Assessing marine spatial planning governmentality.


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.

Sea Basin(s): 
April 2020
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Not sector specific
Type of Issue: 
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Vision and aims
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Integrated Coastal Zone Management

Questions this practice may help answer: 

  • Is MSP an impartial and rational process in practice? 
  • What is Foucault's concept of governmentality? 
  • How do governmentalities arise in MSP processes?  
  • How emerging governmentalities operate in MSP processes?  

Implementation Context: 

The study was conducted by researchers from the School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University (Belfast). 

Aspects / Objectives: 

The study highlighted the creation of governmentalities in marine spatial planning, which run counter to the principles of rationality and impartiality attributed to the MSP process that serve specific interests.  


The study focused on marine spatial planning in England to describe the appearance of governmentalities. A thematic analysis was applied and a number of MSP documents and speeches were studied.  

Main Outputs / Results: 

The study highlighted the emergence of governmentalities in an example of MSP in England, and revealed the ways they influence the MSP process and stakeholder participation.  


Although the practice focused on MSP in England, the methodology applied to identify governmentalities in MSP can also be applied to other countries and regions.

Responsible Entity: 

School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University (Belfast). 

Funding Source: 

Wesley Flannery's contribution to this paper was partly funded by the FAIRCoast project funded by the Research Council of Norway. 

Contact person: 

Wesley Flannery: 

Ben McAteer: