Commodification and consumption

Wealth, inequality and luxury

The BIOSEC project investigates practices of wildlife commodification and consumption, focusing on illegal trade in sturgeon caviar, cactus and other succulent plants, European songbirds, timber, ivory, and rhino horn. Commodification refers to the processes by which wildlife are transformed into saleable commodities with monetary value.

We are investigating the diverse kinds of actors engaged in illicit commodity networks, and how the processes of commodification can produce or reinforce various forms of social and economic inequalities along the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) commodity chain.

In researching the consumption of illegal wildlife trade, BIOSEC researchers are studying several forms of illegal wildlife consumption, including wildlife as luxury food products (caviar, songbirds), construction materials (timber), collectibles (ivory, rare plants), and medicine (rhino horn). Rigorous social research into practices of consumption affecting wildlife populations is important in order to understand what drives demand for particular wildlife products. Culturally sensitive and historically-relevant research can inform more effective efforts to reduce harm to trafficked wildlife by understanding the foundational dynamics driving IWT and wildlife consumptive practices.

BIOSEC team members are researching wildlife products as luxury commodities, with particular attention to luxury markets in North America and Europe. Many wildlife species are impacted by trades for relatively niche and high end markets (both legal and illegal), such as vicuña wool, beluga sturgeon caviar, and elephant ivory. While wildlife and wildlife-derivative products can be incredibly expensive by the time they reach consumers, the people engaged in sourcing wildlife are often exploited for their labour and gain proportionally little economic benefit compared to those actors higher up the commodity market chain.

Research team

Doctoral Researcher

Research Associate

Post-Doctoral Researcher

Related publications

Towards a new understanding of the links between poverty and illegal wildlife hunting
R Duffy, FAV St John, B Buscher and D Brockington (2015).
Towards a new understanding of the links between poverty and illegal wildlife hunting. (PDF, 127KB) Conservation Biology, 30(1). Pp. 14-22.

Illegal wildlife trade and the persistence of “plant blindness”
J Margulies et al (2019).
Illegal wildlife trade and the persistence of “plant blindness”. Plants People Planet. 12.07.2019.