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Agricultural Biotechnology and the Information Economy

This Maurin Academy short series ran August-September 2022. You can find clips of this class here. Laurie Johnson and Jakob Hanschu analyzed the political economy of agricultural biotechnology using insights from critical studies of the information era. Through a juxtaposition of McKenzie Wark’s A Hacker Manifesto with Jack Kloppenburg’s First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology, 1492-2000, we aimed to produce a conceptually hybrid critical-theoretical approach to agricultural biotechnology and digital capitalism. See full series description below recommended reading.

Recommended Reading:

Kloppenburg and Goldman, “Counter Crop Patents by Freeing Seeds to Feed the World.”

Summary of McKenzie Wark, A Hacker’s Manifesto.

Phil Howard: Seed Industry Visualization

Interview with McKenzie Wark

The Open Source Seed Initiative

Interview with Kloppenburg

Hanschu and Johnson, “The Economic and Social Origins of Right-Wing Radicalization.”

Agricultural Biotechnology and the Information Economy 

The development of hybrid crops and subsequent plant biotechnologies, such as genetically modified (GM) tomatoes, are routinely touted as some of the most important scientific achievements of all time. Indeed, we agree that such developments are immensely important—not because they helped feed a world hell-bent on proving Malthus right (as the story usually goes…) but because they eventually led to a situation where farmers must purchase seeds from some off-farm interest instead of producing and saving their own seeds as they had done for most of agricultural history. Many scholars have argued that plant biotechnology is one of the core drivers—along with artificial fertilizer and farm implement mechanization—of industrial agriculture. Rural sociologist Jack Kloppenburg, in his magisterial First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology, 1492-2000, argues that seeds are the “irreducible core of crop production” and were a major point of entry for agribusiness industry into agrarian operations. 

The work of Kloppenburg and others has proven useful for critical studies of agricultural history and political economy. However, current theorizations of agricultural biotechnology have yet to be integrated with the vast amount of critical theoretical work that has attempted to conceptualize the so-called Digital of Information Age. The purpose of this short series is to engage in an analysis of the political economy of agricultural biotechnology using insights from critical studies of digital media. To do so, we will read McKenzie Wark’s A Hacker Manifesto alongside Kloppenburg’s First the Seed. Wark argues that the rise of intellectual property (IP) creates a novel class division those that produce and use information and those that ‘own’ it and control access to it. By juxtaposing A Hacker Manifesto with First the Seed, we will engage in critical-theoretical cross-breeding and move toward a conceptually hybrid theory of agricultural biotechnology. Further, we speculate that an understanding of, for example, hybrid seeds as commodified information can expand our understanding of digital capitalism in the information age. 

This is a segment from Laurie Johnson’s presentation in the first session of The Maurin Academy’s Fall 2022 short series on Agricultural Biotechnology and the Information Economy. She is guided by information from the first part of Jack Kloppenberg’s First the Seed. The short series with Laurie Johnson and Jakob Hanschu brings Kloppenberg’s scholarship to bear on McKenzie Wark’s The Hacker Manifesto, and vice versa.

Summer 2022: The Seminar on Christian Anarchism is now complete. We had 30 participants! All proceeds from this course after fees were paid went to support the mission of MORTC/Blue Valley Greens organic farm in Kansas City, MO.

We have posted sections of this course below. If you would like to purchase all five full length sessions after the course is over, go to to purchase the complete playlist.

Introduction to Christian Anarchism

This course was taught live on Zoom on Saturdays 1-2:30 p.m. Central Time from May 28 to June 25, 2022. Below are selections from each class. The five sessions centered on these themes:

1. Introduction to Christian anarchism in contemporary context.

2. Christian anarchism: going deeper.

3. The strategy of non-violence.

4. praxis 1: selected history of utopian Christian communities

5. praxis 2: Catholic Worker vs. the church.

Some of the authors featured were Peter Chelčický, Leo Tolstoy, Jacques Ellul, Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day,  William T. Cavanaugh, Eugene McCarraher, Nicolas Berdyaev, and selections from the Bible. 

Dr. Laurie M Johnson is a Professor of Political Science at K-State and runs a popular YouTube channel on political thought. This is her second independent summer seminar (the first was on Distributism). For more information, visit and

Past Events:

Summer Seminar on Distributism with Dr. Laurie Johnson. June & July 2021.

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