Towards a power-sensitive and socially-informed analysis of payments for ecosystem services (PES) : addressing the gaps in the current debate
Institute of Development Policy and Management
Ecological economics. - Amsterdam
, p. 117-125
University of Antwerp
In this article, we analyse key issues in the Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) debate. We argue that, despite recent advances, PES research remains weakly theorized in social and political terms, resulting in a merely superficial understanding of the role of culture, agency, social diversity and power relations in the shaping of PES institutions and their outcomes. Building on critical insights from the social sciences, we qualify some of the common assumptions underlying current mainstream and alternative conceptualizations of PES and identify crucial topics for future research. More specifically, we explore three key challenges in current PES research, associated with prevailing tendencies (1) to assume that institutions can be designed to fit specific human-nature problems; (2) to oversimplify culture and social diversity through the apolitical concept of social capital; and (3) to conceptualize human agency, collective action, and institutional change either through overly-rational or overly-structuralist models. We argue that an expanded actor-oriented, socially-informed and power-sensitive conceptualization of PES can help generate novel insights in the power geographies underlying institutional logics, and the complex ways in which PES policies are shaped and experienced in the field.