Master’s Research: Theoretical Foundations, Part 5

Politics & Science

When thinking about the Peruvian moratorium on GMOs it is important to consider the relationship between science and politics. Specifically, Habermas (1970) writes about the scientization of politics. This process, similar to Weber’s (1958) ideas on bureaucratization, goes one step further by politicizing the issue. The scientization of politics highlights a shift towards a technocratic model of governmentality in which politics is replaced by scientifically rationalized administrations (Habermas 1970). It is crucial to note that this process can be somewhat self-destructive. Leaning on scientific claims in order support political ideologies is risky because scientists struggle to elucidate definitive answers (Beck 1992). This may result in a collapse or ‘detraditionalization’ of scientific power due to the porous and controversial quality of the findings or arguments (Lidskog & Sundqvist 2010), therefore generating gaps in which alternative voices and lay perspectives may insert themselves into the debate, weakening expert scientific prowess.

Nonetheless, scholars interested in the sociology of science and technology argue we operate within a scientized political hegemony. This ideology stands on the grounds of scientism, and dominates the production, implementation and regulation of transgenics. According to Kinchy, Kleinman and Autry (2008), scientism “is the belief that policy is best dictated by scientific reasoning, since science is presumed to transcend human values and interests and to provide answers upon which all can agree (p. 156). The authors further politicize their argument by writing, “scientism contributed to this project [of neoliberalism] by delegitimizing messy political debates in favor of “value free” assessments of risks and benefits” (Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry 2008 (156). In other words, the dual discourses of neoliberalism and scientism rationalize a position of minimal regulation of GMOs by squelching the voices outside the scientized political field, making any sort of decision about the regulation of GMOs seem scientifically sound and inevitable. This process is a major issue, especially for developing countries like Peru, because it bolsters policies that subordinate the cultural and economic interests of small farmers while favoring biotech corporations and the governments who are interested in those companies’ investments (Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry 2008).

What we have then is a rift between two opposing modalities of knowing and decision making—scientific, expert knowledge and laymen and traditional environmental knowledge. This clash of two oppositional “politics of knowledge” (Goldman & Turner 2011) can be examined by applying Anderson’s (2002) conceptualization of post-colonial technoscience. This vein picks up on the back end of the scientization of politics. In other words, post-colonial technoscience can be viewed as the end, or result of an increasingly scientized and neoliberal hegemony— particularly when dealing with the relationship between two nations, such as Peru and the United States. Knowing this, it is argued that post-colonial technoscience seeks to expand the boundaries of Western scientism engaging with the complex reconfigurations of knowledge, violence, culture and scientific characteristics that transcend the boundaries of nations-states, and instead become embedded within an “emerging global order” (Anderson (2002: 643).

By applying the post-colonial technoscientific framework to Peru, critiques of the neoliberal hegemonic rhetoric can be elucidated. It can be argued that material violence is occurring to Peruvian farmers and environment through the implementation of biotechnology (funded and implemented by top-down pressure from the Peruvian State and Western multinational corporations) which then has the potential to degrade traditional, often indigenous environmental knowledge and lifestyles. Taken one step further, violence can also occur “epistemologically by denying the legitimacy of other ways of knowing and managing nature” (Goldman & Turner 2011: 17). In a commentary on biotechnology, Shiva (1995) echoes this argument by writing, “ecological erosion and destruction of livelihoods are linked to one another. Displacement of diversity and of people’s sustenance both arise from a view of development and growth based on uniformity […] In this process of control, reductionist science and technology act as handmaidens for economically powerful interests” (p.198-199).

Fortunately, thanks to the moratorium on GMOs, this type of neo-colonial and epistemological violence has been postponed for the time being. A lot of energy and effort—on behalf of activists, scientists and government officials—has been placed into enacting the moratorium. Goldman and Turner (2011) argue that environmental knowledge is “embodied in local contexts” and that it “is framed, funded and publicized in widely different social arenas” (p. 3). Luckily for anti-biotech supports in Peru, these knowledges from various social arenas have coalesced into a unified social movement. By doing so, they “fight to ensure that expert discourse does not overshadow citizens’ perspectives on environmental, social, economic, and moral issues in decisions about scientific and technological developments” (Kinchy 2012: 16), because after all, “opposition to [genetically-engineered] crops is a struggle over material resources […] These struggles are, at the same time, battles over meaning, classification, and cultural rules” (Kinchy 2012: 12).

The moratorium on transgenics in Peru reflects an important pushback to the industrialization of agriculture sustained by the entanglement of neoliberalism and scientism. Despite the moratorium being only a buffer for the potential future introduction of transgenics on a massive scale (assuming the Peruvian government solidifies a proper governance apparatus), it represents the power of social movements as well as the weakness of a scientized and neoliberal hegemony. “If we acknowledge that neoliberalism is a policy discourse, the ascendancy of which was by no means inevitable, it is analytically possible to see that neoliberalism”, along with inequitable and scientized political debate, can be confronted by utilizing the appropriate mixture of social, cultural, economic and scientific arguments (Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry 2008: 154). Where these arguments come from and how they are arranged into a unitary voice is contextual and will change depending on the country, type of government power and citizenship participation. What is important to include in whatever case, especially for countries where rural lifestyles are still a major part of contemporary life, is the perspectives these individuals, and in the case of Peru, of the indigenous voices.

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