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Realizing Carbon's Value: Discourse and Calculation in the Production of Carbon Forestry Offsets in Costa Rica

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This article examines the relation between discourse and value in the production of a carbon forestry offset project among indigenous smallholders in Costa Rica. By analyzing a pivotal cost–benefit calculation that changed the trajectory of the project, this article makes two principal claims. First, the intelligibility of the calculation is grounded in a discursive formation that is emergent from a history of development projects in the region, where particular ways of speaking about the relation between indigenous bodies and agriculture have allowed carbon's commodification to emerge as a desirable project. Second, the calculations resulted in quantified representations of space that were necessary for the offset to become useful within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol. In this case, the forestry offset's use value derived from quantified representations of agricultural space; a process that opened some forms of land use for receiving carbon while foreclosing on others.

Keywords: Costa Rica; agrarian change; carbon offsets; development; neoliberalism; value

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography and Environmental Systems, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD, USA;, Email:

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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