Conceptualising ecosystem services and implications for human nature relations

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development

Abstract: This thesis provides a trajectory over the concept of ecosystem services and discusses possible implications the concept of ecosystem services might entail for human-nature relations. Through a literature review, the thesis traces the concept’s historical origins and how it has developed since second half of the 1900´s and become mainstreamed into present day society. The thesis discerns two discursive themes; i) ecosystem services as an instrumental link between nature and society, and ii) commodification of nature within the concept of ecosystem services. Through the discursive themes, the thesis discusses how the concept provides a simplified view of the complexity inherent in nature, and argues that the current application of the concept poses a risk of excluding values that do not fit the economic setting. There are also indications of nature being viewed as a machine with substitutable parts, especially regarding commodification and substitutability within nature. Although still debated, the language of economics makes possible a translation of nature’s values to a wider audience than traditional conservation. The thesis also argues that the urban lifestyle of humans with a changing relation to nature creates a need to invent concepts like ecosystem services that better capture our “modern” instrumental relation towards nature. Ecosystem services can thus be seen as an instrumental link between humans and nature that is compatible with the economic language of society at large.

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