SS08. Neoliberal nature: commodification, plural values and governing of nature in the Capitalocene

There is a consensus that the key drivers of the prevalent environmental crises – biodiversity loss and climate breakdown – stem from the complex economic, social and environmental entanglements of the Capitalocene (Haraway 2015). At the core of the Capitalocene is the neoliberal logic of expanding the economic realm into society’s every sector. Alternatives are not easy to articulate or to harness into workable solutions because the neoliberal logic is highly resistant. Ironically, to counter the damages stemming from the thoroughgoing economic institutionalisation, which remains all but blind to the plural values of nature, more formalisation and economic valorisation is often prescribed.
For this session, we invite papers that explore current processes of commodification and decommodification, and papers that explore alternatives. For example, papers that interrogate the challenges and opportunities faced by economic institutionalisation of nature that subvert the Capitalocene and aim to depart from or resist commodification.

  • Expected proposals format: conventional panel contributions
  • Keywords: Capitalocene, commodification, governance
  • Related track(s): 7. Ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation / 10. Challenging dominant values, ideologies, and imaginaries
  • Organizers: Juntti, Meri (Middlesex University, London, United Kingdom); Hiedanpaa, Juha (Natural Resources Institute, Finland); Martin Ortega, Julia (University of Leeds, UK); Novo, Paula (University of Leeds, UK)

Full description

The purpose of this panel is to consolidate and expand a research network examining the challenges to governing nature in the Capitalocene (Haraway 2015). The session brings together existing research on notions of kinship with nature, the global commons and the wellbeing value of nature. We examine processes of commodification and how governance approaches and attempts may either consolidate or challenge them. We offer 3 presentations and seek to recruit 3 further presenters whose work will complement the papers that we propose and add positively to the research network that we aim to create.

The focus on the capitalocene and the neoliberal logic that infiltrates environmental governance sits well with the conference theme of technology, science and innovation beyond growth, and adds a governance dimension, if you like. The capitalocene articulates the complex entanglements of society and the environment in the context of the hegemony of economic logic and institutionalisation.  It acknowledges that nature has been integrated into the capitalocene through processes of institutionalisation and commodification –having a status function, i. e. it is collectively agreed to count as something important in a specific context (Searle 2010) or into tradeable commodities (Martin Ortega et al. 2024).

For example, the foremost global policy initiative to counter the biodiversity crisis, the Convention Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (2022) promotes an integrated ecosystems-based approach to nature conservation, on one hand to emphasise human rights, especially those of Indigenous peoples, and on the other to valorise nature in economic terms – to highlight its central role in providing services that are essential to society and our economic systems. The ecosystem services approach has gained traction in literature and policy and has become robustly institutionalised (Bouwma et al. 2018). From the UN-sponsored Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA 2005) to the Dasgupta Review (2021) the purpose has been to make nature’s value more tangible and visible to decision-makers. While these economic approaches depict nature as a complex, interlinked, entity it frames it essentially as a means to serve human needs and thus, remains a limited conceptualisation.

In this light, many call for a revision of not just the knowledge basis but the conceptual basis of environmental policy. In resistance to economic institutionalisation, scholars and activists now look to Indigenous peoples knowledge and practices, as their communities have proven to manage their territories in ways that ensure conservation of biodiversity, preservation of their livelihoods and cultural reproduction and resisting the commodification of nature (Reyez Garcia et al. 2022).  Indigenous peoples have decisively opposed any notion of nature as separated from humans or devoid agency. Concepts such as kinship and the global commons constitute attempts to begin to recast the nature-society relationship. A key feature is maintaining the plurality of values and the multiplicity of relations of agency that nature harbours and that the neoliberal logic of the captitalocene subverts. Alternative conceptualisations of human-nature relationships beyond those based on an instrumental perspective are also present in Western societies, opening up the political and policy space to approaches rooted in more sustainable relations (Cohen et al. 2023).  


  • Cohen et al. (2023) Riverkin: Seizing the moment to remake vital relations in the United Kingdom and beyond. People and Nature.  https://doi. org/10.1002/pan3.10534 
  • Dasgupta, P. (2021), The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review. Abridged Version. (London: HM Treasury).
  • Haraway D. (2015) Antropocene, capitalocene plantationocene, chthulucene: making kin
  • Martin-Ortega J., Novo, P., Gomez-Baggethun E., Muradian R., Harte C., and Mesa-Jurado M. A., (2024) Ecosystem services and the commodification of nature. Elodie Bertrand and Vida Panitch (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Commodification. Abingdon: RoutledgeMartin-Ortega et al. (2024)
  • MEA (2003). Ecosystems and Human Wellbeing: A Framework for Assessment. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC. Island press. Available online at:
  • Reyes-García, V.  Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, Yildiz Aumeeruddy-Thomas, et al. (2022) ‘Recognizing Indigenous peoples’ and Local Communities’ Rights and Agency in the post-2020 Biodiversity Agenda’ 51 Ambio (2022) 84–92
  • Searle J. (2010) Making the social world: the structure of humna civilisation. OUP: Oxford.