CFP AAA18: Sharing the Wealth: The New Politics of Distribution in the Age of Sustainable Development

Call for Papers: American Anthropological Association 2018
Sharing the Wealth: The New Politics of Distribution in the Age of Sustainable Development

Marcos Mendoza [a] and Robert Fletcher [b]

[a]University of Mississippi, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, mendoza[at]

[b]Wageningen University, Sociology of Development and Change, robert.fletcher[at]

The new “age of sustainable development” (Sachs 2015) is based upon the legitimizing fiction that global capitalism can be transformed from a system of “accumulation and growth feeding on an external domain” into a self-managing system that progressively incorporates “natural capital” into market valuation, investment, and consumption dynamics while incentivizing environmental conservation (O’Connor 1993, 8). There exists a large body of scholarship that has investigated green development schemes and market-based instruments—touted by big environmental NGOs, international financial institutions, and the UNEP, among others—to integrate the goals of protecting natural capital with community development and national uplift (e.g., Büscher et al. 2014; Wanner 2015). There is also a robust literature that has pointed to the discrepancies between vision and execution within sustainable development programs, as well as the social and environmental problems provoked by a misguided faith in green capitalism (e.g., Carrier and West 2009; Fletcher and Büscher 2017). What has yet to be fully explored by political ecologists, however, is how social and political networks of distribution have always accompanied, operated parallel to, and frequently subsidized so-called market-based solutions. Indeed, sustainable green capitalism often seeks to render invisible the social economy of redistribution, reciprocity, and mutual aid networks upon which markets fundamentally depend.

This panel draws inspiration from James Ferguson’s (2015) exploration of a “new politics of distribution” emerging in the global south, which highlights the creation of new welfare systems, cash transfer programs (CTPs), and non-work-based forms of claiming a “share” within the nation-state. Building on this, the panel seeks to highlight the networks of distribution and wealth sharing that have become constitutive of green development schemes such as ecotourism industries, payments for ecosystem services, REDD+ programs, climate financing, sustainable agriculture and forestry, alternative energy, species banking, and so forth. While undertaken in the name of green development, sustainability initiatives—whether by states, NGOs, individual philanthropists, or foreign aid organizations—have frequently operated as “surplus recycling mechanisms” (Varoufakis 2015) to channel public and private resources from one region to another. Though these projects may fail to accomplish their sustainability goals, these monetary transfers—whether through direct payments, social programs, or infrastructure—often provide communities (and the social economy at large) with vital sources of income. Moreover, these distribution programs work to create translocal connections and political alliances that may be yoked to any number of national development ideologies ranging from the neoliberalism to anti-neoliberalism (Mendoza in press.).

What are the emergent contours of this new politics of distribution that has become intertwined with the global green economy during this contemporary era of sustainable development? Contributions to the panel will explore this question from various angles.

Please submit abstracts to the organisers by 1st April 2018.


Büscher B., Dressler W., Fletcher R., eds. 2014. NatureTM Inc.: Environmental Conservation in the Neoliberal Age. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

Carrier J.G., and West P., eds. 2009. Virtualism, Governance and Practice: Vision and Execution in Environmental Conservation. New York: Berghahn.

Ferguson J. 2015. Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Fletcher R., and Büscher B. 2017. “The PES Conceit: Revisiting the Relationship between Payments for Environmental Services and Neoliberal Conservation.” Ecological Economics 132: 224-231.

Mendoza M. in press. The Patagonian Sublime: The Green Economy and Post-Neoliberal Politics. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

O’Connor M. 1993. “On the Misadventures of Capitalist Nature.” Capitalism Nature Socialism 4(3): 7-40.

Sachs J. 2015. The Age of Sustainable Development. New York: Columbia University Press.

Varoufakis Y. 2015. The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy. London: Zed Books.

Wanner T. 2015. “The new ‘passive revolution’ of the green economy and growth discourse: Maintaining the ‘sustainable development’ of neoliberal capitalism.” New Political Economy 20(1): 21-41.

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