Agro-Agnotologies: Productions of Power and Ignorance in Industrial Agriculture

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Poster #:
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 4:30 PM / 6:10 PM
Room: Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Organizers: Jennie Durant, Abigail Martin
Chairs: Jennie Durant


Current systems of agricultural production rely upon—and even produce—the disregard, omission, loss, or neglect of certain types of knowledge. Knowledge of ecological landscapes, toxicity, risk and environmental justice feature prominently in those omissions (e.g. Kleinman and Suryanarayanan [2015, 2013] and Freidberg, [2017]). From agrichemicals to food safety, bee die-offs to greenhouse gas emissions, producing ignorance is key to making industrial agriculture work. Building on insights from the larger scholarship on agnotology (Proctor, 2008), the study of how ignorance is produced, the papers presented in this panel empirically examine cases in which ignorance plays a constitutive role in knowledge production for agriculture. Whether ignorance production is conscious and intentional or unconscious and structural, ignorance has a politics. With increasing uncertainty over complex outcomes, it is difficult to hold powerful actors to account.

Papers in this session cover numerous sites of agricultural agnotology. In the Salinas and Yuma Valleys in California, food safety regulations write out the landscapes and context in which risk is produced, enabling recurrent outbreaks and shifting their costs to farmers and workers. In the case of carbon intensity metrics used to estimate lifecycle GHG emission for ethanol, regulation similarly obscures landscape-level context, with implications for which agricultural producers gain access to low-carbon fuels markets. In honey bee die-offs in California, we see how regulatory policies are structured to produce ignorance, in part, about which agrochemicals are toxic to bees. Finally, community-based biomonitoring in South East Asia illuminates how both the science of pesticide exposure and its political economy undermine current regulatory standards for scientific certainty. Each case draws on critical approaches to ignorance as a form of knowledge power (Haraway, 1991) and as embedded in social contexts that produce the practices, norms, conventions, instruments, and discourses that constitute scientific knowledge (e.g. Jasanoff, 2004).


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Jennie Durant*, University of California, Berkeley, The Label is the Law: Productions of Ignorance about Bee Toxic Agrochemicals 20 4:30 PM
Presenter Patrick Baur*, University of California, Berkeley, Safe knowledge, dangerous ignorance: The co-production of systemic blind spots in agrofood safety design and implementation 20 4:50 PM
Presenter Annie Shattuck*, University of California - Berkeley, Contesting Harm: Agrochemicals and Agnotology on a Commodity Frontier 20 5:10 PM
Presenter Abigail Martin*, , Confronting ignorance in agricultural value chains: Carbon intensity calculations for biofuels production 20 5:30 PM
Discussant Susanne Freidberg Dartmouth College 20 5:50 PM

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