Master’s Research: Theoretical Foundations, Part 4

Theoretical Foundations

Certain theoretical frameworks or “currents of thought” (Schram 2006: 63) will inform this proposal and the eventual research that is to be completed in Peru. By beginning with a discussion of neoliberalism, the paper will present the political hegemony that dominates the following sections—governance, politics and science, and rural (often indigenous) lifeworlds. In other words, neoliberalism, and its ability to permeate into, and influence the myriad of spheres contained within the social world, applies top-down pressure on each of the theoretical discussions presented below. This understanding of neoliberalism, along with its various conceptualizations and critiques from scholars in the field, will extend outward from the presence of neoliberalism in Peru specifically, to the neoliberal world-system, especially agricultural system, more generally.

Neoliberalism in Peru  

According to Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry (2008), “neoliberalization is an explicit political project not a structural inevitability” (p. 148). While for Bourdieu (1998), neoliberalism is “a myth in the strong sense of the word, an idee force, an idea which has social force, which obtains belief” (p. 34). Combining these two ideas, we see that for Peru, this is absolutely true. The neoliberal hegemony that took control of Peru during the Presidency of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) was made possible because of a series of specific and deliberate policy changes that supported a certain belief about the future. At the time, Peru was in the middle of the “deepest crisis ever faced by the Peruvian nation-state” (Drinot 2014a: 2).  Four-figure inflation, declining GDP and per capita income, along with violence and terrorism from the guerrilla movement “Sendero Luminoso” were just a few of the State’s major problems (Graham & Kane 1998). Drinot (2014a) explains that “these two processes overlap in time” and can be seen as “interconnected” (p. 2). Drinot (2014a) goes on to explain, “it was the depth of the crisis generated by the internal armed conflict (and the economic mismanagement of the governments in the 1980s) that created the conditions for neoliberal reforms to be implemented with little to no opposition” (p.2).  Because of this, in what has been described as complete “authoritarianism”, Fujimori’s new government, in conjunction with the World Bank and International Monetary fund and inspired by a progressive belief about the future, began a “shock therapy” style structural adjustment plan (Drinot 2014a). This program has been perpetuated throughout the following Presidencies, and continues to dominate the political sphere in Peru to this day. However, Law No. 29811 —although largely a maneuver to give time in order to create neoliberal governance strategies for transgenics—is an example of pushback against this neoliberal narrative; suggesting, perhaps, neoliberalism’s ideological and political vulnerability.

What occurred during the Presidency of Fujimori, and the resulting socio-political ideologies that manifested, aligns with Brenner & Theodore’s (2002) definition of neoliberalism: the “belief that open, competitive, and unregulated markets, liberated from all forms of state interference, represent the optimal mechanism for economic development” (p. 350). Much of what Fujimori did, along with the following presidents such as Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) and Alan Garcia (2006-2011), supported massive privatization of State resources such as minerals & natural gas (Bury 2005), and paved the way for immense foreign direct investment from developed nations. Despite the neoliberal readjustments initially leading to a more profound recession in the first two years, they did achieve some improvements in terms of macroeconomic stabilization (Drinot 2014a; Graham & Kane 1998). For example, by 1994, inflation had fallen to 15.4% and in 1997 it was in single figures again (6.5%). GDP began to rise again from 1993; in 1994 it reached 13.1% and remained positive in the years that followed (INEI, 1998). These economic improvements produced welfare gains for the country and helped reduce the poverty level. One way the adjustment achieved this was by enlarging the Peruvian middle-class and developing new consumption patterns that transformed large parts of urban Peru (Drinot 2014a).

These examples of neoliberalization, rationalized through the idea that macroeconomic development would serve as a panacea for Peruvian poverty and inequality, also had adverse effects on Peruvian women (Hays-Mitchell 2002) and particularly rural Peruvian farmers in the Andean highlands (Drinot 2014a). Crabtree (2002) argues that the “consequence of economic liberalization seems to have been to increase rather than diminish inequality” in Peru (p. 133). In fact, it has been found that the neoliberal restructuring of the Peruvian economy (and emphasis on biotechnology) has led to “a concentration of economic power among larger and more efficient producers and to the detriment of small-scale producers” (Crabtree 2002: 155). Such much so, that small-scale Peruvian farmers have “had to weather the impact of adverse macroeconomic policies that reduced the demand for food, trade policies that encouraged competing imports, and sectoral policies designed to remove the state from active involvement in agriculture” (Crabtree 2002: 155).

Neoliberalism in Peru has led to dichotomized outcomes that run parallel to the macro and micro heuristic ways of thinking. In other words, the neoliberalization of Peru has led to some macroeconomic improvements, while also creating some problems on the micro or individual levels. Rural Peruvian populations in general, along with women and farmers specifically, have struggled to keep up with the rapid neoliberalization of Peru. All the while, the Peruvian elite and country as a whole, as well as other developed nations responsible for pumping investment into the economy, continue to benefit. Knowing this, and by ‘extending’ outward, in Burawoy’s (1998) sense of the word, we begin to see how what is happening in Peru connects with what is occurring on a global scale. Specifically, we begin to see how the controversy over biotechnology and the use of transgenics in Peru, inundated by and embedded within a neoliberal political and economic hegemony, relates to the wider academic and international discrepancies over the governance of GMOs.

Biotechnology Governance

According to Winickoff et al. (2005), there are two divergent regulatory philosophies that dominant the controversy over governing transgenics: the ‘products approach’ and the ‘process approach’. According to them, the fundamental question that divides the two is “whether to assess genetically modified risk on the basis of the products themselves, or on the basis of the underlying production processes” (Winickoff et al. 2005: 87, emphasis in the original). Winickoff et al. 2005 explain that “the products approach to regulating GMOs assumes that no untoward risk occurs merely from applying this technology to agricultural production (p. 87). In other words, the products approach for regulating GMOs assumes that no risks are involved in the process or application of transgenics. If the science and product itself is well-designed and an appropriate regulatory apparatus is put into place, then usage of transgenics is considered safe.

In contrast, the “process approach rests on the idea that genetic engineering itself may entail novel and unique risks to human health or the environment” (Winickoff et al. 2005: p. 87). This regulatory philosophy is inevitably more precautionary. In other words, the process approach assumes that a certain level of unknown exists about the process of using transgenics and that this process may include hazards, to both the environment and humans, that modern science does not yet fully understand. This regulatory mindset falls in line with Beck’s (1992) conceptualization of the risk society—that as an industrialized society, we create risks, and combat those risks, with technologies whose ramifications have yet to be fully flushed out.  In general, the United States has embraced the products approach for regulating GMOs, as it parallels more closely to the neoliberal ideology. This thinking places the upmost power upon modern science and trusts that regulation, no matter how intense or shoddy, will keep the environment safe. In support of this idea, Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry (2008) explain, “we continue to find close links between neoliberal policy ideas and scientism; the two discourses work together to promote a policy of minimal regulation of biotechnology” (p. 168). The European Union on the other hand, and other developed nations, have historically approached the idea of transgenics with more caution (Winickoff et al. 2005). Knowing this, and understanding that constructions about the importance of science and legitimated knowledge can differ, it is important to take a look at the role of science in creating governance techniques over GMOs.

Similar to the dichotomized arrangement of the ‘product’ and ‘process’ regulatory philosophies, Quark (2011) arranges her thinking around two important foci: the ‘world polity’ and ‘world-system’ ideologies. In doing so, Quark (2011) attempts to address the involvement of science in the construction of governance arrangements. Using the world polity framework, culture becomes the emphasis rather than the economy, politics or power (Pellow & Brehm 2013). Science becomes the most widely accepted, and global means for measurement and action.  This idea is based on the cultural understanding that science is universal, and most importantly, value neutral. In other words, the world polity ideology assumes an essentialist and scientist mindset when it comes to the creation of governance strategies for transgenics.

On the other hand, the world system ideology understands science as a mechanism for the global elite to dominate the world system (Quark 2011). This Marxist understanding, informed by Wallerstein’s (2004) arrangement of the capitalist world system, sees global governance occurring through the creation and application of certain types of science.  Quark (2011) explains, “this competition for legitimating knowledge”, between the world polity and world system ideologies, “helps us to understand how new governance networks are constructed that draw diverse actors together to legitimate certain constellations of science, technology and power” (p. 913). She goes on to say, “struggles over standards are thus shaped by the access to resources and research legacies, as well as the competition to define what science will be accepted as legitimate” (p. 913).

The world polity and world system approaches both acknowledge the important role that science plays in the governance of transgenics. Similarly, they both intersect with the product and process philosophies presented by Winickoff et al. (2005). The world polity ideology aligns with the product approach for regulation—both subsume a legitimized and essentialist power into modern science. In other words, both the world polity and products approaches support a scientist mentality for governing transgenics; each informed by and created by neoliberal tendencies to generate markets for genetically modified products themselves (i.e. seeds) and to decentralize regulation from State authority while simultaneously shifting the onus into the privatized and third-party realms of transgenic governmentality. “Traditionally, it was predominately government agencies that were responsible for monitoring food safety standards and food quality attributes. However, the globalization of the agrifood system, the consolidation of the food retail industry, and the rise in private retailer standards have precipitated a shift in responsibility for this task to third-party certifiers” (Hatanaka, Bain & Busch 2005: 355).

On the other hand, the world system and process approaches towards governing transgenics complicate the issue. Each is embedded with a more intense precautionary principle. [DM1] In other words, both the world system and process approaches understand the complexity and risk involved with both the usage and regulation of GMOs. These ideologies agree that the process from a transgenic product to implementation and regulation are laden with unavoidable power dynamics and inequitable constructions of legitimized (and therefore alienated) knowledge systems. The world system and process approaches understand how scientism and scientization can directly impact how transgenics are governed. Quark (2011) sheds light on this influence when she writes, “first, scientization can formalize existing power inequalities given the uneven terrain of research legacies. Second, as scientization channels politics through science, powerful actors are better situated to legitimate their own interests in scientific terms and to define what makes science legitimate” (p. 895). This intersection, between science and politics, proves to be the means through which a governance strategy comes to fruition, both in Peru and in the world system more generally.



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