Hegemonic Practices - The Political Economy of Agricultural Biotechnology
Agricultural biotechnology (ABT) has become a major issue of concern in global politics. Since the first commercialization of biotech crops, global acreage, market value, private and public research and intellectual property rights concentration have increased considerably. Yet, the worldwide spread of agricultural biotechnology has been contested both globally and locally. In China and India, despite huge public and private investments in the development of genetically modified (GM) food products and a promotive political environment, recent government resolutions to introduce GM food crops have been met with fierce resistance, ultimately leading to a revocation of the pertinent decisions in both countries.
I argue that in global ABT politics not only material factors are pivotal, but also the symbolic meaning in form of norms of progress and modernity as well as the technology’s perceived (il)legitimacy. As such, the meaning of ABT is an effect of power relations and constituted in specific historical, social, economic and political practices. Indeed, to understand political change with respect to agricultural biotechnology, it is essential to unveil the power struggles and the way social practices constitute the meaning of ABT. I argue that change towards ABT and its resistance were brought about in and through hegemonic practices. Situated in a neo-Gramscian approach, hegemonic practices transcend a dichotomous understanding of the material and the ideational, as they consider the working of power in global politics in terms of hegemony. From this perspective, the meaning of ABT is an effect of power relations and constituted in conflicting interpretations that enable certain political actions and preclude others. This framework will be applied to the political economy of agricultural biotechnology in India and China. In both cases, the practices of the ‘biotech-bloc’ and common-sensical understandings of ABT affect whether or not GM foods will be accepted or rejected. As such, this neo-Gramscian approach opens up new ways for scholars to think about the role of power and norms in global political change.