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Performing carbon’s materiality: the production of carbon offsets and the framing of exchange


  • David M Lansing


In this paper I provide a first-hand account of a trip designed to verify the existence of a carbon forestry offset in Costa Rica. In so doing, I reflect on how various actors become the stabilized calculative agents of scientists, state bureaucrats, indigenous leaders, GPS devices, trees, signs, and field reports that such trips require. In addition, I show how various articulations of these actors, and their emergent agencies, simultaneously maintains both the carbon offset as a commodity object as well as a field of action and communication that allows for such an object to be exchanged. In short, I consider the verification of an offset as a performance. Doing so, I examine the agency of some actors in this process, and account for the uneven power relations inherent in such a process. Specifically, I advance three arguments. First, the agency of actors is constituted, in part, by various calculative devices, which themselves simultaneously occupy an unstable position of being both a material object and an abstraction. Second, the normative power of the performance I witnessed derives from its relation to the abject: spaces and ways of being that are unintelligible to the logics of offsetting that nonetheless serve to further reiterate the need for an offset’s calculative frame. Third, performing an offset is a self-reflexive process, and it is through the self-reflexivity of actors involved that the qualities of ‘the forest’ emerge in ways that confound the stability of an offset commodity. In this way, the biophysical qualities of the forest are not necessarily barriers to its commodification. Instead, it is the reflexive practices inherent in performing ‘the economic’ that can serve to confound the emergence of the commodified forest. Keywords: performativity, carbon offsets, materiality, commodification, power

Suggested Citation

  • David M Lansing, 2012. "Performing carbon’s materiality: the production of carbon offsets and the framing of exchange," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 44(1), pages 204-220, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:44:y:2012:i:1:p:204-220

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    Cited by:

    1. Vijge, Marjanneke J., 2015. "Competing discourses on REDD+: Global debates versus the first Indian REDD+ project," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 38-47.
    2. Benjamin Neimark & Sango Mahanty & Wolfram Dressler, 2016. "Mapping Value in a ‘Green’ Commodity Frontier: Revisiting Commodity Chain Analysis," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 47(2), pages 240-265, March.
    3. David M. Lansing, 2014. "Unequal Access to Payments for Ecosystem Services: The Case of Costa Rica," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 45(6), pages 1310-1331, November.

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