Teaching Resources

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Enterprising Nature

  • Why do some environmental actors think that it is necessary to put a price tag on biodiversity?
  • What is “enterprising nature”? What are some of the challenges that people face when they try to create it?
  • Why do some people disagree with the idea of translating nature into monetary units? Where do you stand, and why? What other research might help you formulate an informed opinion?
  • How might we pursue a more abundant, biodiverse future without reproducing the injustices of the past?
  • What alternatives approaches are already being brought into being in diverse socio-ecological landscapes around the world? What new alliances for biodiversity conservation are possible?

Animal Traffic

  • Who is responsible for the violence of the exotic pet trade? Why do you think this violence is so often overlooked?
  • What lives, if any, should be able to be bought and sold? Who should decide this, and according to what criteria?
  • Are animals’ interests represented in our political and economic arenas? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • Are pets like cats and dogs also commodities? How are they similar to and different from exotic pets?

What is Synthetic Biology?

  • What does it mean to think about life and living things as a ‘machine’ or ‘factory’? What is gained or lost by doing so?
  • How should governments and international bodies weigh innovation in the bioeconomy against the interests and livelihoods of existing and traditional economies and existing commodity chains?
  • Changing the means of production to bioengineered “living factories” also changes the patterns of resource extraction (e.g. to biomass, natural gas). What could be the environmental, social, economic and cultural implications of changing feedstocks?

KEY TERMS

Commodity: Something – a shirt, shrimp, a TV set, sperm, dirt, a dog – that can be sold and exchanged

Commodification: The process by which things that were previously not sellable or exchangeable become commodities.

Commodity chain/network: A linked set of activities, actors and industries that produce a particular kind of commodity. A commodity chain analysis is like a biography of a thing (see Appadurai 1986). It involves tracking the various stages of a commodity’s “life” – often production, transport, consumption, and disposal.

Economization: the extension of economic logic, practices, and calculation into areas where they might not have been before.

Ecosystem services: commonly defined as the benefits provided by ecosystems to humans. The “ecosystem services revolution” aims to make visible and ideally quantifiable the often underappreciated and undervalued ecological structures and processes necessary for human life on earth.

Financialization: At its most general, financialization refers to the growing influence of financial actors, interests and institutions, an influence that is marked in relation to other parts of the economy. There is evidence of increasing financialization of capitalism, in that more and more profit is being made from financial channels (Krippner 2005), such as debt, and in particular from “pricing, distributing and hedging risk” (Blackburn 2006).

Lively Commodity: A commodity that/who remains alive for the duration of its time as a commodity and whose life is central to its commodity value, like Tillikum/Shamu (Sea World’s “killer” orca whale), a trafficked human, a rodeo bull, a forest carbon offset, or an exotic pet.

Marketization: the creation of markets – opportunities for buying and selling commodities – where they did not exist before. Examples here are wetland banking and of course the market in carbon, especially forest or ecosystem carbon. Marketization is, in effect, what geographer Kathleen McAfee meant when she coined her widely cited phrase “Selling Nature to Save it” in 1999.

Undead thing: A living commodity, or a commodity made from living materials, like a gene. The term comes from feminist science studies scholar Donna Haraway (1997).

FURTHER READINGS

Collard, R-C & J Dempsey. 2013. Life for sale? The politics of lively commodities. Environment and Planning A 45 (11): 2682–2699.

Cooper, Melinda, and Catherine Waldby. 2014. Clinical Labour: Tissue Donors and Research Subjects in the Global Bioeconomy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Parry, Bronwyn. 2012. “Economies of Bodily Commodification,” in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Economic Geography, edited by Trevor J. Barnes, Jamie Peck, and Eric Sheppard, 213–225. Wiley-Blackwell.

Shukin, Nicole. 2009. Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Sunder Rajan, Kaushik. 2006. Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.