What’s ontology got to do with it? Nature, knowledge and ‘the green economy’

Sullivan, S (2016) What’s ontology got to do with it? Nature, knowledge and ‘the green economy’. Future Pasts Working Paper No.3. ISBN 9781911126027

(Request more information)


Contemporary market-based ‘green economy’ approaches to environmental degradation emphasise exchanges whereby quantified units of environmental harm are traded or ‘offset’ for compensating units of environmental health. Also encouraged is a view that economic growth can be ‘greened’ through ‘decoupling’ economic value from material ecological realities. Such approaches tend to frame biophysical natures in terms of aggregates, such as an ‘aggregate natural capital rule’ and ‘net zero carbon’. Natures-beyond-the-human are thereby both understood and enacted as calculable, exchangeable, substitutable and commensurable between different spatial and temporal sites making up an ‘aggregate’ or ‘net’ value. This paper uses a comparative cross-cultural engagement to problematise ontological assumptions regarding the nature of nature underscoring the rationality of these aggregating and offsetting ‘solutions’. Drawing on literatures from environmental anthropology and environmental ethics, combined with ethnographic material from long-term field research in north-west Namibia, the paper considers elements of alternative cultural ontologies and the ways these may give rise to a different array of practices with value for conceiving and generating ‘sustainability’. It adheres to a critical political ecology perspective in understanding the ways that power structures the ontologies that become both privileged and occluded in neoliberal strategies for green economy governance. In doing so, the paper argues that sensitivity to the ontological politics through which spaces and entities become defined and known, and which thereby shape environmental conflicts, may be key to recognising and understanding with more depth the sometimes radically different ‘natures’ being struggled over in such conflicts.

Item Type: Commissioned Report

Full text available from URL below.

Keywords: ontology, green economy, offsetting, decoupling, sustainability, value, natures-beyond-the-human, neoliberalism, political ecology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Related URLs:
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2017 16:23
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2024 16:16
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/9150
Request a change to this item or report an issue Request a change to this item or report an issue
Update item (repository staff only) Update item (repository staff only)