Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Kenneth Gould

Subject Categories

Economics | Natural Resource Economics | Oil, Gas, and Energy | Sociology


alternative energy, capitalism, entrepreneurship, ideology, marxism


There is money to be made in saving the planet. A whole host of actors, such as investors, entrepreneurs, engineers, and policy makers have mobilized around our ecological problems, seeking to innovate new `green' and `clean' technologies that can serve a rapidly changing environment. The presumption that such technologies are both necessary and necessarily profitable anchors visions of a `green' capitalism that can and must be brought into existence.

However, just as free markets have never been all that free, why should we presume that green capitalism would be all that green? Instead of attempting to arbit whether or not the greening of capital is or can `work' - this work seeks to understand whether and how `green capitalism' coheres around new justificatory frames, or what Boltanski and Chiapello call a new spirit of capitalism. The emerging spirit of green capitalism is positioned somewhere between the maintenance of the current neoliberal form of accumulation and a desire to return to romanticized visions of more stable, centrally coordinated economic systems. It is an attempt to make sense of capitalism in crisis, and a crisis caused by capitalism.

This research focuses specifically upon individuals within the broad field of green capitalism who are actively grappling with the ways in which the infrastructure of global capitalism has irrevocably shaped world ecology, and who are experimenting, in thought and practice, with a wide range of new techno-social configurations intended to mitigate, or even reverse, these negative ecological effects. The project is divided into two parts. The first is grounded by a critical discourse analysis of mass-market texts published over the past 25 years that advocate for green capitalism. Four distinct `motifs' can be found in this literature, each of which is analyzed in turn. These are: Planetary Improvement; Eco-Utopian Socialism; EcoFordism; and Green Developmentalism.

This critical discourse analysis then connects with an ethnographic investigation of the `cleantech space' in New York City. Through my ethnographic work I explore the performativity of abstract market imperatives in this field, which encompasses a wide array of technologies that boast some form of material or energetic efficiency over prevailing norms. The cleantech space is filled with innovative entrepreneurs, inventors and investors, all of whom want to see new technologies succeed. And yet, in the eyes of capital (or the fiduciary responsibility of investors) not all innovations are created equal. Only those innovations that promise sizeable and rapid returns are likely to receive support. In other words, there are many good technologies out there that make for bad investments. And so, while it may be the case that we will need new technologies to provide the infrastructure for any ecologically viable future economy, it is not so clear that the specific technologies being produced by the prevailing funding streams will ever be able to get us there.