Afterlives of Success: the role of narrative in policy transformations

Authors: Ilona Moore*, Bucknell University
Topics: Development, Third World, Social Theory
Keywords: development, aid, food, agriculture, geopolitics, hunger
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper I consider the role of narrative in policy transformation. The Green Revolution of the 1960s (which transformed and industrialized agriculture) is widely considered to be the among the most successful development projects of all time. India is regarded as a model success case. The legacy is robust and invoked by diverse interests around the world to justify a vast range of projects to this day.
The mainstream Green Revolution narrative is that through a technological intervention of HYV seeds, India dramatically increased foodgrain production and became self-sufficient. Diverse bodies of academic literature, historical accounts, and statistical records, dispute the veracity of the narrative’s quantitative claims in India. These and other literatures demonstrate the transformations were a revolution in “how,” rather than how much. While many such accounts dismiss the narrative as “just a story,” I argue that this story was fundamental to enabling the transformations and legacy of the Green Revolution.
In this paper, I trace the narrative of “quantitative yield” success to document the political-economic work of this story. I suggest this narrative both reveals and conceals the work of the Green Revolution. Drawing on archives of American Foundations’ agricultural programs in India, I demonstrate the narrative was used to transform policy and society. Within this, the focus on numbers and yield was key. The paper documents how the narrative did -- and continues to do -- essential political-economic work around the world.

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