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Life for sale? The politics of lively commodities
Life for sale? The politics of lively commodities
Rosemary-Claire Collard, Jessica Dempsey
December 4, 2013
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Source: Environment and Planning A, 45(11) 2682 – 2699

A publication in Enviornment and Planning A, co-authored by Rosemary-Claire Collard and Jessica Dempsey, with support from the Liu Scholar Program.

Abstract. When so many facets of nonhuman life are commodified daily with little challenge, this paper looks to shed light on what is objectionable about commodifying nonhuman life. As a contribution in this direction, we undertake a comparative examination of the formation of two different but equally lively, and international, commodities: exotic pets and ecosystem carbon. In this paper we first set out to understand what characteristics of life matter in the production of the commodity. We argue that a particular mode of value-generating life predominates in each commodity circuit: in exotic pet trade, an individualized, ‘encounterable’ life; in ecosystem services, an aggregate, reproductive life. Second, we find that hierarchies between humans and other beings are highly generative in the formation and effects of lively commodities. On one hand, these hierarchies cast nonhumans in a disposable state that is integral to the functioning of exotic pet trade; on the other hand, these hierarchies are partly what ecosystem services are designed to address. Nevertheless, we find that reproduction of uneven species geographies is at work in both economies. The degree and nature of effect on the material conditions of nonhuman lives is, however, distinct, and our conclusion calls for greater attention to these differences.

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