A Socio‐legal Analysis of an Actor‐world: The Case of Carbon Trading and the Clean Development Mechanism

AuthorEmilie Cloatre,Nick Wright
Publication Date01 March 2012
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 76±92
A Socio-legal Analysis of an Actor-world: The Case of
Carbon Trading and the Clean Development Mechanism
Emilie Cloatre* and Nick Wright**
This article reviews the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development
Mechanism (CDM), and analyses how it reflects a particular inter-
national vision of climate change and its solutions. It discusses how the
expectations this approach em beds have become challenged by
practice, and practitioners, and how alternative models for the CDM
have been put forward. The article argues that these challenges and
alternatives can be understood better by borrowing Michel Callon's
concept of `actor-world', in order to analyse how contrasting visions of
technologies also inevitably entail conflicting ideas about the world.
Scholars working at the intersection of law, sociology, and environmental
science are examining the shape and dynamics of how societies are organized
so as to understand the problem of global climate change.
Climate science is
ordered in networks ranging from global systems to local nexus.
In a classic
ß2012 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2012 Cardiff University Law School. Published by Blackwell Publishing
Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
*Kent Law School, University of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NZ, England
** School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham,
Sutton Bonington Campus, Nottingham LE12 5RD, England
The original research for this article was funded by a grant from the Centre for
Environmental Law at the University of Nottingham.
1 For an analysis and critique of the relationship between environmental law and
methodological and theoretical engagement, see L. Fisher, B. Lange, E. Scotford, and
C. Carlarne, `Maturity and Methodology: Reflecting on How to Do Environmental
Law Scholarship' (2009) 21 J. of Environmental Law 1±38.
2 For example, see A. Block, `Topologies of Climate Change: actor-network theory,
relational-scalar analytics and carbon market overflows' (2010) 28 Environment and
Planning D: Society and Space 896; M. Callon, `Civilizing markets: carbon trading
between in vitro and in vivo experiments' (2009) 34 Accounting, Organizations and
Actor-Network Theory (ANT) story about the failed project of introducing
new electric vehicles into 1970s France, Michel Callon put forward the
interrelated concepts of `actor-worlds' and `engineer-sociologists'. Whilst
not much drawn upon in later well-known ANT studies,
these two concepts
are a potentially useful and interesting way to explore conflicts, resistance,
and revisions generated around climate-change legislation.
This artic le analyse s the deplo yment of the C lean Devel opment
Mechanism (CDM) ± the most ambitious carbon-offsetting scheme to date
± of the international climate agreement known as the Kyoto Protocol. The
various practitioners involved in bringing the CDM into being are found to
propose and deploy contrasting social visions. As such, the study is in part a
response to calls for more attention to be given to the processes deployed for
`rewriting capitalism' with regards to climate-change law and the carbon
market more specifically.
In his study of the electric vehicle, Callon describes how engineers at
Electricite de France (EDF) proposed the development of a new type of
technology, whilst offering a form of expert vision of what French society
was about to become.
In proposing the electric vehicle, not only did they
elaborate the technical aspects, but they also imagined which type of society
this would fit in ± which Callon refers to as an `actor-world'. In this actor-
world, EDF is expecting a certain number of actors and structures (or `actor-
networks') to fall into place, act, and interact in particular ways.
Callon's story then becomes one of failure as follows: (i) consumers do
not seek the post-industrial society envisioned by EDF, and (ii) the various
technical devices behave in ways other than that expected by EDF. But
Callon's story is not exclusively one of failure and discrepancy but also a
story about competing actor-worlds; how others of those he calls `engineer-
sociologists' propose alternative stories of viable technologies and their
Society 535; D. MacKenzie, `Making things the same: Gases, emission rights and the
politics of carbon markets' (2009) 34 Accounting, Organizations and Society 440; L.
Lohmann, `Toward a different debate in environmental accounting: The cases of
carbon and cost-benefit' (2009) 34 Accounting, Organizations and Society 499.
3 Whilst engaging with the concept of actor-world, and the implied idea of co-
production of socio-technical networks, this paper does not claim to be an `ANT
analysis' of the CDM.
4 For examples, see MacKenzie, op. cit., n. 2.
5 M. Callon `The Sociology of an Actor-Network: the case of the electric vehicle' in
Mapping the Dynamics of Science and Technology, eds. M. Callon, J. Law, and A.
Rip (1986) 22; see, also, M. Callon, `Society in the Making: The Study of Technology
as a tool for Sociological Analysis' in The Social Construction of Technological
Systems, eds. W. Bijker, T. Hughes, and T. Pinch (1989) 87.
ß2012 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2012 Cardiff University Law School

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