What are ecosystem services? On transformative tables and the search for supply and demand

This article contributes to exposing inner workings of academic research on Ecosystem Services (ES) and their indicators. A self-reflexive study in a lab of environmental economics for more than two years reveals how previous research on agroecological practices in Europe is reinterpreted in order to identify the delivery of ES. We document the difficulties encountered in the transformation process.
We show that ES are operationalized through table-concepts. Two tables are used: the first one to extract data from their initial context and purify them from concepts and concerns in environmental sciences; and the second one to subsequently recomplexify these data into a new context of supply and demand. At the end of this process, the newly generated data have little to do with the scientific context from which they are originally derived. We describe the resistances to these transformations as well as the various strategies we employed to address the difficulties we encountered.
By carefully tracing the transformations in our study we show the particular nature of ES, how they selectively rely on concepts from both environmental sciences and economics, and the way they hierarchize and hybridize some of these concepts. While some of our findings may be specific to the context of our study, which has concentrated on European, anthropogenic and agricultural environments, we believe that they provide a unique insight into the nature of ES.