The Agri/Cultures Project is a four-year research project funded by the Norwegian Research Council’s FRIPRO programme for young research talents. The project is focused on developing novel concepts, methods and empirical knowledge for understanding and assessing the complex relational networks embodied in and performed by agricultural biotechnologies.
The use of biotechnologies has been one of the most controversial developments in modern agriculture and remains an issue of ongoing debate and unresolved social and political tension around the world. Norway has been internationally pioneering with a Gene Technology Act (GTA) that explicitly requires that the introduction and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is socially and ethically justifiable, with considerable weight given to societal benefit and contribution to sustainable development. Despite this intention, there is currently a lack of available knowledge on GMOs concerning these issues, a lack of concrete methods for their research, and a lack of clarity on how to approach socio-economic assessment. This makes it very difficult in practice to operationalise the assessment of GMOs (for both cultivation and import) according to their social and ethical justifiability, as currently required by Norwegian law.
To help address this problem, the Agri/Cultures project seeks to:
a) develop new ways of thinking about and researching GMOs that sees them not as isolated technological objects that can be assessed on their own but rather as dynamic networks of social, ecological and technical relations that have to be considered and assessed as a package,
b) generate relevant knowledge that can enable both the assessment of the relational network of GMOs against criteria of sustainability, societal benefit and ethical justifiability, and the comparison of this network with those of conventional and organic agri/cultures.
c) explore novel ways to capture and visualise these relational networks so that the information is accessible, engaging, relevant and useful for publics and policy-makers.
The project will first generate cartographies of the socio-ecological and techno-cultural networks involved in different agricultural systems, focusing on the case study of Bt maize and comparing this to conventional and organic systems of maize. The project will also explore the interaction and potential for co-existence between these three agri-food systems. To create analytic depth, the cartographies will also explore the worldviews and human/nature relations that are embedded in and performed by the different agri/cultures. In later years, the project will focus on a particular set of stakeholders within the relational networks that are crucial yet particularly vulnerable actors in agri-food systems: bee/keepers. In this work, the aim will be to understand how the three different systems of maize production effect and are affected by bee/keepers and how the assessment of sustainability, social utility and ethical justifiability are perceived and assessed from their perspective.
In addition to standard academic deliverables such as publications in international peer-reviewed journals, policy reports and articles in the popular press, this project also seeks to be innovative in its approach to communication. With a specific intention to explore novel ways to capture, visualise, and assess the relational networks involved in modern agri-food systems, and to ensure that its results will be disseminated to various audiences, the project will develop an online identity and digital transmedia platform.