We examine the origins and development of the concept of ‘ecosystem services’ from 1950 to the present, tracing the impact of distinct epistemic communities at different historical moments on the form that the concept takes in environmental policy debates today. Our politically and historically sensitive approach (a ‘conceptual biography’) stresses the intellectual, political and strategic context in which concepts are developed and the political implications of their underlying ontological commitments concerning the fundamental nature of value (their ‘value ontologies’). Over the course of three periods (1950s–1970; 1970s–1990s; 2000-the present), we trace the origins and emergence of two epistemic communities that have been pivotal in the concept’s development, and examine the value ontologies through which they frame ecosystem services and the value of nature more broadly. We chart milestones in the debate that has unfolded between them, and the growing salience of an inclusive ‘value-pluralist’ epistemic community alongside the earlier neoclassical-infused ‘economic utilitarian’ perspective. Treating each value ontology as a form of political strategy by which academics seek to promote the value of conservation in policy debates, we conclude by considering the capacity of each to enhance reflexivity in environmental governance.

Ecosystem services, epistemic communities, nature valuation, reflexive governance, styles of engagement, value
Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning
School of Public Policy and Administration

Craig, M.P.A. (Martin P. A.), Stevenson, H. (Hayley), & Meadowcroft, J. (2019). Debating nature’s value: epistemic strategy and struggle in the story of ‘ecosystem services’. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. doi:10.1080/1523908X.2019.1677221