UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Making markets, making biodiversity : understanding global biodiversity politics Dempsey, Jessica Anne


Pricing and market exchange, we are now often told, are the only routes through which biological diversity can be saved. The objective of this dissertation is to examine the material-semiotic processes and networks by which a kind of ‘economized’, and even at times, ‘entrepreneurial nature’ comes to be. I ask: how did biodiversity become entangled in economic rationalities and market calculations? What are the circuits of knowledge and power producing biodiversity in this way? What calculative devices, methodologies and policies are created, or envisioned as necessary to make biodiversity conservation economic? And what are the implications, especially for the kinds of nature produced? To answer these questions, I study several ‘circuits of power and knowledge’ through which biodiversity is rendered visible, legible and especially economically calculable within global environmental governance. Not taking the subject of my thesis for granted, I begin by examining the rise of biodiversity in the 1980s, and its entanglements in notions of human security and as a source of exchange value, especially for biotechnology related applications. With this foundation, I go on to examine the Beijer Institute biodiversity programme, where, in the early 1990s, leading economists and ecologists met and developed a consensus on ‘the problem of biodiversity’, a consensus that is steeped in economic rationalities and methodologies. The rest of the dissertation focuses on very contemporary ‘circuits’ wherein ecologists, economists, NGOs, international institutions, and private firms attempt to render biodiversity economic, and, in some cases, profitable. This includes an examination of the rise of ecosystem service frameworks and models focused on weighing ‘trade-offs’ between different environmental management policies, attempts to produce biodiversity loss as a ‘material risk’ (meaning impacts on the bottom line calculations of firms), debates over how to make biodiversity markets, and intergovernmental negotiations focused on developing regulated market-like mechanisms that could finally achieve ‘green development’. In each of these cases I focus on how biodiversity is made visible and legible for governance, which means focusing on the conceptual apparatus, but also the calculative devices that quantify and value biodiversity and ecosystem changes.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International