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Our latest class was held this Summer (2022) as a short series featuring a dialogue between Jakob Hanschu and Laurie Johnson. Below is some information and a sample of the series content. This and all our upcoming classes and short series will be offered through Eventbrite.

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.

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.

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