Capital Accumulation, Racialisation and the Politics of Ecocide

Event date
28 November 2023
Event time
16:15 - 17:45
Oxford week
MT 8
Centre for Criminology Seminar Room

Robert Knox

Capital Accumulation, Racialisation and the Politics of Ecocide


The language of ‘ecocide’ has become an increasingly important tool in the arsenal of those seeking to oppose and contest the continued environmental destruction of the planet. This has been true both as a general phenomenon but also – more specifically – through the language of international law. Particular important in this regard have been recent proposals to create an international crime of ecocide for inclusion in the Rome State of the International Criminal Court.

This paper seeks to critically situate such proposals within their wider political and economic logic. Drawing on Marxist and anti-racist theory, it begins by a reconstructing the deep historical connection between capitalist accumulation, environmental transformation and practices of racialisation, focusing particularly on the role of law in this connection. It then explores the emergence of the contemporary legal definition of ecocide in the context of this broader material grounding.

Examining this history, it argues that the such legal definitions of ecocide have been caught up in broader contestations around the political usage of international law itself. In particular, the paper argues that, given the structural connection between, law, race and capitalism, such legal forms are structurally predisposed towards undermining ecological goals. It illustrates this through examining the most recent definitions of ecocide, and demonstrating how their specific legal provisions ultimately reproduce racialised, capitalist – and thus ultimately ecocidal – social relationships.


Robert Knox is a Senior Lecturer in Law, at the School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool. He is a member of the Editorial Boards of Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory and the London Review of International Law

Robert's research interests broadly encompass the relationship between law and the political-economic structures of capitalism. He has specific expertise on public international law, particularly on its relationship to race and empire; public law, with a focus on its relationship to neoliberalism, and legal theory, especially critical and Marxist approaches to the law.