Archive for ‘August, 2016’

Cartesian Dualism and Capitalism


Jason Moore (2011) introduces a broad theoretical framework for understanding Capitalism, not so much as a dominant world economy, but as a ‘socio-ecological’ relationship that he calls a ‘world ecology’. Moore states “Capitalism does not develop upon global nature, so much as it emerges through the messy and contingent relations of humans with the rest of nature” (p. 108). One of the main thrusts of this argument is to break down the Cartesian model that sets up a false dichotomy between society and nature. As such, the economy is not seen as an independent institution, but one that is integrated into a broader ecology and host of interactions between human and non-human nature. Moore provides this theoretical framework at a global scale trying to understand the integration of the global economy into larger planetary processes.

Tim Ingold’s work also explicitly confronts a Cartesian/Dualist model and has been very influential as he explores local perceptions of the environment, particularly in what he calls the “Dwelling Approach” (2000). In this approach, Ingold calls out the Cartesian model as a flawed ontology, however approaches the issue with a more localized anthropological perspective trying to understand how humans perceive and interact in their environments. As such, I am curious to explore how Moore’s broader framework might integrate such a localized anthropological approach.

In exploring Moore’s work further I came across an interview conducted after the release of his book “Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital” (2015a). In the interview he was challenged to define how his approach is different from other strategies for breaking down this Cartesian dualism. Moore sees his work as an extension of work that has already been done, but questions “how do you move from a philosophy that says humans are a part of nature into writing stories about the modern world? And what kind of impact does that movement from philosophy to history have on our methodological frames and conceptual premises?” (2015b). Exploring Moore’s philosophical approach, and using it as a basis for understanding Ingold’s musings over how humans perceive and interact with the bio-physical world will create space to ontologically ground future field work.

Why are such musings critical to societal-environment relations? There is a history of societies positioning themselves as somehow separate from nature. As such, particular worldviews develop that fail to develop a proper environmental ethic, viewing nature as something to be harnessed and defeated, rather than something to be cared for. Such instrumental and anthropocentric thinking drives a particular ontology that fails to account for the dependency that humans have on thriving ecosystems.

Ingold, T. (2000). The Perception of the Environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London and New York: Routledge.

Moore, J. (2011). Ecology, Capital, and the Nature of our Times: Accumulation & Crisis in the Capitalist World-Ecology. Journal of World-Systems Research, 17 (1): 107-146.

Moore, J. (2015a). Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso.

Moore, J. (2015b, December 3). New Books in Environmental Studies [Podcast Interview]. Retrieved from

Spatial Fixation in Bhutan

A number of researchers have reflected on Harvey’s (1982) concept of the ‘spatial fix’ in which Capitalism seeks new frontiers of accumulation. This spatial fix can be manifested in both new spaces, but also in structural changes that allow new opportunities for accumulation. However, the ‘fix’ should only be seen as temporary, as the strategy is not able to deal with the contradiction inherent to Capitalism, in that continual growth is being promoted by the use of finite resources (Büscher & Fletcher, 2015).

In terms of research in Bhutan, the spatial fix concept has application both in terms of physical space as well as the ‘Green Economy’ discourse. Bhutan has often been orientalized as ‘the last Shangri La’ and has served as the subject of western imagineries promoting much interest in Bhutan’s virgin territory as the age of exploration has come to a close. While Bhutan has predominately operated as an isolated state, this has served well to protect both cultural and ecological uniqueness from expanding capitalist markets that tend to be consumptive in nature. However, non-consumptive forms of capitalism have taken root in the kingdom, very much in line with the Green Economy, and what Buscher & Fletcher (2015) refer to as ‘roll-back’ strategies. This is exemplified in recent policies related to Protected Areas in which National Parks must seek strategies to ‘fund themselves’ through Ecotourism type strategies. As such, the Royal Government, as a cautious player in globalizing forces, has also created avenues for forms of accumulation to take root in what could be considered a spatial fix of the larger Capitalist agenda, which is constantly seeking new frontiers as it approaches material limitations.

In addition to territorial spaces, the concept of the ‘spatial fix’ is also useful for analysing the Gross National Happiness (GNH) discourse. GNH in many ways reflects the ‘Green Economy’ discourse and can be seen as an extension, and further greening, of Sustainable Development. The 4 pillars that serve as the base to GNH remarkably resemble the pillars of Sustainable Development as they seek 1) Environmental Conservation 2) Cultural Preservation 3) Socio-Economic Development and 4) Good Governance. In many ways GNH can be seen as a cultural adaptation of the Sustainable Development concept, or a reframing in terms of Buddhist values, and is perhaps just another of Tienhaara’s (2014) varieties of ‘Green Economies’ that find common ground with Capitalism. With the ‘spatial fix’ in mind, the GNH discourse can be evaluated in terms of how it further promotes a capitalist style agenda. However, Shear’s (2014) work stands as word of caution to a purely negative critique. The ‘Green Economy’ and GNH discussions should not be seen as destined spaces for reinforcing hegemonic capitalist values, but should also be seen as spaces where imaginaries come into play and have room to explore alternatives beyond capitalism. In this framing, more productive explorations can be made into the possibilities that GNH creates for conceptualizing new economic structures.

Büscher, B. and Fletcher, R. (2015). Accumulation by Conservation. New Political Economy, 20(2): 273-298.

Harvey, D. (1982). The Limits of Capital. Oxford.

Shear, B.W. (2014). Making the green economy: politics, desire, and economic possibility. Journal of Political Ecology, 12: 194-209.

Tienhaara, K. (2014). Varieties of green capitalism: economy and environment in the wake of the global financial crisis. Environmental Politics, 23(2): 187-204.