Putting forests to work? Enrolling vegetal labor in the socioecological fix of bioenergy resource-making

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Large-scale European electricity providers are increasingly replacing coal with renewable biomass wood pellets produced from working forests of the U.S. South. Adopting a posthumanist interpretation of the labor theory of value, this paper argues that wood pellet manufacturing constitutes an attempt by energy capital to substitute the ‘dead labor’ of prehistoric plants, embodied in fossil fuels, with the living, ‘vegetal labor’ of forests of the present-day. More specifically, the paper contends that by capitalizing on the ‘hybrid labor’ regimes through which the real subsumption of nature in working forests is achieved, energy interests seek to position wood pellets not merely as a viable alternative resource for electricity generation, but as a socioecological fix for capitalist crisis linked to climate change in the European energy sector. The legitimacy of this apparent fix depends, however, on normalizing a view of forests not as gradually accumulating carbon sinks, but as high-throughput carbon conveyors. Wood pellet manufacturing thus has important implications for conceptual understandings of the role played by labor—both human and vegetal—in efforts to institute socioecological fixes, and also for practical efforts to challenge the inherently productivist logics of expanding forest-based bioenergy systems, whether rooted in the U.S. South or elsewhere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141–156
Number of pages17
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2020


  • bioenergy
  • real subsumption of nature
  • socioecological fix
  • vegetal labor
  • working forests


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