Commodity Frontiers and Global Capitalist Expansion: Social, Ecological and Resource Policy Implications 4th International Workshop, 6-7 December 2017

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Commodity Frontiers and Global Capitalist Expansion: Social, Ecological and Resource Policy Implications

4th International Workshop, 6-7 December 2017

Abstract Submission: 18 May 2017

Zayed University, Dubai

The transformation of the physical environment and, in turn, people’s relationship to the environment have been key processes in the emergence and consolidation of global capitalism over the past 500 years. Providing raw and intermediate materials to satisfy the voracious appetite of machines and city dwellers, the flatlands, valleys, forests, marine spaces, and mountains of the world have been transformed at astonishing and accelerating speed. This process of appropriation of the world’s ecological surpluses has come to be understood as that of shifting ‘commodity frontiers’. The two-day multi-disciplinary workshop is designed to explore the dynamics of frontier processes and how they relate to social, economic, political and ecological change in their zones of contact, with particular interest in research that explores one or more of the following issues:

  • The political economy of commodity frontier dynamics
  • The ecological impact of commodity frontier expansion on local or regional biodiversity and the implications of such environmental transformation on human populations
  • The relationship between science, technology, and state power in managing, appropriating and/or extracting resources and expanding commodity frontiers
  • The policy implications of such ecological transformation, including historical, contemporary and future strategies of resource management, conservation and sustainable development

The workshop aims to develop a comparative approach to understanding the dynamics both of commodity frontiers and the historical trajectories within their frontier zones, with particular interest in the differences/ similarities between commodity frontiers which in one way or another have had an impact on the land and people’s relationship to the land—these include frontiers with fossil fuels, minerals, agricultural commodities, natural resources, animals/ animal products or fisheries. A special panel will be devoted to examining oil frontiers in the region and beyond from a comparative perspective, with a view to reflecting on future trajectories of these commodity frontiers from an ecological, economic, social, and/or policy perspective.

The workshop invites papers from the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences, with the aim of identifying linkages and synergies between various disciplines in understanding commodity frontier dynamics. Relevant questions include: What are the drivers of commodity frontier expansion (markets, states, science, etc.)? Does a commodity frontier have an end? What are the key features of a commodity frontier and to what extent does this depend on the commodity at hand? How has commodity frontier expansion impacted local, regional and global ecologies, altered resource management/extraction/production processes and informed present day conservation strategies and future policy development? How have labor relations or land tenure patterns been transformed by commodity frontier expansion? In turn, how have local populations resisted and/or informed the trajectory of commodity frontier development? What is the relationship between commodity frontier expansion and state power?

We invite established and younger scholars, as well as activists and others outside the university system, to contribute papers on these themes. 

If interested, please send a paper abstract (250-300 words) and short CV by May 18, 2017 to

Accepted, full papers would need to be submitted by October 31, 2017

Depending on the funding, we hope to be able to cover the accommodation costs and/or airfare for all or most of the participants coming from outside of the UAE. Please indicate whether you need this kind of support when submitting your paper proposal.

The workshop is a collaboration between Zayed University, College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the international Commodity Frontiers Initiative, organised through the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam (IISH) (Ulbe Bosma), Ghent University (Eric Vanhaute), and Harvard University (Sven Beckert). Papers will be pre-circulated for all to read before the workshop. The format for each panel is that discussants will open the session with comments and questions on each of the panel papers, to which authors will then reply, before opening up the session to general discussion.