426.2 Resisting and accepting: Hybrid epistemologies in the GMO controversy in Chile

Friday, August 3, 2012: 9:15 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Manuel TIRONI , Department of Sociology, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Chile
Maite SALAZAR , Department of Biotechnology, Universidad Santo Tomas, Chile
Daniel VALENZUELA , Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Chile
Juan Felipe ESPINOSA , School of Management, University of Leicester, Chile
There is a growing interest in understanding how different actors in the GMO debate produce, justify and mobilize evidence in the face of the ‘unknown unknowns’ put forward by this technology. Moreover, recent work in the STS field has highlighted the role of non-expert knowledge and concerned groups in contesting the evidentiary basis of regulatory processes. In this sense, there is an ever-increasing interest in understanding how non-scientific actors – for example anti-GMO groups or non-industrial farmers – create and legitimize an ‘evidential culture’.

In this paper we analyze the case of the emergent controversy over GMOs in Chile. Based on in-depth interviews and document analyses, we specifically examine how a key sector in the debate – organic and small farmers – constructs and frames its evidences regarding GMOs, what type of trials they mobilize, and which political strategies are fleshed out.

Our preliminary findings suggest a very particular epistemic configuration, one that we call hybrid epistemology. On the one hand, organic and small farmers claim forms of knowledge and evidence-making that are external to the scientific system. Specifically, they base their evidence production on two forms of knowledge: experiential and dialogical knowledge. On the other hand, they reconcile the contentious nature of their knowledge with a more technocratic and strategic approach. Characterized by notions of transparency, ‘hard data’, market operability and consensus-building, this technocratic and strategic approach prevails in the public debate and discourse. Finally, our work points at the specificity of the Chilean public debate over GMOs. While in developed countries organic and small farmers are usually characterized as representing contentious positions against GMOs, the strategy used by these groups in Chile does not openly contest the legitimacy of science as the basis of the decision-making process.