Calculating nature's worth: insights from mapping the Canadian resource economy

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This paper reflects on the development of key elements of the market infrastructure that make possible the financialization of nature and resource-based ventures. It focuses on the system of warrant that underpins scientific knowledge and the associated legal technologies that seek to configure flows of speculative capital. The paper traces the development of this infrastructure in relation to the mineral prospecting sector and the financing of ‘junior mining’ firms. An international scandal in the 1990s associated with a Canadian firm’s prospecting activities in Indonesia (Bre-X) exposed to public scrutiny the then prevailing system of public warrant by which geological uncertainty is translated into marketable financial risk. The scandal served to unmask the complex geographies of knowledge flows and truth claims that constitute this sector’s spatially distanciated regimes of metrology, valuation and financial speculation. This paper examines Canadian regulatory initiatives undertaken in the wake of the Bre-X scandal, spearheaded by the TSE/OSC Mining Standards Task Force (1997-99). Animating the Task Force was the question of how to frame the production of ‘faithful representations of nature’ within the process of making a market in shares for resource ventures (Daston and Galison 2010). This pitted mechanical approaches to objectivity, secured through the elaboration and codification of procedures and practices, against notions of objectivity constituted through trained judgement and a rule of experts. Curiously, neither approach prevailed over the other. Rather, as the paper illustrates, the new regulatory framework that emerged demonstrated an ambivalence towards the efficacy of either as the basis for justifying worth. This ambivalence about the status of stochastic probability and expert knowledge, it is argued, reflects a wider tension between modernism and liberalism, one that produced in Canada a system of technical disclosure that mobilises an entrepreneurial form of calculation that is pragmatic and situated, rather than quantifiable or abstract.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventAssociation of Canadian Studies in Ireland: 2016 Biennial Conference - National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland
Duration: 12 May 201614 Jan 2017


ConferenceAssociation of Canadian Studies in Ireland
Abbreviated titleACSI 2016

Bibliographical note

Presented paper on 'Calculating nature's worth: insights from mapping the Canadian resource economy' at a special session on 'Imagining / Managing the Eco-Nation' chaired by Professor Helen O'Neill, Centre for Development Studies, University College Dublin.


  • Canada
  • Resources
  • Mining
  • Prospecting
  • Economy
  • Governance
  • Finance
  • Regulation


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