Benign Violence: A Intimate Biography of Glyphosate

Authors: Jake Kosek*, UC Berkeley
Topics: Environment, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: elements, chemistry, materialisms
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


How is Glyphosate the most universal, ubiquitous and profitable pesticide in world history widely understood to have comparably benign effects on the people and environment, when in fact it has been the most consequential agent of ecological landscape transformation and agrarian labor relations of the US in the last 45 years. This talk challenges the enframings of debates about causality and toxicity and in so doing attempts to rethink challenge the benign label of this most ubiquitous of this most ubiquitous of herbicides. Currently there is a lot of discussion around this in that Glyphosate has become taxonomically redefined by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) as being possibly carcinogenic. This is a big deal and I want to talk about some of the taxonomic histories of its redefinition. But more importantly here is to make the larger argument that if the debate becomes narrowed to whether Glyphosate causes birth defects, nervous system damage, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, various forms of cancer, and kidney failure among others as it is accused, as important as this is, we miss other violent forms of its consequence in the world. In other words there are deep consequences to its ‘benign effects.’ What if the means of evaluation were the transformation at the landscapes scale rather than the molecular? What if the debates and a broader temporal horizon? What if the multiple indirect effects were understood as direct ones albeit less immediate?

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