UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Transforming commodification : sustainability and the regulation of production and consumption networks Quastel, Noah


This thesis analyzes the emergence in the 1990s and 2000s of novel forms of ‘green goods’ or ‘sustainable commodities’. Particular goods come in many forms and include fair trade coffee, certified wood, ethical investment funds, or higher density housing. They represent examples of how sustainability has emerged as a paradigm for the regulation of production and consumption networks. The thesis provides a survey of geographical and interdisciplinary work in commodity studies and suggests sustainable commodities challenges traditional geographical theories of commodification and commodity regulation. The thesis offers a survey of theories of regulation that can apply to global and local production and consumption networks and suggests the use of Strategic Relational Cultural Political Economy as a theory of regulation. The thesis includes four case studies that vary as to type of commodity and type of regulation. The first considers one of the first global certification systems -- the dolphin-safe label for tuna and which linked Thailand to California. The second concerns corporate social responsibility in foreign direct investment in bauxite (a core component in aluminum), linking a Montreal based aluminum company to mine sites in Orissa, India. The third case study concerns a domestic commodity under traditional state regulation -- that of inner city housing under urban sustainability and Smart Growth zoning initiatives in Vancouver, Canada. The fourth case study also considers housing in Vancouver but concerns the relationship between housing, neighbourhood change and rezoning initiatives outside of the urban core. The thesis concludes by showing how the case studies show the applicability of Strategic Relational Cultural Political Economy: Each study indicates a way in which environmental policies and sustainability contribute to a spatio-temporal and institutional fix for a production and consumption network.In each of the case studies, the expansion of capitalist processes involved a contradictory and conflict laden relationship with extra-economic, non-capitalist social and environmental processes. While this created societal pushback, the result was a process of negotiation and compromise which modestly incorporated civil society concern but was also protective of existing economic processes and firm market position.

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