‘Land and resource grabbing is hard work’: Scientific labour and metrological regimes of biodiversity offsetting in Madagascar

Authors: Benjamin Neimark*,
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Human-Environment Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: Labour, Precarious work, Land and green grabs, Local knowledge, Extractives
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Land and resource grabbing is hard work. From the boardrooms of multinationals to policy halls of development donors, it is clear that significant effort is put into mapping, delineating and categorising land and nature for commodification and subsequent financialisation. Yet, less understood are the ‘metrological regimes’ constructed from historically appropriated scientific labour and local knowledge equally vital to the expansion and legitimisation of the global ‘grabbing economy’. As I suggest, ‘grabbing’ is a diverse practice of exclusion and dispossession coming in many forms - from large-scale extractives to green energy and bioprospecting to biodiversity offsetting - albeit a few studies, much less work addresses the role of scientifically-based labour in the global south and its historical contribution to the global phenomenon. Our framework for understanding labour in the grabbing economy differentiates between a managerial class of workers we call the proficians, with that of the local low-paid ‘ecological precarious or eco-precariat. I use a case of the Ambatovy nickel and cobalt mine in Madagascar to demonstrate how late-capital production of biodiversity offsets is made possible by a host of scientific labourers – both Malagasy and international - transforming some of the dirtiest extractive practices into green commodities produced under social and economic development imaginaries of participation and sustainable growth. Moving forward, we discuss ways that this framework can be applied to a diverse array of cases of the grabbing economy across the global south and beyond.

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