Biohegemony, interrupted: the limits to GMO agriculture in a neoliberal era




Carroll-Preyde, Myles

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This thesis argues from a contrarian point of departure that the successes of GMO agriculture have thus far been limited or underwhelming. It thus asks what accounts for the limitedness of the GMO food economy. From this overarching question, the research is divided into three further questions that consider the roles of law, the structural requirements of the capitalist system, and the use of discourses of nature amongst activists respectively as factors influencing the underdevelopment of GMO agriculture. These questions form the basis for three chapters that comprise the thesis. Chapter one draws on the work of Antonio Gramsci and Karl Polanyi in evaluating the consequences of legal regimes that regulate GMOs. Against the tide of neoliberalism, I discuss how a binding, precautionary agreement over international trade in GMOs emerged through the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. I argue that this Protocol is an example of what Polanyi termed the “self-protection of society,” the second phase of his double movement. Chapter two uses Marxist theories of agrarian capitalism to understand both the early successes and later setbacks of GMOs as a capital accumulation strategy. I argue that the successes and failures of GMO agriculture are partly circumscribed by the structural requirements of the capitalist system, as well as by the materiality of GMO crops themselves. The chapter builds on the work of Gabriela Pechlaner and David Goodman to show how processes of appropriationism, expropriationism and the logic of capital more generally can explain not only why some innovations have succeeded but also why so many others have been unsuccessful. Innovations that are geared at consumers rather than farmers have largely failed due to their status as value-added products (whose value is subjective and market-driven) rather than capital goods. Chapter three considers the role played by nature narratives in structuring the cultural politics of GMO agriculture. It argues that natural purity discourses have been central to the success of GMO activism as they have mobilized widely resonant nature-culture dualisms that separate the natural world from the human world. However, though strategically effective, these discourses hold dubious political implications, as they entrench or naturalize unequal power relations in the social world and deflect attention away from the problematic political economic consequences of GMOs under neoliberalism. The chapter argues that activist campaigns that directly target the political economic, neocolonial, and class implications of GMOs within the context of neoliberalism have also had successes without resorting to appeals to the purity of nature, an approach that I argue ought to frame opposition struggles against GMOs going forward. The thesis uses a mixed methods approach that includes document analysis, historical analysis, discourse analysis and literature review. It incorporates a wide lens approach, drawing on a range of case studies from multiple scales to animate the conceptual arguments being analyzed. By problematizing how GMO agriculture has evolved as a capital accumulation strategy for large transnational corporations, this thesis seeks to critically evaluate the practical social justice implications of anti-GMO resistance efforts for those opposed to neoliberal globalization.



GMOs, neoliberalism, political economy, Cartagena Protocol, discourses of nature, social movements, double movement, relations of force, agrarian question