Carbon Credits: Varieties, Social Meanings, and Circuits

Authors: John Liu*,
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Economic Geography
Keywords: carbon market, social meaning, economic sociology, market-based mechanisms
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Grand Ballroom D, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The critical scholarship on the carbon market often sees the carbon as an abstract commodity. I challenge this view and argue that the market is imbued with social meanings. To deepen our analysis, I argue that we can borrow from Viviana Zelizer’s cultural economic sociology approach to study carbon. First, I highlight the different varieties of carbon—emission allowances and offsets—and interpret their social meanings. Carbon offsets, on the one hand, can be seen through the logic of care, on the other hand, also face the fierce critique as indulgence and distractions. Emission allowances, conversely, symbolize a territorialized view of moral responsibility. These credits are always social. Even if they are made materially equivalent, market designers only have limited success to deprive them of their social relations. In addition, I also show that the two types of credits mostly operate within their own economic circuits with different clientele and actors. This new framework urges us to take a closer attention to the market actors and their social relations in the making of the carbon market.

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