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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Industrial dynamics on the commodity frontier: Managing time, space and form in mining, tree plantations and intensive aquaculture

Banoub, Daniel; Bridge, Gavin; Bustos, Beatriz; Ertör, Irmak; González Hidalgo, Marien; de los Reyes, Julie Ann


Research in political ecology and agrarian political economy has shown how commodity frontiers are constituted through the appropriation and transformation of nature. This work identifies two broad processes of socio-metabolism associated with commodity frontiers: the spatial extension of nature appropriation, via expanding territorial claims to the control and use of natural resources and associated acts of dispossession (commodity-widening); and the intensification of appropriation at existing sites, through socio-technical innovation and the growing capitalisation of production (commodity-deepening). While sympathetic, we have reservations about reducing frontier metabolism to either one or the other of these processes. We argue for more grounded examinations of how non-human nature is actively reconstituted at commodity frontiers, attuned to the diverse and specific ways in which socio-ecological processes are harnessed to dynamics of accumulation. To achieve this, we compare strategies of appropriation in three sectors often associated with the commodity frontier: gold mining, tree plantations and intensive aquaculture. In doing so, we bring research on capitalism as an ecological regime into conversation with work on the industrial dynamics of ‘nature-facing’ sectors. By harnessing the analytical categories of time, space and form adopted by research on industrial dynamics, we (i) show how strategies of commodity-widening and commodity-deepening are shaped in significant ways by the biophysical characteristics of these sectors; and (ii) identify a third strategy, beyond commodity-widening and commodity-deepening, that involves the active reconstitution of socio-ecological systems – we term this ‘commodity-transformation’.


Capitalist natures; commodification; forests; mining; aquaculture

Published in

Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space
2021, Volume: 4, number: 4, pages: 1533-1559