Ecological Modernization: Distorted Institutionalization and its Adverse Effects on Environmental Decision-Making

Wei See Chan, School of Social Science, University of Aberdeen


Modernization, Technologies, and Innovations


Political institutionalization is often seen as a positive or encouraging development that serves public interest (Huntington 1968, 24; Moe 2005, 215). But the political institution is also a power structure that enables particular actors to gain agenda control for their own gain (Moe 2005, 215–216). Institutionalization without a set goal of serving the common good might serve private interests and neglect public interests. Malaysia has long been reputed as one of the most institutionalized party-states in the developing world (Slater 2003, 81). Its functional bureaucratic institution and procedural democratic institution have provided for national order and stability. However, decades of single-party domination in the country has also laid the foundation for authoritarian rule. As a result of concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s role and the development of state capitalism, institutionalization in Malaysia tends to reinforce despotic power instead of constraining it (ibid.). Such a political development has a profound effect on environmental decision-making, as seen in the case of the Bakun hydroelectric dam (which spans from the 1980s to 2010) in which government machineries and government-linked entities were manipulated to ensure the fulfilment of the Prime Minister’s ambition to bring the project to fruition. This shows institutionalization in the sense of expanding organizational, legal, and procedural orders alone is inadequate to protect the environment and safeguard environmental justice. Instead, the development of political institutions must entail the pursuit of the public interest, if ecological modernization is desired.

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