Publication Type:Conference Paper
Source:Carbon markets and their future: A Social Science Perspective, Hamburg, Germany (2010)
Keywords:Bourdieu, Carbon, emissions, Latour, management practice, power
Low Quality Emissions?: Investigating Power Relations Inscribed in Carbon Emissions
By way of presenting ethnographic evidences from corporate practices of the conceptualisation and measurement of carbon emissions, this paper engages with the firm materiality presupposed by carbon markets - the robustness of carbon which is to be reduced. I investigate a metadata element of carbon emissions, the quality of carbon (data). It discusses how the corporate actors whose job it is to manage carbon emissions draw on, (re)configure and (re)produce those power relations through which carbon emerges into corporate existence. Employing an understanding of these actors as agents of ecological modernisation, then, the paper draws out a critique of carbon markets as an economic-technical fix.
Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork at a leading multinational in the financial services sector over a period of more than 12 months, I focus on everyday work practices as taking place in a capitalist context. It is through practical work that the presences of carbon emissions are imagined and brought into being. Actors draw on hierarchies to exercise the shaping of their emissions. Investigating the power relations involved in deciding about carbon data allows to further our understanding of how carbon markets may effect carbon realities at a global scale: Corporate carbon management practices are oriented towards the factuality of carbon markets. The mere existence of the latter co-configures the field of corporate carbon management. Thus, we discuss a prerequisite of the backbone of global green house gas mitigation efforts, i.e. the entities which gave rise to carbon markets, and question how they are assembled.
Drawing on the conceptual instruments of "capital" and "field" developed by Bourdieu, this paper constructs four fields of production and the capitals at work within them as mediating power. Drawing on Latour we find: Carbon emissions are the inscriptions produced in these fields. This kind of (arte)fact is black-boxing the distribution of capitals within the fields. The global corporate construction of carbon emissions as a stable, objective entity allows to relate to presumable equally stable certified emission reductions (CERs). Economically, then, carbon emissions constitute the demand for CERs. Low quality emissions imply that carbon markets perform poorly.
Following the practices designated to produce high quality carbon data allows to question the power relations in which and through which actors perform. This, I hope, provides a chance to better conceptualise individuals, their social and material contexts, and through that, corresponding room for manoeuvre.