Scott Prudham Home Page
Department of Geography & Program in Planning and Centre for EnvironmentEditor, Geoforum
Vice-President, Chief Negotiator University of Toronto Faculty Association
Office # 5007, Sidney Smith Hall
Research Interests and Projects
My research interests lie at the intersection of a critical, pluralist political economy on the one hand, and the dynamics of environmental change on the other. I am particularly interested in the capitalism-nature nexus, and thus in questions concerning how the distinct political and economic character of capitalism shapes and is shaped by environmental change and the politics of environmental justice. I think of this interest in succinct terms as a political ecology of capitalism, but of course that leads to the immediate questions “what is political ecology?” and “what is capitalism?”. These are indeed questions of interest to me, and to the graduate students I tend to work with. They are also questions that are explored in my graduate seminar offered through the Centre for Environment (ENV 1444) entitled “Capitalist Nature”.
These general interests take more specific forms and my work tends to have an empirical dimension to it. I am particularly interested in the ways in which discrete (or ostensibly discrete) elements of biophysical nature (including human and non-human life) are produced, circulated, exchanged, and come to be understood or take on meaning as commodities. Again, succinctly, exactly how is it that nature is commodified and with what attendant political and ecological consequences? In what ways are such tendencies ever complete, and how and why are they advanced but also reversed? What are the limits and contradictions of the commodification of nature? Necessarily, these interests find both theoretical and empirical expression. Some general insights into the dynamics of commodification (literally the ways in which commodities are produced, circulated, exchanged, and engaged within a wider social context) are important in order to elucidate general or systemic tendencies. On the other hand, it is the particular material and semiotic properties of specific commodities (or the things that are being commodified) that helps make processes of commodification socially, spatially, and ecologically uneven, problematic, and worthy of research and action.
I have an ongoing specific research program concerning the historical and contemporary dynamics of industrial and alternative forestry regimes in western North America. I also have a longstanding interest in the commercialization of new biotechnologies, including the social regulation of genetically modified organisms. This includes the development and extension of private property rights over life forms. And I have a multi-faceted interest in the development of markets and market-like mechanisms as forms of environmental regulation within the context of a more general neoliberal turn in environmental policy making over the course of the last 30-40 years.
I teach several different courses at the University of Toronto. Fixtures include:
- JGE 331 Resource and Environmental Theory, a course offered jointly through the Department of Geography and the Centre for Environment. Then most recent course syllabus can be found here and the most recent schedule of topics and readings here.
- ENV 1444 Capitalist Nature, a graduate seminar offered through the Centre for Environment but which can also be taken as an “internal” course by geography and planning students. The most recent course syllabus is available here.
View my cv here
Links to some journal article publications (in published form where copyright controls allow, otherwise as uncorrected proofs):
- Timber and town (Antipode 1998; direct access via this link)
- Industrial dynamics and the problem of nature; refs (Society and Natural Resources 2001 v14: pp. 555-570)
- Looking to Oregon: Comparative challenges to forest policy reform and sustainability in British Columbia and the US Pacific Northwest (Published in BC Studies, Summer 2001; p. 130)
- Downsizing nature: managing risk and knowledge economies through production subcontracting in the Oregon logging sector (Environment and Planning A 2002, v34, pp. 145- 166)
- Taming trees: Capital, science, and nature in Pacific Slope tree improvement (Annals of the Association of American Geographers 2003 v93(3): p. 636-656)
- Poisoning the well: neoliberalism and the contamination of municipal water in Walkerton, Ontario, (Geoforum 2004 v35: pp. 343–359)
- Neoliberal nature and the nature of neoliberalism (Geoforum 2004 v35: pp. 275-283 with James McCarthy)
- Making the market “safe” for biotechnology: the case of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee (Studies in Political Economy 2006 v78(Autumn): pp. 145-175 )
- Sustaining sustained yield: class, politics, and post-war forest regulation in British Columbia (Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2007, v25, pages 258-283)
- The Fictions of autonomous invention: Accumulation by dispossession, commodification and life patents in Canada (Antipode 2007 v39(3): pp. 406-429)
- Tall among the trees: Organizing against globalist forestry in rural British Columbia (Journal of Rural Studies 2008 v24: pp182-196)