The ‘work’ of nature – Towards a political economy of lively capital (2)

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: 8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Organizers: James Palmer, Marion Ernwein, Maan Barua
Chairs: James Palmer


Questions regarding the roles played by non-human life within value production, commodification
and accumulation have emerged as important concerns within critical scholarship on capitalism.
Across a range of contexts, animals and plants—whether as individuals, groups, or multi-species
assemblages—are increasingly being reappraised as active constituents of the economic, and not
merely as passive or inert ‘inputs’ to capitalist processes (Braun, 2008). This is indexed by
contributions examining the role of non-human growth in contributing to the rejuvenation of human
labour power (Perkins, 2007), of the bearings animate potentials have on processes of
commodification (Collard and Dempsey, 2013), and of the ‘non-human labour’ of charismatic nonhuman
species within regimes of spectacular accumulation (Barua, 2017, Battistoni 2017).
Collectively, this scholarship unsettles many of the taken-for-granted categories of conventional
political economic analysis, including (1) labour, (2) the distinction between production and
reproduction, (3) the relationships between intelligence, creativity and visceral bodily capacities in
realising use-, exchange- ‘encounter’- (Haraway, 2008), or indeed surplus-value (Walker 2017), and
(4) the distinctions between constant and variable capital (Wadiwel 2018).

Against this backdrop, this session aims to examine the ways in which capitalist production
processes presuppose, apprehend and ultimately seek to extract value from non-human ‘vital forces’
and capacities, whether directly or via their imitation (e.g. ‘biomimicry’). Moving beyond posthumanist
interpretations of Marx’s labour theory of value (Haraway, 2008), and debates on whether
this is tenable (Kallis and Swyngedouw 2017), we invite contributions from papers which ask how
the more careful consideration of non-human ‘vital forces’ in capitalism might contribute to the
reorientation and indeed reinvigoration of both scholarly critique and political resistance to capitalist

(1) How is ‘nature’ preconceived, mapped and put to work by capital in different contexts?
What knowledges are used to identify and isolate non-human capacities and vital forces, put
them to work, and/or to imitate or enhance them? What roles do the life sciences play in
‘naturalising work’?
(2) How has non-human liveliness itself been generative or constitutive of particular modalities
of capitalist accumulation in ways that go beyond mere resistance or recalcitrance? For
instance, how might we examine the ways in which animals, plants, or other forms of nonhuman
life shape and reconfigure existing capitalist industries, from health and medicine,
through energy and agriculture, to architecture and urbanism?
(3) What ideological or moral work is performed by claims about the ‘work’ nature can do, and
its importance to particular kinds of industries? What bearings does the ‘work’ of nature,
both discursively and practically, have on human work and labour relations?
(4) Conversely, how do capitalist productions of nature—in material and semiotic forms—
generate asymmetries in which forms of life are allowed to flourish and which lose out? How
does this enable us to tell different stories of capitalist bio- and anatomo-politics than those
already on record in contemporary geographical work?
(5) What might a different analytical starting point, such as those above, means for conventional
understandings of the political economic categories with which we analyse ‘the economic’?


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Anne Lally*, , Circulatory [food] systems: Icelandic bloodmaring, reproductive technologies, and the porosity of female agricultural bodies 20 3:05 PM
Presenter Eric Hirsch*, University of Chicago, Extractive Care: Cattle, Contamination, and Climate Change Near a Peruvian Mine 20 3:25 PM
Presenter Merle Patchett*, , From Sexual Selection to Sex And The City: the Excessive Commodity Biogeographies of the Blue Bird-Of-Paradise 20 3:45 PM
Presenter Can Dalyan*, Denison University, Latent Capital: Genebanking as Investment in Climate Change Futures 20 4:05 PM
Discussant Maan Barua University of Oxford 20 4:25 PM

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