CfP POLLEN 20 – Genetically Engineered ‘Natures’: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration

Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20)
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Conference theme: Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration, aims to explore plural natures and plural futures as sites of struggle and possibility whilst critically engaging with and ‘unpacking’ multiple and overlapping crises of our times.

Session organizers: Molly Bond & Deborah Scott

Abstract submission: Deadline 18 October 2019. Paper titles and abstracts of 250 words should be sent to Deborah.Scott@ed.ac.uk  & molly.bond@bristol.ac.uk

Session description

Genetic engineering has come a long way since Dolly the sheep and herbicide-tolerant GM crops. With the rise of gene-editing, synthetic biology, and mass DNA sequencing, spectacular imaginaries of future ‘natures’ are becoming reality, celebrated by some as signalling the fourth industrial revolution[1] and contested by others as the ‘colonization of life itself’[2]. In the last decade alone, states, regions and institutions have published a plethora of bioeconomy blueprints, roadmaps and strategies outlining opportunities for ‘sustainable economic growth’ by harnessing the power of nature[3].

For a long time advocates of biotechnology have promised to feed the world, despite largely failing to live up to this promise[4], such noble narratives continue to frame next-generation genetic engineering techniques as vital solutions to avoiding precarious futures.  Current projects range from GM sterile mosquitoes released in Burkina Faso in the name of malaria-eradication[5], to the synthesis of important (sub)tropical cash crops such as stevia, vanilla or vetiver in the name of sustainable production[6], to experiments in gene-edited heat-tolerant cattle in the name of adapting livestock to climate change in Brazil[7], to the creation of an Earth Bank of Genetic Codes in the name of unleashing “USD trillions” of natures’ biological assets[8]. While policy-makers grapple with the implications of emerging technologies, such projects are already having real-world affects and effects, most problematically upon those with the least means to contest[9]. With a diversity of stakes riding on regulation and policy, global environmental governance faces a “herculean task”[10].

To some, these projects offer genuine solutions to our current socio-ecological crises. To others, they are distractions, preventing society from taking radical systemic change through the allure of an easy techno-fix. We are interested in exploring the intricacies at work in this arena. In what ways does a genetically engineered ‘nature’ reconfigure the very notion of life, ecologies, diversities, sovereignty, power, and work in ways that open up or close down possible future pathways?

The possibilities for new genetic engineering technosciences to alter, implicate or reshape societies, economies, ecologies and understandings of nature require prefiguration, assessment and contestation. This call for papers and creative contributions welcomes work addressing the governance, knowledge, and political ecologies of biotechnology, genetic engineering, DNA sequencing/synthesis, biobanking, bioeconomy, rebellious life, anti/pro-GMO movements, ontological implications raised by biotechnology. as well as work under the conference’s key themes; the ‘production of capitalist natures’ and ‘accounts of agrarian or environmental change’ in the context of genetic engineering.

[1]Morton, O. (2019) Synthetic biology: The engineering of living organisms could soon start changing everything. The Economist Technology Quarterly. Print edition. See also, The Earth Bank of Codes for expectations of a 4th Industrial revolution: https://www.earthbankofcodes.org/

[2] Shiva, V. (2016) Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. North Atlantic Books

[3] (OECD (2011) The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda. OECD Paris; The White House (2012) National Bioeconomy Blueprint. Washington, DC.; European Commission (2012) Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bioeconomy for Europe. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. The US government is currently preparing a new bioeconomy strategy for 2021.

[4] Union of Concerned Scientists (2009) Failure to yield Report. Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/failure-to-yield.html

& ‘Food system that fails poor countries needs urgent reform, says UN’ Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter (2014) Available at: www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session25/Documents/A_HRC_25_57_ENG.DOC & https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/mar/10/food-system-poor-countries-reform-olivier-de-schutter

[5] Target Malaria (2018) Burkina Faso is getting ready for its next stage of research. Available at:https://targetmalaria.org/burkina-faso-is-getting-ready-for-its-next-stage-of-research-sterile-male-mosquito-release/ More critical coverage on the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/25/gm-mosquitoes-released-burkina-faso-malaria-gene-drive

[6] ETC group (2016) Synthetic Biology, Biodiversity & Farmers: Case studies exploring the impact of synthetic biology on natural products, livelihoods and sustainable use of biodiversity. Available at: http://www.etcgroup.org/content/synthetic-biology-biodiversity-farmers

[7] Bellini, J. (2018) This Gene-Edited Calf Could Transform Brazil’s Beef Industry. Wall Street Journal.https://www.wsj.com/video/series/moving-upstream/this-gene-edited-calf-could-transform-brazil-beef-industry/D2D93B49-8251-405F-BC35-1E5C33FA08AF

[8] Earth Bank of Codes: https://www.earthbankofcodes.org/  & Earth Bio Genome Project: https://www.earthbiogenome.org/

[9] Marris, C. (2013) Synthetic biology’s malaria promises could backfire. SciDev. Available at:https://www.scidev.net/global/biotechnology/opinion/synthetic-biology-s-malaria-promises-could-backfire.html

& African Biodiversity Network et al. (2019) Civil Society Denounces the Release of GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso. Available at:  https://acbio.org.za/acbio/web/en/civil-society-denounces-release-gm-mosquitoes-burkina-faso

[10] Laird, S. & Wynberg, R. (2017) Fast Science and Sluggish Policy: The Herculean Task of Regulating Biodiscovery. Cell Press: Science & Society. Volume 36, Issue 1, P1-3.

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