CfP POLLEN 20: Unmaking the capitalist production of nature: exploring processes of (de)construction

Session organizers

Julia Spanier, Jacob Smessaert, Leonie Guerrero & Guilherme Raj, Utrecht University, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development

Instructions for submitting contributions

Please send you abstract proposal (250 words) to Julia Spanier ( and Jacob Smessaert ( until the 10th of October 8th of November 2019.

Session keywords

capitalist and post-capitalist natures; unmaking capitalism; societal transformations

Session abstract

Scholarship on the capitalist production of nature has contributed majorly in understanding how material natures are produced by the socio-economic relations characterizing capitalism (Smith 1984). Externalized, second nature is not only produced through its primitive accumulation and exploitation (e.g. enclosure and land grabbing, Fairhead et al. 2012), but is also the product of what Smith (2007) has called the “real subsumption” of nature, in which the intentional transformation of nature has become a strategy for capital accumulation. It is argued that, nowadays, even the protection of nature is becoming a mechanism for its continuing commodification (Fairhead et al. 2012; McCarthy and Prudham 2004; Bakker 2015).

Yet, while the capitalist nature thesis provides a strong critical analysis of capitalism’s advancing frontiers, it has focused less on sketching trajectories towards post-capitalist or more-than-capitalist natures. Therefore, this session aims to convene a discussion around exactly this agenda. It does so by drawing on Feola’s (2019) concept of “unmaking capitalist relations and structures”, which refers to processes that make space for alternatives which are incompatible with dominant capitalist structures. This implies both interrupting the reproduction of capitalist configurations and filling the spatial, temporal, material and/or symbolic vacuum that opens up through processes of unmaking. Unmaking thus allows us to inquire into the processes through which the capitalist production of nature has been, is, or can be resisted, disturbed, and overcome.

The notion of unmaking aims to advance the theorization and study of societal transformations towards more egalitarian social-ecological relations by integrating diverse research perspectives from across the social sciences. It enriches the idea of “decolonization of the imaginary”, as proposed by degrowth scholar Latouche (2015), with a variety of concepts dealing with deconstruction, undoing or decomposition, such as “sacrifice” from political science and environmental studies (Maniates and Meyer 2013), “crack capitalism” (Holloway 2010), “everyday forms of resistance” (Scott 1985), the “destabilization” of socio-technical regimes as discussed in sustainability transitions studies (Turnheim and Geels 2013), the transformation of social practices (Shove et al. 2012), and “refusal” as discussed in cultural anthropology (McGranahan 2016).

One of the core questions that arises from these discussions is if it possible to “make” without “unmaking”. In other words, can we “produce” post-capitalist, or more-than-capitalist natures without “un-producing” capitalist natures first?

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of these questions, we welcome proposals both from within and outside political ecology. Interested scholars are invited to discuss or problematize, against the background of their own research, one or several of the following questions:

  1. How is the unmaking of capitalist natures intertwined with the making of non-capitalist natures?
  2. Who are the actors, what are the spaces and practices of unmaking and making, and how do they connect through space and time?
  3. Which elements of capitalist natures are unmade, and which elements tend to be reproduced?
  4. How are non-capitalist natures be made in a world “contaminated” (Tsing 2015) by capitalist relations (both concerning the process and outcome)?

We particularly, but not exclusively, invite empirical contributions on grassroots agriculture that link to the processes of unmaking outlined above.


Asara, V., Otero, I., Demaria, F., & Corbera, E. (2015). Socially sustainable degrowth as a social–ecological transformation: repoliticizing sustainability. Sustainability Science 10, 375–384. 

D’Alisa, G., Demaria, F., & Kallis, G. (Eds.) (2014). Degrowth: a vocabulary for a new era. Routledge, Abingdon. 

Bakker, K. (2015). The Neoliberalization of Nature. In T. Perreault, B. Gavin, & J. McCarthy (Eds.), The Roudledge Handbook of Political Ecology (pp. 446–456). Routledge. 

Fairhead, J., Leach, M., & Scoones, I. (2012). Green Grabbing: A new appropriation of nature? Journal of Peasant Studies39(2), 237–261. 

Feola., G. (2019). Degrowth and the unmaking of capitalism: beyond ‘decolonization of the imaginary’. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 18(4). 

Holloway, J. (2010). Crack capitalism. Pluto Press, London. 

Latouche, S. (2015). Decolonization of imaginary. In: G. D’Alisa, F. Demaria, & G. Kallis (Eds.), Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era (pp. 117-120). Abingdon: Routledge. 

Maniates, M., & Meyer, J. M. (2010). The environmental politics of sacrifice. MIT Press, Cambridge. 

McCarthy, J., & Prudham, S. (2004). Neoliberal nature and the nature of neoliberalism. Geoforum35(3), 275–283. 

McGranahan, C. (2016). Theorizing Refusal: An Introduction. Cultural Anthropology 31, 319–325. 

Scott, J. (1985). Weapons of the Weak. Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Yale University Press, New Haven. 

Shove, E., Pantzar, M., & Watson, M. (2012). The dynamics of social practice: Everyday life and how it changes. Sage, London. 

Smith, N. (1984). Uneven development: Nature, capital, and the production of space. Oxford: Blackwell. 

Smith, N. (2007). Nature as accumulation strategy. Socialist Register43 (Coming to Terms with Nature), 16–36. 

Tsing, A. L. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press: Princeton. 

Turnheim, B., & Geels, F.W. (2013). The destabilisation of existing regimes: Confronting a multi-dimensional framework with a case study of the British coal industry (1913–1967). Research Policy 42, 1749–1767. 

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