Biodiversity offsets: political markets

Earlier this month I published an article with my colleague Dr Jennifer Ferreira in the Review of Social Economy, titled Political markets? Politics and economics in the emergence of markets for biodiversity offsets. It is a companion piece to the 2017 paper in the Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal.

RSEIn this paper, Jennifer and I consider the problem of how markets come to exist. Specifically, we address the relationship between political drivers of market creation and the role of economics ideas and concepts in making markets come about.  We identify two broad concepts of how these two drivers interact from the literature. Broadly:

  • Mediation: economic ideas create markets, politics determines the specifics;
  • Marketisation: markets are political projects, economics provides only the rationale.

By analysing the creation of markets for biodiversity offsets in the UK and the US, we conclude that the mediation hypothesis is a better descriptor of what actually takes place.

We really enjoyed writing this paper. We feel it tackles an important question in terms how governance mechanisms com about, and the role of ideas, discourses and politics in the process of market creation.

The paper can be found here.

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The corporation as AI

Here is a curio for you: The science fiction author Charles Stross delivering a keynote speech at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig, December 2017.

I am a great fan of science fiction in general, and of Charlie Stross’ work in particular. He is one of the highest exponents of what you might want to call ‘postcyberpunk‘. His work interrogates how economics and political forces shape our world, often with a strongly critical view. It’s the apocalypse beat, but fun.

For me, the most intriguing issue in the keynote is the idea of the corporation as a (slow-moving) AI. He bases this idea on 4 characteristics shared by corporations and AIs:

  • They can be legally recognised as ‘individual entities’;
  • They have goals;
  • They operate in pursuit of those goals;
  • They have a life-cycle.

I am pretty sure you couldn’t build an academic paper out of that analogy, but it allows Stross to establish a parallel between one of canonical thought experiments on AI, the paperclip maximiser (by which AI becomes an existential threat to society) and corporations as maximisers. The argument is familiar to anyone who has taken a critical look at the basics of economic models, which see companies as profit maximisers. It is a call for regulation and limits to be imposed, for the sake of societal wellbeing.

Here is the abstract of the speech:

We’re living in yesterday’s future, and it’s nothing like the speculations of our authors and film/TV producers. As a working science fiction novelist, I take a professional interest in how we get predictions about the future wrong, and why, so that I can avoid repeating the same mistakes. Science fiction is written by people embedded within a society with expectations and political assumptions that bias us towards looking at the shiny surface of new technologies rather than asking how human beings will use them, and to taking narratives of progress at face value rather than asking what hidden agenda they serve.

In this talk, author Charles Stross will give a rambling, discursive, and angry tour of what went wrong with the 21st century, why we didn’t see it coming, where we can expect it to go next, and a few suggestions for what to do about it if we don’t like it.

You can read a transcription of the keynote on Charlie’s blog, Antipope.

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A Lecture on Case Studies

Every year I deliver a number of sessions on the Case Study method. Or maybe methods. Or maybe… let’s not get there.

The session is targeted at post-graduates (MSc, PhD, DBS) in the Faculty of Business and Law at Coventry University, and there is another occurrence tomorrow morning. Here is the plan for the session:

cs session

The idea is to introduce students to the idea that case studies are the de facto mode of enquiry in the social sciences, as it allows researchers to understand issues in context. We also look into how to structure successful enquiry using case studies, and how to link results back to ‘real life’, whatever that is*.

A bit of a mouthful, but I also make jokes about coffee during the session.

I very much enjoy delivering this session. It keeps my teaching skills sharp, and allows me to help new researchers structuring their one research. It’s a win-win scenario, just as you want teaching to be.


*I am not advocating any sort of red-pill theory, only that we all contribute to building real life every day.

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Making dumpster diving legit

Not everything that individuals, companies or other groups do is acceptable to others. We all make social judgements about the legitimacy of others’ actions. This concept of legitimacy is something I have been working for a while now, and I think it holds promise in understanding some of the institutional challenges to issues such as promoting sustainable lifestyles.

One interesting example is discussed in a recent paper by Johanna F. Gollnhofer, in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.

The author discusses the issue of dumpster diving by activists seeking to reduce food waste. Youtube is choking with examples. Here is one:

I have to confess, the idea makes me immediately uncomfortable. It brings up images of destitution, but also of contaminated food and of invading others’ private spaces. It turns out there are also laws preventing dumpster diving, whatever the reasons for it.

All of this suggests that the practice of dumpster diving is broadly seen as illegitimate. What Gollnhofer’s paper does is show how activists went about legitimising it, by collaborating with other stakeholders, reframing what the practice means, and structuring institutions which back up the collection of food which would otherwise be wasted.


Image source

This is a really interesting paper, which clearly demonstrates how even practices which individuals find socially illegitimate can be made acceptable. We need more of these as we transition to a more sustainable future.


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A lecture on cryptocurrencies

Back in March I was invited to deliver a session to an undergraduate module on International Business. I thought this was a good opportunity to introduce the students to the world of cryptocurrencies. Here is the outline of the session:

CryptoI found this a very useful opportunity to set down some ideas about my ongoing interest in the world of cryptocurrencies. In particular, I prepared a section dedicated to the problem of identifying use cases beyond hodl. I have said before that I am unsure about what these technologies are actually for, but that doesn’t mean the use cases aren’t out there.

The students seemed keen on the topic as well. There is clear interest in the cryptocurrencies field.

Oh, and I did manage to sneak in a couple of Dogecoin gags, so that was fun.

y6af1iqI really need to find time to write more on this cryptocurrencies!

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Delivering sustainable and inclusive regional economic development

As mentioned last week, today (10th April 2018) the ReSSI team is delivering a workshop to discuss the findings and policy implications of the findings of the ReSSI project to stakeholders in the West Midlands. This includes Coventry City Council, the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and others.

The workshop will include the launch of our stakeholder report:

The report was co-authored by myself and my Coventry University colleagues involved in the project – Prof Stewart MacNeill, Dr Kevin Broughton, Dr Jennifer Ferreira, Ms Kate Broadhurst and Prof Nigel Berkeley.

You can find the original ReSSI report – as well as all its technical, scientific and case study annexes – in the ESPON website.

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Regional Strategies for Sustainable and Inclusive Development – Report

Apologies for the long silence. I have been away on paternity leave, after the arrival of baby Ferreira Mk II. It has been, in turn, a wonderful, exhausting and exhilarating couple of months. Our second little Research Assistant is ready to start tackling the thorny issues of how we construct economies, economic actors and economic objects. Or she will be, after she has her nap.


In terms of work, the ReSSI project team has submitted the final report to the project funder (ESPON), who reviewed the findings and accepted the conclusions. As mentioned before, this report builds on the interim deliveries to produce a series of policy recommendations for local and regional authorities in Europe. You can find the final report, as well as the methodological, conceptual and case annexes on the ESPON website.

ReSSI Final

The project involved analysing how very different stakeholders (ranging from local to regional authorities) can promote sustainable and inclusive development in their territories. We found a wide variety of approaches, which can complicate life in terms of how to offer specific policy suggestions.

Our answer to this was to produce a framework which characterises economic development initiatives along scope (does the project aim to develop all the territory, or does it focus on specific sectors of activity?) and the means used to pursue the objectives (do stakeholders have funding and regulatory power, or do they rely on communication and alliance-building?). We think this offers great insights. More on this in a future post.

We have also analysed the post-Brexit regional financing landscape, which is strongly impacted by the ongoing review of the objectives of cohesion funding. It is a complex issue, and was not at the forefront of our objectives, but interestingly we found that local and regional stakeholder across all cases felt the same needs. Again, this is an issue that this blog will return to in the future.

We are in the exciting phase of communicating our findings to the stakeholders. Next week, the Coventry University team has an exciting workshop lined up with Coventry City Council. This workshop will also involve the launch of a condensed report for policymakers, which packs findings and policy suggestions in what we hope is a more readable format. That report will be made available on this blog on the 10th May 2018, to coincide with the workshop.

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