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Transcending the metabolic rift: a theory of crises in the capitalist world-ecology

Transcending the metabolic rift: a theory of crises in the capitalist world-ecology The theory of metabolic rift is among the most dynamic perspectives in critical environmental studies today. This essay argues that the problem with the metabolic rift perspective is not that it goes too far, but that it does not go far enough. I take a ‘use and transcend’ approach that takes metabolic rift theory as an indispensable point of departure in building a unified theory of capitalist development – one that views the accumulation of capital, the pursuit of power, and the production of nature as differentiated moments within the singularity of historical capitalism. My response unfolds through two related arguments. First, the theory of metabolic rift, as elaborated by Foster, Clark, and York, is grounded in a Cartesian binary that locates biophysical crises in one box, and accumulation crises in another. This views biophysical problems as consequences of capitalist development, but not constitutive of capitalism as a historical system. The second part of this essay moves from critique to synthesis. Drawing out the value-theoretical implications of the metabolic rift – through which capitalism's greatest contradiction becomes the irremediable tension between the ‘economic equivalence’ and the ‘natural distinctiveness’ of the commodity (Marx) – I illuminate the possibilities for a unified theory of capitalist development and crisis over the longue durée. This is the theory of capitalism as world-ecology, a perspective that joins the accumulation of capital and the production of nature in dialectical unity. This perspective begins from the premise that capitalism does not act upon nature so much as develop through nature–society relations. Capitalism does not have an ecological regime; it is an ecological regime. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Journal of Peasant Studies Taylor & Francis

Transcending the metabolic rift: a theory of crises in the capitalist world-ecology

The Journal of Peasant Studies , Volume 38 (1): 46 – Jan 1, 2011
46 pages

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References (209)

Publisher
Taylor & Francis
Copyright
Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN
1743-9361
eISSN
0306-6150
DOI
10.1080/03066150.2010.538579
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

The theory of metabolic rift is among the most dynamic perspectives in critical environmental studies today. This essay argues that the problem with the metabolic rift perspective is not that it goes too far, but that it does not go far enough. I take a ‘use and transcend’ approach that takes metabolic rift theory as an indispensable point of departure in building a unified theory of capitalist development – one that views the accumulation of capital, the pursuit of power, and the production of nature as differentiated moments within the singularity of historical capitalism. My response unfolds through two related arguments. First, the theory of metabolic rift, as elaborated by Foster, Clark, and York, is grounded in a Cartesian binary that locates biophysical crises in one box, and accumulation crises in another. This views biophysical problems as consequences of capitalist development, but not constitutive of capitalism as a historical system. The second part of this essay moves from critique to synthesis. Drawing out the value-theoretical implications of the metabolic rift – through which capitalism's greatest contradiction becomes the irremediable tension between the ‘economic equivalence’ and the ‘natural distinctiveness’ of the commodity (Marx) – I illuminate the possibilities for a unified theory of capitalist development and crisis over the longue durée. This is the theory of capitalism as world-ecology, a perspective that joins the accumulation of capital and the production of nature in dialectical unity. This perspective begins from the premise that capitalism does not act upon nature so much as develop through nature–society relations. Capitalism does not have an ecological regime; it is an ecological regime.

Journal

The Journal of Peasant StudiesTaylor & Francis

Published: Jan 1, 2011

Keywords: capitalism as world-ecology; environmental sociology; world-systems analysis; environmental history; political ecology

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