‘Scientism’ or Seed Sovereignty?: Unraveling the diversity of resistance to GMOs in Guatemala

Authors: Carrie Seay-Fleming*, University of Colorado - Boulder
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography, Food Systems
Keywords: Agrarian studies, GMOs, food sovereignty, social movements, Guatemala
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Until 2019, Guatemala upheld a de-facto ban on GMOs for more than a decade. The ban has been attributed to broad-based social resistance and the unlikely alliances galvanized by the issue. In 2019, however, a regulation legalizing the commercialization of GMOs was met with little resistance. In this paper, I show how the tensions between anti-GM actors and their interactions on the ground help to explain this turn of events in Guatemala, and—more broadly— contributes to our understanding of how biotechnology advances despite significant resistance. Drawing on interviews and ethnographic observation, I demonstrate how urban, professional class Ladinos who oppose GMOs draw on scientific and technical arguments divorced from broader political-economic critiques. Meanwhile, campesino and indigenous activists center their resistance within broader structures of oppression such as colonialism, racism, and capitalism. Throughout, I draw on the neo-Gramscian concept of ‘biohegemony’ (Newell 2009) to re-frame the GMO debates in Guatemala as a terrain of struggle between unequal anti-GM actors, characterized by both opposition and accommodation to biotechnology. Specifically, I show how ‘scientisim’ as a form of discursive power is employed in problematic ways, not only by pro-GMO coalitions—as other scholarship suggests—but also by anti-GM allies. This case contributes to our understanding of biohegemony, complicating the difference between hegemony and counterhegemony, and reveals significant impediments to creating a more just food future in Guatemala.

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