Course 1/7 Alf Hornborg_World systems and ecologically unequal exchange

Uploaded on


  • Full Name Full Name Comment goes here.
    Are you sure you want to
    Your message goes here
    Be the first to comment
    Be the first to like this
No Downloads


Total Views
On Slideshare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds



Embeds 0

No embeds

Report content

Flagged as inappropriate Flag as inappropriate
Flag as inappropriate

Select your reason for flagging this presentation as inappropriate.

    No notes for slide


  • 1. World-Systems and Ecologically Unequal Exchange
    • Presentation at Advanced Course on the Analysis of Environmental Conflicts and Justice
    • Barcelona, July 1, 2010
    • Alf Hornborg, Human Ecology Division, Lund University
  • 2. A world-system perspective
    • André Gunder Frank: Dependency theory (metropole-satellite relations)
    • Immanuel Wallerstein: World-system analysis (core-periphery relations)
    • Growth and development as accumulation
    • Accumulation by one social group occurs at the expense of other social groups
  • 3. Unequal exchange
    • Arghiri Emmanuel (1972): The unequal transfer of embodied labour between nations under specific capitalist market conditions
    • Toward a more general definition: The unequal transfer of productive resources contributing to capital accumulation (regardless of type of resources, geographical scale, or mode of production)
  • 4. Capital accumulation
    • A recursive relationship between some kind of technological infrastructure and a symbolic capacity to make claims on other people’s resources
    • Presupposes rates of unequal exchange that ultimately rest on human evaluations and that guarantee a minimum net transfer of resources from one social sector to another
  • 5. Five illusions
    • 1. ’Technology’/’Economy’/’Ecology’ as unreflected, bounded categories
    • 2. Market prices as reciprocity
    • 3. Machine fetishism
    • 4. Inequalities in space as stages in time
    • 5. ’Sustainable development’ through consensus
  • 6. 2. Market prices as reciprocity
    • Are voluntary market transactions by definition equal and fair?
    • M. Godelier: unequal exchange tends to be represented as a reciprocal exchange
    • Measurable material asymmetries in net flows of biophysical resources
    • Alternative metrics, e.g. energy, matter, embodied land, embodied labor, etc.
  • 7. The White Consumer’s Burden
    • Should poorer nations be grateful for wealthier nations’ consumption of their labour and natural resources?
    • Is living extravagantly to show solidarity with the world’s poor?
    • Colonialism as charity…?
  • 8. Fetishism:
    • The mystification of unequal relations of social exchange through the attribution of autonomous agency or productivity to certain kinds of material objects, for instance money .
  • 9. 3. Machine fetishism
    • The notion that (unequal) structures of exchange (the ”economy”) are external to the constitution and operation of machines (”technology”), i.e. that the technological capacity of a given population is independent of that population’s position in a global system of resource flows .
  • 10. The global technomass and GDP
  • 11. 4. Inequalities in space perceived as stages in time
    • Are draught-animals and wood fuel elements of the past?
    • Are fossil fuels ’cheap’ now or here ?
    • A spatially restricted process of capital accumulation is presented as a temporal difference – and the highly desirable future of all nations
  • 12. 5. Sustainable development through consensus?
    • To be acceptable, pathways to sustainability should not seem too uncomfortable or provocative…?
    • Power, conflicts of interest, and unequal distribution rarely identified as scientific problems in need of analysis and research
  • 13. The zero-sum logic of ”environmental justice”
    • Epitomized by the Lawrence Summers memo (1991)
    • The World Bank should be encouraging migration of dirty industries to poor countries
    • Africa is ’underpolluted’
    • It is economically more ’efficient’ if poor people get sick than if rich people do
  • 14. The trans-disciplinary dilemma
    • Those who are most concerned about the global environment are least equipped to understand how and why it is threatened by human society, economics, and politics
    • Those who are better equipped to understand societal processes tend to be less concerned about the biophysical environment
  • 15. The idea that everything is interchangeable
    • With general-purpose money, the more people are willing to pay for a particular product, the faster will be the dissipation of resources required to produce it
    • The accelerating dissipation of resources will be rewarded with increasing amounts of resources to dissipate
  • 16. Technomass and unequal exchange
  • 17. Capital accumulation seen from outer space
  • 18. Physical Trade Balances
  • 19. Unequal exchange made invisible Physical trade balance of the EU in 1999 Source: Giljum und Hubacek 2001
  • 20. Physical trade balance of Colombia 1970-2004
  • 21. Past processes of environmental change no less politicized
    • Power inequalities are constitutive of processes of environmental change – in the past and in the present
    • Can we trace ecologically unequal exchange in the past, i.e. net flows of quantifiable resources such as food, energy, materials, embodied labor, and embodied land?
  • 22. Extractive vs. ”productive” economies
    • Imp overishment vs. material over load
    • End ogenous vs. exo genous
    End. imp. Easter Island End. over. 19th cent. London Exo. imp. Roman N. Africa Exo. over. 20th cent. Mexico
  • 23. The Industrial Revolution as time-space appropriation Commodity Volume for £1000 in 1850 Embodied labor Embodied land Raw cotton 11.84 tons 32,619 h 58.6 ha Cotton cloth 3.41 tons 4,092 h - 1 ha
  • 24. Industrialism as an illusory emancipation from land
    • Relies on energy from acreages of the past (fossil fuels) and on acreages elsewhere (ecological footprints, Borgström’s ”ghost acreages”)
    • With peaking oil and global warming, the appropriation of acreages elsewhere can be expected to intensify (cf. biofuels)
  • 25. Implications for economic theory?
    • 18th century Physiocrats: Land the only factor of production generating a net product
    • 19th century Ricardo and Marx: Labor theories of value
    • 20th century Neoclassical economics: Capital as the limiting factor
    • 21st century Post-petroleum economics: full circle?
  • 26. The return of the Physiocrats?
  • 27. Back to land?
  • 28. Global historical-political ecology: a complex research strategy
    • Understand the driving forces of human culture, economics, and politics
    • Understand the global biophysical repercussions of human behaviour
    • Understand how the power inequalities underlying global patterns of environmental change are represented as natural, justifiable, and fair