IDS working papers;256

Contentious politics, contentious knowledges : mobilising against GM crops in India, South Africa and Brazil

Published on 1 January 2005

Debates about science and technology are central to the future of development. No recent controversy
has highlighted this as much as the debates about genetically-modified (GM) crops. Looking at the
experiences of anti-GM activism in India, South Africa and Brazil, this paper explores how knowledge and
politics are intertwined in mobilisation processes. These interactions are fundamentally shaped by
different local and national contexts of history, politics and economics, but also influenced by global
connections. Through a documentation of the unfolding of the anti-GM campaigns in the three sites over
the past decade, the paper shows how strategic alliances have been formed – across actors and across
debates – which have allowed concerns about GM crops to be inserted into public policy debates. The
strategies and tactics used by anti-GM activist networks are explored across seven ‘spaces’ for citizen
engagement: formal, invited spaces; informal networking and lobbying; party political and electoral
processes; the legal process and the courts; research, practice and demonstration sites; protest and direct
action; and the media. The case studies highlight the constraints and limitations of activist mobilisation,
and how alternative knowledge framings and perspectives on science, technology and policy are often
silenced. The paper concludes with a discussion of the ways forward, focusing on the need to bring
consideration of wider politics and values into deliberations about future science and technology options,
with a move beyond standard mechanisms and processes for deliberation and negotiation about science
and technology policy.
Keywords: GM crops, mobilisation, South Africa, Brazil, India.

Cite this publication

Scoones, I. (2005) Contentious politics, contentious knowledges : mobilising against GM crops in India, South Africa and Brazil. Working paper series, 256. Brighton: IDS.

Publication details

published by
Scoones, Ian


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