Commodification of nature  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The commodification of nature is an area of research within critical environmental studies that is concerned with the ways in which natural entities and processes are made exchangeable through the market, and the implications thereof.

Drawing upon the work of Karl Marx, Karl Polanyi, James O’Connor and David Harvey, this area of work is normative and critical, based in Marxist geography and political ecology. Theorists use a commodification framing in order to contest the perspectives of "market environmentalism," which sees marketization as a solution to environmental degradation. The environment has been a key site of conflict between proponents of the expansion of market norms, relations and modes of governance and those who oppose such expansion. Critics emphasize the contradictions and undesirable physical and ethical consequences brought about by the commodification of natural resources (as inputs to production and products) and processes (environmental services or conditions).

Most researchers who employ a commodification of nature framing invoke a Marxian conceptualization of commodities as "objects produced for sale on the market" that embody both use and exchange value. Commodification itself is a process by which goods and services not produced for sale are converted into an exchangeable form. It involves multiple elements, including privatization, alienation, individuation, abstraction, valuation and displacement.

As capitalism expands in breadth and depth, more and more things previously external to the system become “internalized,” including entities and processes that are usually considered "natural." Nature, as a concept, however, is very difficult to define, with many layers of meaning, including external environments as well as humans themselves. Political ecology and other critical conceptions draw upon strands within Marxist geography that see nature as "socially produced," with no neat boundary separating the "social" from the "natural." Still, the commodification of entities and processes that are considered natural is viewed as a "special case" based on nature’s biophysical materiality, which "shape[es] and condition[s] trajectories of commodification."

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