the populace will be out of sync with the proclaimed governmentality.
Fletcher, R. and Breitling, J. (2012). Market mechanism or subsidy in disguise? Governing payment for environmental services in Costa Rica. Geoforum, 43, 402-411.
Teoh, S. (n.d.). The governmentality approach to the business of sustainable tourism: Bhutan’s tourism governance, policy and planning. Curtin University. Accessed on October 27, 2015 from: http://business.curtin.edu.au/local/docs/Teoh_abstract.pdf