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Towards a Conception of Socially Useful Nature

This article provides some theoretical and methodological reflections on the way in which the relationship between humans and nature has been captured in dominant forms of valuation of nature.It makes a critique of these methods and highlights the need to articulate a concept of “socially useful nature.” It uses this concept to interrogate dominant perspectives in the contemporary debates and methods on valuing nature from a Marxian perspective and shows the limitations of the tools and conceptual frameworks based on the principle of the commodification of nature in and for the market. In the context of this general theoretical framework, the article considers the methods promoted by the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting in valuation of nature and shows its inadequacy in arriving at a non-commoditised conception of “socially useful nature.”

The alienation of human beings from their inorganic body (that is, nature) has been the central focus of the study of capitalist accumulation and production. It has been encompassed in the concept of “estranged labour.” As recent scholarly works show, the phenomenon of “estranged labour” occurs when humans are alienated from themselves, that is, through their separation from the product of their labour on the one hand and with nature (or the separation from their inorganic body which they were free to use in order to fulfil their inner needs as the human species) on the other (Burkett 1999; Foster 2000). As Marx wrote,

In estranging from man (1) nature, and (2) himself, his own active functions, his life activity, estranged labour estranges the species from man. It changes for him the life of the species into a means of individual life. First it estranges the life of the species and individual life, and secondly it makes individual life in its abstract form the purpose of the life of the species, likewise in its abstract and estranged form. (Marx 1959 [1844]: 31; emphasis as in original)

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Updated On : 16th Sep, 2019

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