Political Ecology and the 'Natural' Limits to Capital

Mark Tilzey


This paper seeks to address the problematic of the ‘limits to capital’ and the ‘limits to nature’ through the development of a Marxian ‘political ecology’ that draws inspiration from Marx’s treatment of human production as comprising the mutual constitution of social form and material content. Eschewing the binary of ‘social constructionism’ and ‘ecological reductionism’ that pervades orthodox treatments of ‘society’ and ‘environment’, this proposed Marxian political ecology retains the historical specificity of social systems whilst simultaneously recognizing their inescapable biophysical constitution and dependencies. This forms the basis, the paper suggests, of a theory of socio-natural dialectics that throws light on social system dynamics across their historical (political) and ecological dimensions. The development of this political ecological approach in relation to the conjoined but differentiated dynamics of capitalism and its crises is undertaken through critical engagement, inter alia, with the ‘world ecology’ framework of Moore (2010, 2011, 2015). It is argued that the ‘world ecology’ framework is reductive to the extent that it fails to sustain what is considered here to be a necessary differentiation in the unity of the socio-natural in terms of the ‘political’ (internal) and ‘biophysical’ (external) dynamics of capitalism. Through lack of a stratified ontology of socio-natural relations, Moore fails, it is argued, to specify the political nature of the ‘internal’ dynamics of capital in relation to its ecological or ‘external’ conditions of reproduction. In so doing it becomes impossible to understand the reflexive and strategic relational bases of change in, and responses to, capitalism, the latter particularly in terms of proactive and counter-hegemonic resistances to its ever-deepening socio-ecological crises.

Political ecology - world ecology - strategic relational approach - counter-hegemonic resistances