Robertson M M, 2006, "The nature that capital can see: science, state, and market in the commodification of ecosystem services" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 24(3) 367 – 387
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The nature that capital can see: science, state, and market in the commodification of ecosystem services
Morgan M Robertson
Received 27 September 2004; in revised form 28 July 2005
Abstract. The development of stable markets in ecosystem services is now a major neoliberal policy initiative in the United States and elsewhere. Such markets, however, require ecosystem scientists to play a new and challenging role in certifying the value of the commodities traded, which are defined using the holistic measures of ecology rather than the uncontroversial measures of weight, volume, or time. As ecosystem science increasingly serves as a metrical technology for the commodification of ecosystem services, its fine and fragile distinctions increasingly bear the weight of capital circulation. In this paper I report on fieldwork among ecosystem assessment technicians, and suggest that this new round of the commodification of nature may overwhelm the capacity of science to provide stable representations of commodity value. The methods and techniques of ecosystem assessment must describe a nature that capital can ‘see’—that has an uncontroversial measure—in order for trade to occur. However, these assessment methods currently produce unstable data that are rendered meaningful in economic terms only by dint of creative and ad hoc efforts at translation by field technicians. It is suggested that this may represent a practical limit or crisis point in the expansion of capital relations, or at least a complication in the streamlined neoliberal narratives about the commodification of ecosystem services.
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