CfP POLLEN20 – ‘Ecosystem Services’, ‘Natural Capital’ and the future of environmental politics

Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Session organizers

Markus Leibenath (Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development, Dresden, Germany) and Brian Coffey (RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia).

Submissions should include author name(s)affiliation(s)country and email address(es)paper title and an abstract (250 words maximum). They should be sent to by 18th November, 2019.

Session description

Recent years have seen a proliferation of economic concepts and metaphors such as ‘Green Growth’, ‘Ecosystem Services’ (ES) and ‘Natural Capital’ (NC) – not only at global and international levels, but also in many national debates on environmental and conservation policies (Coffey 2015). These terms are often associated with a neoliberal governmentality (Leibenath 2017) and with the proliferation of economic, market-based instruments such as Payments for Ecosystem Services. In any case ES and NC have hitherto been articulated mostly with reformist political projects such as New Green Deal and Green Economy.

However, some voices claim that most debates about ES and NC “remain, by and large, on the margins of policy-making and capital flows” (Dempsey 2016) without much effect on political and economic decision-making. Others assert that one always has to consider the respective political contexts and that it is questionable to make generalising statements about the political effects of ES and NC. Against this background, one aim of this session is to elucidate if and how environmental and conservation policies (including spatial/ landscape planning) have changed at national and sub-national levels under the influence of ES and NC discourses.

Moreover, there are many calls for far-reaching transitions towards greater ecological sustainability (or strong sustainability) which also take into account issues of environmental justice, understood as justice on one planet (Bell 2017). Therefore another guiding question runs if and how concepts such as ES and NC can contribute to these ambitions, for instance by employing them in a more participatory manner or by utilising them for highlighting world-spanning socio-ecological (tele-)connections and injustices.

And finally we are interested in conceptual alternatives to ES and NC. Some authors already have proposed alternatives (or far-reaching expansions) such as the notion of hybrid labour in the sense of co-production by humans and non-humans (Battistoni 2017), the idea of granting rights to nature, or different varieties of an ethic of care and stewardship, rooted in eco-feminist thinking. It would be interesting to introduce and compare several of these perspectives, to assess their potential to influence life-styles, policies and decisions, and finally to report on related experiences from different cultural and political contexts.

We invite conceptual contributions as well as papers with a more empirical orientation from a broad range of perspectives – be it interpretive policy analysis, post-structuralism, governmentality, feminism, ANT or other.


Battistoni, A. (2017), Bringing in the work of nature: From natural capital to hybrid labor. Political Theory, 45, 1, 5-31.

Bell, D. (2017), Justice on one planet. In: Gardiner, S. M. & Thompson, A. (Hrsg.), The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics (276-287). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coffey, B. (2015), Unpacking the politics of natural capital and economic metaphors in environmental policy discourse. Environmental Politics, 203-222.

Dempsey, J. (2016), Enterprising Nature: Economics, Markets, and Finance in Global Biodiversity Politics. Malden (MA), Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

Leibenath, M. (2017), Ecosystem services and neoliberal governmentality – German style. Land Use Policy, 64, 307-316.


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