Contesting Harm: Agrochemicals and Agnotology on a Commodity Frontier

Authors: Annie Shattuck*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: agnotology, science and technology studies, toxicity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 4:30 PM / 6:10 PM
Room: Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As pesticide use increases, chemicals are coming into contact with bodies in ways that are uncertain. Debates about what counts as harm, what evidence is valid, and what science is adequate proof have a history almost as old as chemical agriculture itself. To investigate the politics of this evidence, I describe a case study in Northern Laos where the materiality of everyday pesticide use means that exposures escape prevailing assumptions about what kinds of practices produce “safe” levels of exposure. I discuss the politics of evidence from a community based biomonitoring project and from local government efforts to make visible and manage exposures. I argue that agrichemicals are agnogenic – they produce ignorance, and disproportionately so in the geographies where the majority of the world’s agrichemical users live and work. Certainty in this social context is a fiction; it cannot be produced to the standards of modern regulatory evaluation. The domain of imperceptibility surrounding exposures, the geographic disparities in terms of the ability to make impacts visible, and the disciplinary ‘tracks’ that limit what kind of evidence count, make it very difficult to produce enough scientific certainty to hold anyone accountable for harm.

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