Chapter 28: Value: Economic Valuations and Environment Policy
CHAPTER 28 21/2/05 9:25 AM Page 1 28 Value: economic valuations and environmental policy Catherine Alexander If the last chapter took us out of the market-dominated sphere to hunt for notions of value in other cultures, then this chapter takes us right back in. Here, we ask some familiar anthropological questions in an unfamiliar setting, that of policy making.1 The aim is to show that bureaucrats and institutions in the developed North (and indeed those in the South who come under their sway) are also bound up in their own cosmologies that determine ideas of value. That is, bureaucratic ways of understanding, evaluating and acting on the world2 are framed by neoclassical, market-based assumptions that, on investigation, present a distinctly partial view of what is actually going on. In place of human diversity there is uniformity; in place of qualitative changes as groups become larger there is the assumption that scale can be accounted for by simple aggregation and disaggregation.3 Most astonishing is the privileging of economic transactions to the extent that the economic sphere not only appears to be autonomous, but also is frequently portrayed as subsuming social life and sometimes even the environment. Daniel Miller (1998: 187–216) suggests that the effect of using this representation or model in policy making is often to force the real into the straitjacket of the virtual. In order to highlight just how encompassing economic assumptions and methods of identifying value have become, I track them first through an ethnography of...
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