Seminar series on Economic expertise and environmental actions

Joint seminar of the Center for the Sociology of Innovation (CSI, Mines Paris–PSL, Interdisciplinary Institute on Innovation i3)

Organizers: Béatrice Cointe, Kewan Mertens, Alexandre Violle

This seminar brings together researchers who are interested in understanding how economic knowledge is produced, mobilized and contested when it comes to environmental action.

The relationship between environmental problems and economics has a long history. In the 19th century already, leading economists reflected on the management of forests, agricultural soils and even birds (Evenden, 1995), thereby contributing to the production of theoretical, practical and moral prescriptions, such as that trees be considered as a source of capital to be maximized (Vatin, 2008; Doganova, 2014). Likewise, the economic management of agricultural soils fed into Marx’s theories on technological innovation in modern societies (Foster, 2000).

Over the past 50 years, the acceleration of climate change has accompanied the multiplication environmental problems, and with them the economic knowledge and techniques to deal with those problems (Dalmedico & Aykut, 2015; Chiapello, Missemer, Pottier, 2021). For instance, economic valuation mechanisms are now used in court cases to settle pollution disputes (Fourcade, 2011), carbon markets have been created in Europe to act on corporate emissions (Mackenzie 2009; Callon, 2009; Ehrenstein & Neyland, 2021), socio-economic models are used within the IPCC to discuss action to limit climate change (Cointe, Cassen, Nadai, 2019), innovations in corporate accounting standards are used to make environmental degradation visible (Bracking, Fredriksen, Sullivan, Woodhouse, 2018), bioeconomy strategies have been developed to supersede the carbon economy (Asdal et al, 2021; Birch 2019) and quality labels to influence consumer conduct are proliferating in many markets (Laurent & Mallard, 2020).

Economics seems to be everywhere in environmental action. But how is economic expertise produced and mobilized in practice? And to what extent do environmental issues challenge and renew approaches to economics?

This interdisciplinary seminar (sociology, anthropology, history, economics, political science) seeks to map and analyse the political qualities of economic knowledge and techniques geared at steering public action. The focus will be on the ways in which use or contest economic knowledge to act on environmental issues, either by problematising them by means of economic concepts,  by creating mechanisms to transform the conduct of actors (citizens, companies, States), or by challenging non-economic problematisations that have already been stabilised in the public space.

The seminar launched in 2022/2023 will continue on the same topic in 2023/2024. It also extends a discussion initiated at the “NordicSTS conference” on the possible “environmentalization of the economy”.

Seminar details

Each seminar will feature two guest speakers who will present their work, followed by a group discussion, for a total duration of 2 hours. The seminar will be hybrid (on site/zoom). We recommend that you attend in person if possible, as this is more conducive to stimulating discussion.

The seminar will take place at the École des Mines Paris, 60 bd Saint Michel, 75006 Paris.

This seminar is open to the public upon registration.

Contact: Béatrice Cointe, Kewan Mertens or Alexandre Violle

2023-2024 Program

Friday, October 27, 2023, 11am-1pm

Renewable resource policies with Camille Rivière and Antoine Fontaine

Friday, November 10, 2023, 11am-1pm

Forest valorization with Charlotte Glinel and Nelly Parès

Friday, December 1, 2023, 11am-1pm

Land and property with Alexander Dobeson and Lise Cornilleau

Friday, January 19, 2024, 11am-1pm

Carbon offsetting with Kamilla Karhunmaa and Céline Granjou

Friday, March 1, 2024, 11am-1pm

Underground futures with Magdalena Kuchler and Bård Lahn

Friday, March 29, 2024 from 11am-1pm

Models and biodiversity with Mathilde Salin and Klaudia Prodani

Friday May 17, 2024 from 3mp-5pm

Adaptation to climate change with Leigh Johnson and Ian Gray (videoconference)

Thematic sessions scheduled in 2022-2023: topics covered

Thursday November 24, 2022, 4pm – 6pm

Environmental compensation, Benoît Dauguet (CAK) and Fanny Guillet (CESCO, MNHN)

Thursday February 2, 2023, 11am – 1pm

Energy Transitions and Planning, Antoine Missemer (CIRED) and Daniela Russ (University of Toronto, Universität Leipzig)

Thursday March 16, 2023, 11am – 1pm

Acting on Carbon, Stéphanie Barral (INRAE, LISIS) and Alice Valiergue (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique, CSO)

Friday March 31, 2023, 2pm – 4pm

Cows, François Thoreau (SPIRAL) and Bregje van Veelen (Lund University)

Thursday May 11, 2023, 11am – 1pm

Geoengineering, Sébastien Chailleux (Centre Emile Durkheim-UMR5116, Sciences Po Bordeaux) and Andreas Folkers (Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen)

Organizing team

Béatrice Cointe is a CNRS research fellow at the Center for the Sociology of Innovation (CSI). Her work explores the interactions between knowledge production, environmental issues and economic organization. She is currently studying the production of climate and energy scenarios, and how the conceptions of the economy that underpin them frame the climate challenge. She has previously worked on the emergence of renewable energy technologies, markets and policies, and on the Norwegian bioeconomy. Before joining CSI, she worked as a doctoral student and then post-doctoral researcher at the Centre International de Recherche sur l’Environnement et le Développement (CIRED), Aix-Marseille University and the TIK Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture at the University of Oslo.

Kewan Mertens is a Marie-Curie post-doctoral researcher at the Center for the Sociology of Innovation (CSI). His research project, entitled “NatUVal – Opening the black box of nature assessment” questions how environmental assessment shapes the roles and relationships between actors associated with nature park management. Kewan aims to study how management and assessment tools, such as land zoning and the use of environmental indicators, are mobilized around different Unesco reserves. Before joining CSI, Kewan completed his PhD on disaster mitigation strategies in Uganda. He then proposed to reinterpret ways in which geography may address disasters.

Alexandre Violle is a post-doctoral researcher at the EHESS Centre de Sociologie des Mouvements Sociaux. His current research project, supported by an IFRIS grant, focuses on the climate expertise of central bankers in Europe. His research interests lie at the crossroads of economic sociology, political sociology and the sociology of science and technology. He has studied the ways in which knowledge derived from finance transforms the forms of French and European public action across a variety of fields (banking regulation, energy policies).

Bibliographic references

Asdal, K., Cointe B., Hobæk B., Reinertsen H., Huse T., Morsman S., and Måløy T. (2021). ‘The good economy’: a conceptual and empirical move for investigating how economies and versions of the good are entangled. BioSocieties, online first.

Birch, K. (2019). Neoliberal Bio-Economies? The Co-Construction of Markets and Natures. Palgrave MacMillan Cham.

Bracking, S., Fredriksen, A., Sullivan, S., & Woodhouse, P. (Eds.). (2018). Valuing development, environment and conservation: creating values that matter. Routledge.

Callon, M. (2009). Civilizing markets: Carbon trading between in vitro and in vivo experiments. Accounting, organizations and society, 34(3-4), 535-548.

Chiapello, È., Missemer, A., & Pottier, A. (Eds.). (2021). Faire l’économie de l’environnement. Presses des Mines

Cointe, B., Cassen, C., & Nadai, A. (2019). Organising policy-relevant knowledge for climate action: integrated assessment modelling, the IPCC, and the emergence of a collective expertise on socioeconomic emission scenarios. Science & Technology Studies.

Dalmedico, A. D., & Aykut, S. C. (2015). Gouverner le climat: 20 ans de négociations internationales. Presses de Sciences Po.

Doganova, L. (2014). Décompter le futur: La formule des flux actualisés et le manager-investisseur. Sociétés contemporaines, 93, 67-87.

Ehrenstein, V., & Neyland, D. (2021). Economic under-determination: industrial competitiveness and free allowances in the European carbon market. Journal of Cultural Economy, 14(5), 596-611.

Evenden, M. D. (1995). The Laborers of Nature: Economic Ornithology and the Role of Birds as Agents of Biological Pest Control in North American Agriculture, ca. 1880–1930. Forest and Conservation History, 39(4), 172–183.

Foster, J. B. (2000). Marx’s ecology: Materialism and nature. NYU Press.

Fourcade, M. (2011). Cents and sensibility: Economic valuation and the nature of “nature”. American journal of sociology, 116(6), 1721-77.

Laurent, B., & Mallard, A. (Eds.). (2020). Labelling the Economy. Palgrave Macmillan.

MacKenzie, D. (2009). Making things the same: Gases, emission rights and the politics of carbon markets. Accounting, organizations and society, 34(3-4), 440-455.

Vatin, F. (2008). L’esprit d’ingénieur : pensée calculatoire et éthique économique. Revue française de socio-économie, 1(1), 131-152.