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CfP: Exploring the subsumption of nature: real and/or formal?


AAG 2015, Chicago, 21-25 April

During the last decade work in environmental and Marxist geography has taken Marx’ subsumption argument and extended it to the analysis of nature-capital interactions. Boyd, Prudham and Schurman (2001) and Smith (2007) have been especially instrumental in this. Drawing a distinction between ‘real’ and ‘formal’ subsumption analogous to Marx’ analysis of the transformation of labour under capitalist relations, these scholars propose that we are increasingly witnessing a qualitative shift in the relation between nature and capital. Whereas nature has long been enlisted by capital on its own limitative terms, we are now witnessing a condition where nature(s) are actively being produced in line with the internal logics of late capitalism. The subsumption framework, in so doing, provides a potentially powerful analytical framework for understanding the power-permeated production of natures, but also for conceptualising nature as “a set of obstacles, opportunities, and surprises that firms confront in their attempts to subordinate biophysical properties and processes to industrial production” (Boyd et al. 2001, 555).

Generally however, substantial engagements with this proposed framework amongst geographers are few and far between. This session therefore seeks to explore the potential of scrutinising the subsumption of nature(s) in the context of recent attention paid to the refocusing of both capitalist strategies, and intense political struggles, towards environmental processes. How, in other words, can the notion of subsumption inform ongoing debates on the production, commodification, and/or neoliberalisation of natures, that is, on capitalism as an inherently ecological regime (cf. Moore, 2012). How can we understand the subsumption argument in light of recent emphases on natures in plural rather than on Nature (cf. Castree, 2005); and on non-human agency as a crucial factor in understanding the dynamics of both environmental crises, and more ‘mundane’ engagements with various kinds of natures (cf. Robbins, 2007; Prudham, 2005). And, furthermore, how new is the shift from the formal to the real subsumption of nature, really?

We invite papers that explore all aspects of the subsumption of nature argument, including but not limited to:

-          Case studies of nature subsumption

-          Theoretical engagements with foundational and/or forgotten texts on the subsumption argument

-          Overlaps between the commodification, ‘neoliberal nature’, and subsumption literature

-          Lessons for the subsumption of nature thesis from Marx’s original argument on labour

-          Historical and/or contemporary shifts from formal vs real subsumption

-          Unintended consequences associated with the production, commodification, and   neoliberalisation of nature

-          Possible limitations of relying on a Marxian tradition in understanding environmental transformation and natures’ subsumption

Abstracts of no more than 250 words, including keywords and title, should be submitted to Wim Carton (wim.carton@keg.lu.se) or Erik Jönsson (erik.jonsson@keg.lu.se) no later than 15 October 2014.