Metabolism and the state: Toward a theory of environmental statecraft

Authors: Clare Beer*, UCLA
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography, Environment
Keywords: metabolism, state theory, state-natures
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Bonaparte, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Within political ecology and critical human-environment studies, Marx’s conceptualization of ‘metabolism’ (Stoffwechsel) signifies the productive exchange between nature and society. Missing from most analyses of metabolism, however, is clear articulation of the state’s mediating role. While social and ecological forces constitute metabolism, it is the state that commands how these forces are allocated, measured, regulated, and stabilized. This paper argues that the state is fundamental to metabolic relationships, and that foregrounding the state as such requires the reconsideration of existing conceptual and theoretical paradigms. My argument unfolds in two parts: first, I propose a tripartite conceptual framework of nature-capital-state relations, integrating Bob Jessop’s strategic-relational approach to state theory with the geographical political economy of nature. By re-working the state-society and nature-capital binaries, this framework allows for the simultaneous consideration of nature and the state, thereby producing a more robust understanding of metabolic production and historical change. Second, I operationalize this framework through a proposed theory of environmental statecraft. Environmental statecraft explains how nature, capital, and the state mutually engage, presenting each as dialectical co-evals that come into being through the others. Challenging more orthodox foundations of state theory, environmental statecraft prioritizes – instead of marginalizes – the role of nature in political statecraft.

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