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South Asia Center presents: Ronald Herring

341 Eggers Hall

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Ronald Herring Professor, Department of Government, Cornell University GMOs, NGOs, Science and the State: India's Struggles With Expert Knowledge and Democratic Rule Science and democracy are inherently uneasy partners. Regulation and law depend on settled authoritative knowledge: whether there either is or is not anthropogenic climate change is not a matter to be settled with votes. Yet science is tentative by epistemological commitments; campaigns in civil society project certainty out of necessity . Biotechnology in India put official science at odds with democratic processes in two episodes. In assessing Bt cotton, state regulatory science was more cautious than farmers (and state governments beholden to the rural vote). Despite its caution, state science on GMOs was nevertheless attacked as dangerously inadequate by a coalition of forces in civil society: NGOs. Mobilization diffused evidence of ill-health effects, livestock deaths, and farmer suicides. Though rejected by official science, NGO claims built networks that successfully defeated India's second GMO: a transgenic eggplant. These two cases of crops carrying the same transgene converge in illustrating conditions that create the vulnerability of state science, but diverge in whose interests prevailed. Politics diverged in part because cotton is not a food crop and eggplant is, but as importantly because the crops are embedded in different political economies, evoking different interests and political capacities.


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