Ecosystem services as technology of globalization: On articulating values in urban nature

Henrik Ernstson, Sverker Sörlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper demonstrates how ecosystem services can be viewed and studied as a social practice of value articulation. With this follows that when ecosystem services appear as objects of calculated value in decision-making they are already tainted by the social and cannot be viewed as merely reflecting an objective biophysical reality. Using urban case studies of place-based struggles in Stockholm and Cape Town, we demonstrate how values are relationally constructed through social practice. The same analysis is applied on ecosystem services. Of special interest is the TEEB Manual that uses a consultancy report on the economic evaluation of Cape Town's 'natural assets' to describe a step-by-step method to catalog, quantify and price certain aspects of urban nature. The Manual strives to turn the ecosystem services approach into a transportable method, capable of objectively measuring the values of urban nature everywhere, in all cities in the world. With its gesture of being universal and objective, the article suggests that the ecosystem services approach is a technology of globalization that de-historicizes and de-ecologizes debates on urbanized ecologies, effectively silencing other-and often marginalized-ways of knowing and valuing. The paper inscribes ecosystem services as social practice, as part of historical process, and as inherently political. A call is made for critical ethnographies of how ecosystem services and urban sustainability indicators are put into use to change local decision-making while manufacturing global expertise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-284
Number of pages11
JournalEcological Economics
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


  • Actor-Network Theory (ANT)
  • ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability
  • New Public Management (NPM)
  • Postpolitical
  • The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)
  • Urban nature protection


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