Los Lunes Son Para Libros, 7th Edition

For this week’s edition of Los Lunes Son Para Libros, I am going to talk about a book called Between the World and Me written by Te-Nehisi Coates. It is a short book and an extremely fast read. In total it took my two days to finish. Coates’ writing style contributes to the fact that you are able to fly through the pages. The book is like one long poem. Actually, it’s more like a mix of prose and poetry. Coates blends to the two styles of writing in order to create a narrative that is incredibly entertaining. With a background in journalism and poetry, Coates’ writing is entirely vivid and consuming. Each word of every sentence packs a punch and accomplishes a goal. Coates’s ability to story tell is what makes this book so special. In general, the book is a letter to his teenage son. However the way he writes it makes it sound like a terrifyingly beautiful, heartbreakingly uplifting story (warning) to his son.


Between the lines and underneath the imagery, Coates provides a chilling social commentary on the state of race relations in the United States. With that said, Coates also has no fear calling it how it is. He has no problem ripping the veil away from the politics, events and daily affairs of his characters in order to expose the barbaric ugliness that stains  much of what some people think is beautiful about the United States. If you are sensitive to critical racial and/or ethnic conversations, or do not resonate with the social facts of white privilege and/or institutional racism, normally I would say that I do not recommend this book to you. But on second thought, if that’s where you stand with respect to race relations in the United States, then maybe this book will do some good.

The lack of structure in Between the World and Me has got me struggling with how to talk about it. The book is split into three numeric sections. Between the chapters, Coates flows from one topic to the next and from one anecdote to the other. I had trouble deciphering what he was trying to accomplish with the  way he divided his book. The book is ambiguous in that way. However, the words Coates uses, the structure he employs and the vivid imagery he creates are all crystal clear. With that as some ground to stand on, I’ll choose a few of my favorite lines from the book (there are a lot) and use them to spur thought processes and social commentary.


 “But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy as much as one of hierarchy” 

Okay, short commentary here… race is not a biological/essential/evolutionary/scientific concept. It is SOCIAL. What does this mean? It means that the genes inside me, the things that give me phenotypical differences from another person, cannot and should not be attributed to race (or ethnicity). The racial and ethnic boundaries human populations have drawn around people are as imaginary as the ones we draw around countries. Not to mention the fact that both these processes were originally created by white and privileged male ‘scientists’. They are social/made up/cultural/ contextual. They change from place to place and from decade to decade. Race is different than what it was in the past and what it will be in the future. What probably will not change however,  is the social fact that race gets used to socially construct social hierarchies of humans.

“To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear” 

Okay so here’s what I mean by potent imagery. If these few lines don’t evoke some sort of emotion– curiosity, sadness, frustration, resentment, confusion– then check your right supramarginal gyrus. Coates blends poetic and journalistic imagery to enhance a social critique, which in this case, is institutional racism. I would like to mention a few things here without going on too long about this incredibly dense topic. The institutional racism that Coates is referencing here is a direct result of the slave trade in the United States. Imagine being held back, beaten and locked up for 100s of years. Meanwhile, the country is developing. Laws are being written, social norms and values are being legitimized, children are being socialized etc. All of this happening without the equitable presence of African Americans (or any other diversity for that matter). Now imagine gaining freedom and joining that society. A society that was built from your labor. And if you came later, a society built on the backs of your ancestors. A society that never once took you into consideration when it was designing its structure, processes and institutions. How is one supposed to join that world at the same pace as everyone else? They’re not. And how are we supposed to rebuild that world to consider the decades of marginalization? Slowly. Really goddamn slowly. At least for as long or longer than what it took to create it, because after all, African Americans have been enslaved in our country longer than they have been free.

t coates quote1

“The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing”

Coates writes about the concept of “the Dream” in his book frequently. Personally, I think it’s one of the most ingenious parts of the text. The Dream that Coates is writing about is the American Dream. But what’s so stunning about how he uses it is that his perspective come from the backside of the Dream. According to Coates, the Dream wasn’t designed for him, his son or people like them. In other words, there is a flip-side to any social phenomena. White privilege/alienation of diversity. Male privilege/delegitimized presence of women. Nationalism/xenophobic hatred. The list goes on. Coates’ commentary on the Dream is powerful for me because it’s the Dream I’ve been turning into reality my entire life. Loving home, good education, worldy travels, opportunity, privilege etc. And what did I do to deserve it? Nothing. I got lucky to get placed into it. And what did Coates do to deserve the flip-side? Nothing. He got thrown into it. If its all just luck, why do we place so much value–value derived from the persecution of others– into the Dream? I don’t have the answer, but I’m working to stay grateful and with my eyes open.

“In my small apartment, she kissed me, and the ground opened up, swallowed me, buried me right there in that moment”

Coates doesn’t only touch on topics of race, but also of love and intimacy. Coates is definitely a lover. A devoted father and spouse. This quote is from when he was talking about a girl he fell in love with. I just think its really beautiful. The cliche of ‘falling in love’ has never been so clear to me before I read this sentence. If you love someone, tell them!

“Everything that was the past seemed to be another life. There was before you, and then there was after, and in this after, you were the God I’d never had. I submitted before your needs, and I knew then that I must survive for something more than survival’s sake. I must survive for you” 

Here we are again with Coates’ ability to express his intimate emotions and love in an incredibly powerful way. In this quote he is talking about his son while also talking directly to him. When I read this I think immediately of my parents. And if they were poets or journalists, that they might describe their love for me in this way. But they aren’t and thats okay. They express this much love and commitment in other ways and I am grateful. Coates’ writing about being a father makes me want a kid, which if you know me, is something I’ve been contrary to. My thoughts are that there are enough kids in this world that need life and that I should adopt rather than create more. But damn, Coates has got me thinking otherwise.

t coates and son

“Think of all the love poured into him. Think of the tuitions for Montessori and music lessons. Think of the gasoline expended, the treads worn carting him to football games, basketball tournaments, and Little League. Think of the time spent regulating sleepovers. Think of the surprise birthday parties, the daycare, and the reference checks on babysitters. Think of World Book and Childcraft. Think of checks written for family photos. Think of credit cards charged for vacations. Think of soccer balls, science kits, chemistry sets, racetracks, and model trains. Think of all the embraces, all the private jokes, customs, greetings, names, dreams, all the shared knowledge and capacity of a black family injected into that vessel of flesh and bone. And think of how that vessel was taken, shattered on the concrete, and all its holy contents, all that had gone into him, sent flowing back to the earth”

I really love this portion of Coates’ book. In it, he is talking about a friend of his named Prince Jones. Prince was unarmed when he was shot 8 times and killed by an undercover narcotics officer in September 2000. To read more, click here. What I love so much about these lines are their ability to conjure just how much value is placed into a human life. I see myself in these sentences. I see the lost lives of my friends in these lines. The love, energy, time, money, commitment. We are nothing without the care of our families and friends. Coates’ ability to depict and pay homage to the consumptive process of raising human children with only his words is really impressive.

“Our moment is too brief. Our bodies are too precious” 

Coates spends a lot of time in his book contemplating the fleeting quality of the human life. This is a result of his up brining. One that was fraught with threats to human life– to his life and to the lives of his friends and neighbours. For Coates, it boils down to the body. Controlling bodies, taking bodies, breaking bodies, segregating bodies, killing bodies. Coates strips the symbolism from the human body and from the human condition, I think, because he is an atheist. He references multiple times in his book about how he is godless. For Coates, all the value, symbolism and power we have as humans is built into the one body, the one vessel, we receive when we come into consciousness. For Coates, there is no afterlife, there is no spirit. I personally don’t know where I stand on this, but I admire Coates ability to be so brave and clear about his beliefs.

“Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no resect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves” 

This quote comes towards the end of Between the World and Me.  It is incredibly well said and strategically placed.  Coates subsumes, with these incredibly vivid sentences, a critique of not only essentialist perspectives of race but also of the capitalist economic modes of production. Coates shines an environmentalist light in this paragraph and combines it nicely with a nuanced Marxist perspective. Nuanced not in the sense that his ideas are new, but nuanced in the way that he writes about the contradictory nature of capitalism itself and its exponentially increasing negative impacts on the limits and resources of our earth. The transition from human and horsepower to organic and jurassic sources of fossil fuels came with the industrial revolution. With the cities dirtied and suffocating from this new production, white flight and suburbinization took place rapidly. The private and public sphere, the black and white segregation and the urban and suburban division was more clear than ever. Connecting the two and making it possible was and is private transportation. The privileged ability to move oneself from one place to the next is often overlooked. Not only  for its environmental impacts, but also for its socio-cultural underpinnings. Freedom and mobility become intertwined with race,economic privilege and capitalist work ethics. This no doubt is a doom for our planet. A doom only exacerbated by our indiscriminate carnivorous diets, a dairy dependence, gluttonous and toxic agricultural practices and fetishes for the next best thing. There is a lot of bad that is hurting our world. But there is also a lot of beauty to be found in the silver lining. Books like Between the World and Me  and humans like Te-Nehisi Coates are just two examples. On what side of the fence do you find yourself?

t coates quote 2


Master’s Research: Methodology, Part 8

Reflexivity, Positionality, and Reciprocity

In order to reduce and eliminate any sort of harm done to my participants, and to address any ethical issues, a critical conversation of reflexivity, positionality and reciprocity is important. The go-to conceptual framework that will guide this portion of my research is anti-ethnocentric and reflexive methodology (Roschelle, Toro-Morn & Facio 2010). In short, by critically examining my reflexivity in research, I can better understand my position within it and am therefore better equipped to reciprocate the information that was provided to me during the course of my project.

Reflexivity in social science acknowledges “the interconnections and mutual influence” between researcher and those being researched (Roschelle, Toro-Morn & Facio 2010).   Weak reflexivity is the recognition of the social position of the researcher and how it influences the researched. On the other hand, strong reflexivity entails moving beyond basic recognition and attempting to dismantle the inequitable relationships between the social scientist and their participants (Roschelle, Toro-Morn & Facio 2010). Strong reflexivity then, provides the opportunity to bifurcate one’s consciousness within the realm of social research. Bifurcation in this sense creates a double consciousness, a concept originally conceptualized by W.E.B Dubois in his analysis presented in The Souls of Black Folk. Taken into the context of multi-sited and macro-ethnographic methodology, double consciousness is the idea that as researchers, we must see ourselves and our respondents as we each exist in the social, cultural and material world. It “allows us to recognize that our own historical and cultural biases shape the research questions, methods, interpretation of interviews, and our own collaboration” (Roschelle, Toro-Morn & Facio 2010: 366).

A double consciousness then, elucidates our positionality within the context of the research. Geographically speaking, it could be our position within a space and how that biases our observations. Socially, a double consciousness acknowledges our hierarchical superiority, power and prestige as social scientists and the ethical dilemmas associated with doing field work and potentially ‘researching down’.   In my personal context, my double consciousness helps me navigate my positon with regards to the privileged color of my skin and gender identification, as well as my citizenship origination within a paternalistic and imperialistic hegemonic country like the United States.

According to Luker (2010), another item that we need in our “metaphorical back pocket” is an idea of how we will “repay the kindness of the people who agree to be researched” (p. 150). The most common way is to provide the finished product of research to them. However, this could take years and be unrealistic; especially considering my circumstances and the language barrier involved. Estrada & Hondagneu-Sotelo (2013) reciprocated by offering education services to their informants, such as assistance with filling out financial aid applications and job resumes. Luker (2010) gave back to her research site by donating blood, therefore making a service provided by her research site more affordable for community members.  How the researcher reciprocates is not important; what is important is that the role of the other (the researched) is holistically taken into account and cared for. My situation is distinct because I will be conducting research as a Peace Corps volunteer. I have the unique chance to participate in a service-learning Master’s program. I intend to use my role as volunteer as an opportunity to show reciprocity for my research sites and participants. What exactly is to be provided I do not know yet. However, my time, energy, physical and intellectual labor will be provided in order to leave my research site and participants in a better scenario than when I arrived.

Data Management and Analysis

The three ethnographic methods I will be employing are non-participant, participant observation and semi-structured interviews. Part of my informed consent will be permission to audio record the interviews. Most if not all of my interviews will be in Spanish. Recording my participant will allow me to focus more on the moment. Strict attention to translation will not be necessary because I will be able to listen back at my leisure. In the possible scenario where I will not be able to record, I will rely on hand written or typed notes that detail important paraphrases and quotations. For my observation, I will begin a field notebook. I plan to take notes in English and Spanish. However, writing in English might provide for some extra security; the language barrier in this sense might play in my favor. For extra security, I will use pseudonyms for individuals and codes for locations. My field notes will be color coded as well, allowing me to visually separate my empirical observations, thoughts and emotions, and sidebar notes. The audio recordings from my interviews will be transcribed and stored in a password protected computer file. My hand written notes from interviews and field notes will be also compiled and secured electronically.

Analysis of my data will begin simultaneously with observations and interviews. Lofland and Lyn (1995) share that “the field wisdom is to start coding quite early in the research process and to engage in it with as much regularity and frequency as possible” (3). I will use a systemic process when I begin my coding. The first step in this process is initial coding, “where researchers look for what they can define and discover in the data” (Charmaz 1983: 113). My initial coding will then slowly transform into focused coding. A sign that the coding process is becoming more focused is when “some codes begin to assume the status of overarching ideas or propositions” that will later “occupy a prominent or central place in the analysis” (Lofland & Lyn 1995). It is with this understanding that we can begin to conceptualize coding as the channel between the data collection and its conceptual and theoretical underpinnings; coding therefore becomes the means through which an analytical end is reached. This two-fold process, of initial and focused coding, will continue until a saturation of elements occurs.

During this coding process, I will also be writing memos. As codes develop, so too do the memos, serving as the beginnings of the eventual narrative. Charmaz (1983) clearly states that memos are the prose that “tells what the code is about” (p. 120). Miles & Huberman (1994) go one step further writing, “memos are primarily conceptual in intent. They don’t just report data; they tie together different pieces of data into a recognizable cluster, often to show that those data are instances of a general concept” (p. 72). This idea of memos as clusters resonates with Luker’s conception of the daisy diagram—where each petal of the flower signifies an important element and is related to a central idea (2010).

My memo writing will parallel the approach that my coding entails. At the ground floor of analysis, elemental memos are created. These are detailed analytic renderings of some relatively specific matter (Lofland & Lyn 1995). These memos correlate well with my initial coding processes. My initial discoveries will be archived into elemental memos, which will then be worked into the second type of memo writing—sorting memos. Charmaz (1983) explains the transition, “by going through accumulated [elemental] memos and sorting them, researchers gain insight into… core variables, key phases in a process…[and] major issues” (p. 122). Sorting memos serve well to bolster the focused codes that I will fabricate—again, serving as a type of story of the larger social phenomenon that I am trying to pin down. My memo writing will then go one step further than the coding process I am employing. Integrating memos, which are explanations of connections and relationships among the sorting memos (Lofland & Lyn 1995) will begin to weave a common thread between my various memos and focused codes. Integrating memos will be the last step before the ‘real’ writing begins. In fact, some of my memos at this stage will be worked into my paper verbatim, while others are slightly rearranged to fit the context of my paper more appropriately.

Lastly, it is important to comment on the epistemological context in which my coding and memo writing will be occurring and how these constructions of knowledge will come to fruition. The entire data collection and analytical process will be inductive and iterative (Dougherty 2016). My data collection will be inductive because I will allow for the data out-croppings to appear on their own as opposed to deductively going into the field searching for specific elements that satisfy a hypothesis. My data collection, and subsequent codes and memos, will be grounded in that sense—focused on hypothesis discovery rather than hypothesis testing (Luker 2010; Strauss and Corbin 1990). My coding and memo writing will be iterative because I will allow them to shape and reshape the research process. Pre-established codes can shrink the scope of observations. By allowing my codes and memos to be iterative, I am allowing them ‘talk to one another’, to be in constant conversation. In the eyes of the canon, this sort of flexibility is blasphemous. However, qualitative methods allow for this repetitive, open ended collecting and coding process— a method that is open to honest and in the moment observation and analysis.

Master’s Research: Methodology, Part 7

Research Design

In order to prepare an accurate account of the GMO moratorium in Peru this project will rely on multi-sited and macro ethnographic research methodologies. These strategies and techniques will each be theoretically informed by the feminist research qualities of reflexivity, positionality and reciprocity. The research goal will be to garner important opinions and perspectives from a myriad of stakeholders who are involved with the moratorium on GMOs—such as farmers, scientists, activists and politicians. These individual (micro) accounts, from multiple positions (this could be geographic, ideological and/or epistemological) in the spectrum of involvement with the moratorium, will then be extended outward or “bumped up a level of generalizability” (Luker 2010) and couched within larger (macro) and theoretical understandings of the production, usage, and governance of GMOs in the global world system. By doing so, this ethnographic project will map the multiple trajectories—their genesis, passageways and destinations—of governance, knowledge production and indigeneity as they occur within the Peruvian neoliberal field.

Multi-Sited & Macro Ethnography

In qualitative research, there are two types of ethnography: single sited and multi-sited. The latter separates itself from the former because it “moves out from the single sites and local situations of conventional ethnographic research designs to examine the circulation of cultural meanings, objects, in diffuse time-space” (Marcus 1995: 96). In other words, it is a mobile ethnography that examines multiple trajectories of socio-cultural phenomena across multiple sites. In doing so, multi-sited ethnographic methodologies complicate and extend the ‘them-us’ dualistic framework of single site ethnography, and work to break down the binary between “individual lifeworlds” and the world system. In short, “multi-sited research is designed around chains, paths, threads, conjunctions or juxtapositions of locations in which the ethnographer established some form of literal, physical presence, with an explicit, posited logic of association or connection among sites (Marcus 1995: 105).

Complimentary to multi-sited ethnography are the tenets of extended or macro-ethnography. In a comparison to canonical and positivistic styles of social research (i.e. survey design), Burawoy (1998) describes reflexive research as “a model of science that embraces not detachment but engagement as the road to knowledge” (p. 5).  Macro-ethnography applies this quality of reflexive social science and works to embed itself within localized peoples, processes and phenomena. The process then expands itself, extends outward, to include macro, external forces and eventually once more to subsume higher echelons of theoretical thinking. Burawoy (1998) describes this process, “reflexive science starts out from dialogue, virtual or real, between observer and participants, embeds such dialogue within a second dialogue between local processes and extralocal forces that in turn can only be comprehended through a third, expanding dialogue of theory with itself” (p. 5). Even more explicitly, Burawoy (1998) explains, “the extended case method applies reflexive science to ethnography in order to extract the general from the unique, to move from the “micro” to the “macro”, and to connect the present to the past in anticipation of the future, all by building on preexisting theory” (p. 5, emphasis in the original).

Garnering Informants & Preserving Consent

            This research project will attempt to replicate the fluid qualities Marcus and Burawoy’s multi-sited and macro-ethnographic research designs. When it comes to sampling Duneier (2011) explains, “one of the most popular ways to gain access in ethnographic research is known as convenience sampling: phenomena are included in a study on the basis of their availability, rather than through random sampling” (p. 1). In other words, this strategy will allow what is occurring in the field to inductively inform who is chosen for interviews and what social phenomena is chosen for observation and analysis. This technique will be combined with Quark’s (2012) sampling strategy. In her study about scientized politics and global governance in the cotton trade, she explains, “my sampling strategy for interviews aimed to capture variation both within different nodes of the commodity chain and across different geographic locations […] to this end, I interviewed actors in each of the key nodes or positions within the cotton trade…” (Quark 2012: 905).

For the present research project, key informants will conveniently be chosen from throughout the different levels of involvement with the GMO moratorium. In this case, multi-sited variation will be attained because of the geographic separation between rural areas, where farmers live and work, and urban areas, where politicians and scientists tend to work. Ideological and epistemological variation will also be attained by including various stakeholders with dissimilar beliefs, opinions and ways of knowing—both about the neoliberal political climate and the highly scientific characteristics of biotechnology. Instead of allowing canonical research guidelines to control my sample and sampling size, I will follow Hine’s (2007) advice and focus on diversity as the key insight for good ethnography—allowing saturation of data to be my signal for an appropriate sample size and successful data gathering process. By doing so, this research project—in line with the expansive merits of multi-sited and macro-ethnography—will stretch the notion of conventional single-sited ethnography and other forms of positivistic social science research. Hine (2007) explains, “our methodological instincts are to clean up complexity and tell straightforward linear stories, and thus we tend to exclude descriptions that are faithful to experiences of mess, ambivalence, elusiveness and multiplicity” (p. 663). However, social science research is inherently messy and “fundamentally nonlinear” (Marshall & Rossman 2016: 65). Instead of attempting to purge research of messiness, the research design for this project will embrace the sometimes chaotic and iterative research process as normal and inevitable qualities of social life.

However, it is absolutely crucial to know that the potential disorderliness of this project will not negatively impact the informants who are selected for interviews or the spaces that are chosen for observation. The consent and security of all participants and locations will be preserved according to mandated IRB protocol. In a discussion on feminist ethnography, Stacy (1988) explains the unfortunate reality of ethnographic research, “field work represents an intrusion and intervention into a system of relationships, a system of relationships that the researcher is far freer than the researched to leave” (23). I intend to manage this intrusion by always, first and foremost, obtaining consent from all my informants.  In fact, this project will go one step further in order to protect an informant’s right to non-participation by practicing what Ellis (2007) calls ‘process consent’. She defines process consent as the action of checking at each stage of research whether or not participants still want to be included. By doing so, I am able to hold my research accountable for only including informants—and their highly valued personal stories, thoughts and opinions— who want to be included, and who have some piece of information that advances my research. In addition, and according to IRB protocol, any and all interview transcripts will be electronically filed and password protected. The field notes I create will use codes and pseudonyms to ensure anonymity amongst my informants and the locations I choose to observe. If names of my interview informants are needed in the final written portion of the project, I will encourage the informants to create pseudonyms and name themselves. This will help preserve their humanness, by avoiding identification numbers, and their agency, by being in charge of how they are represented in the final product.

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.

Master’s Research: Introduction, Part 3

The Development of Law No. 29811

On December 9, 2011, under the Presidency of Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), the Peruvian government approved Law 29811 enacting a ten-year moratorium on GMOs. The moratorium was the product of a 20-year process that began in the early 1990s. It included a multitude of stakeholders, including anti-transgenic activists, scientists, non-governmental organizations, farmers and the Peruvian government. It is important to know that up until 2006, the discussions of transgenics were limited to Peruvian political leaders, International Conventions and resulting legislative maneuvers. It was not until 2006 did the debate over transgenics become more inclusive (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). Each of these groups participated in the convoluted process, some specializing in scientific and political debate, while others focusing the on preservation of Peru’s biodiversity, and protection of rural, often Indigenous, farming lifestyles.

The debate over the varied impacts of transgenics began to take form in 1992 with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Interested in the CBD, Peru sent a committee to participate. Having agreed with parameters of the CBD, concerning the safe handling of, and potential impacts from the transfer of GMOs, the Peruvian delegation signed the convention. The CBD would prove to be the first international instrument focusing on biotechnology—followed up later by the Cartagena Protocol on the Safety of Modern Biotechnology.

Continued progress towards the usage of the transgenic in Peru was made in 1994, under the Presidency of Alberto Fujimori. President Fujimori, along with the National Environmental Council (CONAM), enacted Law No. 26410 which was designed to formulate, coordinate, and evaluate a new environmental policy. Shortly after, in 1999, Law No. 27104, or the ‘Biosafety Law’ was also put into place. This law established the necessary provisions and Peruvian agencies—such as the National Agricultural Research Institute (INIA) and the Directorate General of Environmental Health (DIGESA)—that would be in charge of biotechnological governance in Peru (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). It was designed to run parallel with the parameters launched by the CBD in 1992, providing guidelines and creating methods for acquiring approval for the regulation and release of transgenics within Peruvian borders.

In 1999 a committee was formed within the CONAM to deliberate about biosafety. The committee included experts from the field as well as members from civil society organizations. Included in the CONAM committee was Dr. Alexander Grobman, a renowned supporter of biotechnology, consultant to the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG), and president of PeruBiotech—a private association for the development of biotechnology. Grobman openly argued that biosafety measures, and other anti-transgenics regulations, would “hinder” Peru’s development and prevent the country from escaping poverty and debilitating food insecurity (Martinez & Pinzás 2014).

Just four years later, in 2003, the Peruvian Association of Consumers and Users (ASPEC), a NGO designed to protect consumers’ rights, carried out a campaign to raise Peruvian awareness about transgenics. Much to their chagrin, the initiative was unsuccessful due to the lack of participation from major civil society actors, as well as limited media attention. Despite the shortcomings of the ASPEC, the association represented a deliberate expansion of stakeholder voices in the debate over GMOs.

In July of 2004, the Cartagena Protocol, which was signed in 2000, was finally approved by the Peruvian Congress. It is important to note that during the debates of Protocol, the Peruvian delegation openly opposed and voted against the binding instrument—a tool designed make corporations responsible for the potential negative impacts of GMOs (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). Their outright voting against this portion of the Protocol crystallized Peru’s support of transgenics. Despite the Peruvian delegation’s opposition to the binding instrument, a consensus was reached in favor of the binding agreement, solidifying corporate responsibly for any negative externalities as a result of transgenics.

On July 11, 2006, Peru’s Congress approved the General Law for the Development of Modern Biotechnology. This new law provoked vehement opposition from NGOs and other anti-transgenics activists. The big problem revolved around the issues of patentability of biotechnological inventions (intellectual property) and the rights of indigenous peoples over their traditional knowledge and practices related to their biodiverse cultural heritage (Martinez & Pinzás 2014. For the first time light was shed upon the epistemological dichotomy of different types of knowledges. Due to this controversy, the CONAM was increasingly cautious about the outcomes of the new law, however, other agencies such as the MINAG and INIA, were openly in favor of allowing GMOs into the country. Later that year, after many arduous debates, the Peruvian government signed a Free Trade Agreement (TLC) with the United States. This maneuver, symbolic of the increasing neoliberalization in Peru, created a path for the entry of transgenics into Peru’s borders.

From 2006 to the Moratorium

Up until 2006 much of the debate over transgenics, and the laws resulting from the discussions, were largely exclusive. To a large part, many civil society organizations (CSOs) and other NGOs were not included. As Isabel Lapeña of the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA) and a member of the committee for the discussion on biosafety points out, “we had reached a point where the (position) seemed won by the protransgenic sector because the whole legislative landscape had been modified to favour the entry of transgenics into Peru” (Martinez & Pinzás 2014: 10). The second stage of the debate, beginning in 2007 and running up until the moratorium in 2011, was characterized by the amplified involvement of NGOs and CSOs in the controversy over transgenics in Peru.
Much of that increased participation began in 2007 with an important allegation on behalf of Dr. Antonietta Gutierrez, a biologist from the National Agrarian University La Molina and director of the Sustainable Environmental Development Association. Gutierrez reported that GMOs had been found in multiple sample sites in the valley of Barranca.  The allegation was quickly picked up and reported by leading newspapers such as El Comercio and La Republica, further increasing the level laymen participation and number of people aware about GMOs in Peru. Due to this, in October of that year, the platform group Peru Transgenic Free Country (PPPLT) was formed, consolidating multiple organizations who argued for sustainable and organic agriculture, and against the entry of GMOs into Peru (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). One year later, in 2008, Dr. Gutierrez published more results from an extended sample of the first test she carried out in 2007. In her new research, Gutierrez included the departments of Lima, Piura, Lambayeque, La Libertad and Ancash. She found that samples from Lima, Piura and La Libertad contained GMOs—confirming once again the introduction of transgenics in Peruvian agriculture (Martinez & Pinzás 2014).
All the while, Peru’s economy was continuing to grow. The economic growth during this time was no doubt a result of the economic restructuring that occurred during President Fujimori’s stay in office. During his ten years of presidency (1990-2000), the neoliberal hegemony began to reach Peru and dominate Fujimori’s economic and agricultural policies. Inspired by the Washington Consensus, President Fujimori moved towards the privatization of public enterprises and liberalization of foreign trade and labor market regulations. In addition, Fujimori placed a heavy emphasis on garnering foreign direct investment (FDI), especially from exploiting natural resources such as metals, oil, gas and agriculture (Bury 2005). Since then, Peru’s participation in globalized agricultural markets has continued to grow. So much so that the Exporters Association of Peru (ADEX), have expressed their commitment to organic crops and Peru’s incompatibility with GMOs. Their worry is that an agricultural system reliant upon transgenics will only offer economic benefits for the few corporations that own the intellectual property embedded with genetically altered crops. Organic agriculture or non-genetically modified agriculture on the other hand, would benefit a wider array of Peruvian farmers and agricultural markets (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). This economic argument, in conjunction with the arguments to preserve Peruvian biodiversity and livelihoods of farmers, coalesced into a more robust argument in opposition to GMOs in Peru.

In 2008, the Ministry of the Environment (MINAM) was created and Dr. Antonio Brack was appointed as minister. Dr. Brack, an ecologist, teacher and researcher of biodiversity, publicly spoke out against the usage of transgenics. For Brack, the major issue was the potential contamination of Peru’s endemic agrobiodiversity by GMOs. The MINAM, and Brack’s appointment as Minister, helped to balance the debate over transgenics in Peru’s governmental agencies (Martinez & Pinzás 2014).  Outside of the political realm, PPPLT’s anti-transgenics actions continue to intensify. Public displays of opposition—such as marches, public statements, fairs and conferences—continued to achieve media traction. In 2009, the PPPLT proposed a measure for a 5-year moratorium on the entry of GMOs and the labelling of any product containing genetically altered material. In addition, other NGOs joined the Platform, such as the Fair Trade and Ethical Trade Network, the Avantari Naturist Centre, and the National Convention of Peruvian Agriculture (Martinez & Pinzás 2014).

Despite this growing opposition to transgenics in Peru, in April of 2011, President Alan Garcia’s administration issued Supreme Decree 003-2011-MINAG. Just three months before the terminus of his Presidency – one that had always supported the economic interests of multinational corporations—Garcia’s decree allowed farmers and corporations to acquire permits to legally use GMOs in agriculture or forestry.  These new parameters were drafted solely by the MINAG, an agency historically in support of transgenics, and without any participation from MINAM, an agency opposed to the usage of transgenics (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). Due to the lack of equitable participation, MINAM and other anti-transgenics groups responded quickly.

In response, MINAM evoked its constitutional and legal mandate to protecting Peruvian biodiversity and its endemic genetic resources.  Their argument was that an abrupt decision like the Supreme Decree 003, and the exclusion of MINAM in drafting the piece of legislation, violated their constitutional power (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). Until a collaborative agreement could be reached or a moratorium on GMOs enacted, MINAM would continue to stand in opposition to President Garcia’s last effort to allow the widespread usage of GMOs in Peru. MINAM was not the only governmental group in opposition— lower level governments and municipalities issued ordinances declaring their jurisdictions “transgenic-free territories”. In total, thirteen of Peru’s regions, including the Municipality of Lima, had done so (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). This type of widespread mobilization, from multiple strata of government, helped shrink the existing legal dichotomy between pro- and anti-transgenic supporters, as well as represent the will of lay-citizens to preserve their country’s biodiversity.

In late 2011, Manuel Pulgar Vidal was appointed the new minister of MINAM. Vidal, much like his predecessor Antonio Brack, opposed GMOs in Peru and was in full support for a moratorium. By this time, multiple pieces of legislation had reached Congress and begun the process of enacting a moratorium. Finally, on June 7, 2011 Congress adopted Law No. 28911, declaring a moratorium on the entry of transgenics into the country for a period of ten years, On December 8, 2011, under the new Presidency of Ollanta Humala, the new law was officially authorized.

The objective of Law No. 28911 is clear: to prohibit the entry—from both external importation and domestic production— of transgenics into the environment. However, this excludes GMOs that are used in confined laboratory spaces and for pharmaceutical or veterinarian uses. The moratorium goes beyond just prohibiting and sanctioning the usage of GMOs, in addition, it is also designed to develop the Peruvian government’s capacity for biosafety. According to Martinez and Pinzás, this part of the moratorium is two-fold: “to enhance regulatory and capacity building, involving the construction of programmes for the knowledge and conservation of endemic genetic resources, biotechnology and competitive development programs, as well as projects to strengthen scientific and technological capabilities; and to create a multi-sectoral advisory committee to develop tools and skills for the regulation of biotechnology, biosafety and bioethics such as technical reports, proposals and monitoring functions” (2014: 22). In other words, the moratorium is designed to give the Peruvian government more time to regulate and prepare for the eventual entry of biotechnological products within their borders.

The future of GMOs in Peru hangs in the balance. Peruvian farmers and biodiversity are protected for at least another five years. Where the country will decide to move next once the moratorium expires is not certain. The sense is that the usage of transgenics on a massive agricultural scale is somewhat inevitable. Other developed nations, interested in the economic boons of biotechnology in developing nations such as the United States, are already mobilizing to make this possible (Nolte 2016; Nolte & Beillard 2014).  Despite this, the Peruvian government wants to slow down the growth of transgenics. It is important to them to ensure that the necessary regulations and governance technologies are in place beforehand in order to mitigate the potential risks to biodiversity, the Peruvian economy, and perhaps most importantly, to Peruvian farmers and their respective lifeways. However, if this is not the wish of the Peruvian citizenship, then it will be up to the continued resistance from anti-transgenic activists, farmers and scientists, along with support from certain agencies within the Peruvian State, to continue to preserve Peru’s rich biodiversity and long agricultural and cultural history.

Master’s Research: Part 1

In case any of you didn’t know, along with being a PCV I am also a Master’s student at Illinois State University. I am one of the last to receive what’s called a Master’s International Degree in Applied Community & Economic Development. My program is offered through the Stevenson Center at ISU. It is designed as a multidisciplinary Master’s experience where students specialize in one discipline but receive training in others. For example, I study sociology specifically, but took classes in the economics, political science and anthropology departments. The colleagues in my cohort, as you might expect, are economists, anthropologists and political scientists. Some of them, like me, are PCVs completing service while others complete their professional practice in the States.

What all this means is that on top of my work for my community and for the Peace Corps, I am also completing my master’s research on side. As of now, I am in the process of getting my research approved by my university as well as my country director for the Peace Corps. Once those approvals are processed, I will begin collecting qualitative data through in-depth interviews and observations. And to be honest, what I have prepared in the form of a research proposal will probably look a lot different than my final product. The messiness of my type of work– the necessity for iterative and inductive data collection– often transforms what the researcher thought they were going to get wrapped up in.

The reason for this post is to begin sharing what I am up to with respect to my personal research. I would like to begin sharing segments of my research proposal (it’s long, ~45 pages) in the hopes that whoever is reading might learn more about the country of Peru and how my brain operates within my speciality of environmental sociology. So with that being said, I present to you my baby (today we’ll just start with my abstract).

The Peruvian Moratorium on GMOs: Mapping Trajectories of Governance, Knowledge Production and  Indigeneity in a Neoliberal Context


On December 9, 2011, under the Presidency of Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), the Peruvian government approved Law No. 29811 establishing a ten-year moratorium on genetically modified organism (GMOs). In general, the moratorium eliminates the importation of genetically engineered seeds used for agriculture. The reasons for the GMO moratorium are convoluted, stemming from a myriad of related stakeholders and their respective interests. However, two foci create the backbone of the moratorium: the protection of rich Peruvian agricultural biodiversity and the perpetuation of farming techniques and lifestyles attached to the biodiverse landscape. Adding to these arguments, the implications of the Peruvian moratorium on GMOs can be further analyzed from various scientific, socio-cultural and political foundations. This paper will attempt to expound upon the varied perspectives of the moratorium and construct a multi-sited ethnographic narrative of the people, places and politics involved in the ten-year moratorium on genetically modified organisms.