Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 127–152 | Cite as

Re-taking Care: Open Source Biotech in Light of the Need to Deproletarianize Agricultural Innovation



This article deals with the biotechnology revolution in agriculture and analyzes it in terms of Bernard Stiegler’s theory of techno-evolution and his thesis that technologies have an intrinsically pharmacological nature, meaning that they can be both supportive and destructive for sociotechnical practices based on them. Technological innovations always first disrupt existing sociotechnical practices, but are subsequently always appropriated by the social system to be turned into a new technical system upon which new sociotechnical practices are based. As constituted and conditioned by a technical system, human cultures are necessarily systems of care. Humans take care of themselves and the world through technologies. Agriculture is a very old system of care, stable for more than 10,000 years, but at the moment it is experiencing a profound rupture thanks to the invention of genetic engineering technologies, that promise to revolutionize it. However, their current deployment under capitalist conditions everywhere leads to processes of proletarianization, due to the fact that they enable the expropriation of farmers of the means of production, depriving them of the possibility of appropriating these new technologies and frustrating the invention of a new agricultural system of care. This has lead to a widespread rejection of the new technologies, which is a grave error though, as these technologies can become the basis of a new system of care. But only under the condition that they are wrought from corporate control and redeployed instead to initiate a process of deproletarianization. It is argued that current initiatives in open source and commons-based biotech are probably the most promising harbingers of such a process of deproletarianization.


Technical system Biotechnology Capitalism Proletarianization Open source 


  1. Benyus, J. M. (1997). Biomimicry. Innovation inspired by nature. New York: Harper-Collins.Google Scholar
  2. Bernstein, H. (2010). Introduction: Some questions concerning the productive forces. Journal of Agrarian Change, 10(3), 300–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bijker, W. (1997). Of bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs: Toward a theory of sociotechnical change. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bijker, W. E., Hughes, Th. P., & Pinch, T. (1987). The social construction of technological systems: New directions in the sociology and history of technology. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bijker, W., & Law, J. (1992). Shaping technology/building society: Studies in sociotechnical change. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bové, J. (2005). The world is not for sale: Farmers against junk food. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  7. Bové, J., & Dufour, F. (2005). The food for the future. Agriculture for a global age. London: Polity.Google Scholar
  8. Chataway, J., Tait, J., & Wield, D. (2004). Understanding company R&D strategies in agro-biotechnology: Trajectories and blind-spots. Research Policy, 33(6–7), 1041–1057.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Detienne, M., & Vernant, J. P. (1989). The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Feenberg, A. (1999). Questioning technology. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Feenberg, A. (2002). Transforming technology. A critical theory revisited. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Feenberg, A. (2010). Between reason and experience. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2009). Commonwealth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Herring, R. J. (2007a). The genomics revolution and development studies: Science, poverty and politics. Journal of Development Studies, 43(1), 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Herring, R. J. (2007b). Stealth seeds: Bioproperty, biosaftey, biopolitics. Journal of Development Studies, 43(1), 130–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Herring, R. J. (2008). Opposition to transgenic technologies: Ideology, interests and collective action frames. Nature, 9, June 2009, 458–463.Google Scholar
  17. Himanen, P. (2001). The hacker ethic and the spirit of the information age. London: Secker & Warburg.Google Scholar
  18. Hope, J. (2008). Biobazaar. The open source revolution and biotechnology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Jefferson, R. (2006). Science as social Enterprise. Innovations, Fall, 2006, 13–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jonas, H. (1985). The imperative of responsibility. In search for an ethics for the technological age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  21. Kloppenburg, J. 2004 (1988), First the seed. The political economy of plant biotechnology 14922000. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  22. Kloppenburg, J. (2010). Impeding dispossession, enabling repossession: Biological open source and the recovery of seed sovereignty. Journal of Agrarian Change, 10, 367–388.Google Scholar
  23. Kuriyan, R., & Ray, I. (2009). Outsourcing the state? Public-private partnerships and information technologies in India. World Development. Fall 2009, (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  24. Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Levy, S. (2001). Hackers. Heroes of the computer revolution. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  26. Lewontin, R. C. (2000). The maturing of capitalist agriculture: Farmer as proletarian. In F. Magdoff, J. Bellamy-Foster, & H. Buttel (Eds.), Hungry for profit. The agribusiness threat to farmers, food and the environment (pp. 93–106). New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  27. Liodakis, G. (2003). The role of biotechnology in the agro-food system and the socialist horizon. Historical Materialism, 11(1), 37–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. MacKenzie, D. (1999). The social shaping of technology. London: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Magdoff, F., Bellamy-Foster, J., & Buttel, H. (2000). Hungry for profit. The agribusiness threat to farmers, food and the environment. New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  30. Marx, K. (1977). Capital (Vol. 1). New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  31. McMichael, P. (2008). Peasants make their own history, but not as they please…. Journal of Agrarian Change, 8(2 and 3), 205–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Merton, R. K. (1979). The sociology of science. Theoretical and empirical investigations. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Miraftab, F. (2004). Public-private partnerships. The Trojan horse of neoliberal development? Journal of Planning Education and Research, 24, 89–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moore, J. (2010). The end of the road? Agricultural revolutions in the capitalist world-ecology, 1450–2010. Journal of Agrarian Change, 10(3), 389–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Murphy, D. J. (2007). Plant breeding and biotechnology societal context and the future of agriculture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Negri, A. (2010). Communism. Some thoughts on the concept and practice. In S. Žižek & C. Douzina (Eds.), The idea of communism. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  37. Perens, B. (1999). The open source definition. In C. Dibona, S. Ockman, & M. Stone (Eds.), Open sources. Voices from the open source revolution. O’Reilly: Sebastopol.Google Scholar
  38. Poynder, R. (2006). Biological open source. Interview with Richard. In The basement interviews.
  39. Pray, C. E., & Naseem, A. (2007). Supplying crop biotechnology to the poor: Opportunities and constraints. Journal of Development Studies, 43(1), 192–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ramaswami, B., Pray, C. E., & Lalitha, N. (2010). The spread of illegal transgenic cotton varieties in India: Biosafety regulation, monopoloy, and enforcement. World Development, 43(1), 177–188.Google Scholar
  41. Roy, D., Herring, R. J., & Geisler, C. C. (2007). Naturalizing transgenics: Official seeds, loose seeds and risk in the decision matrix of Gujarati cotton farmers. Journal of Development Studies, 43(1), 158–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ruivenkamp, G. (2003). Tailor-made biotechnologies for endogenous developments and the creation of new networks and knowledge means. Biotechnology and Development Monitor, 50, 14–16.Google Scholar
  43. Ruivenkamp, G. (2005). Tailor-made biotechnologies: Between bio-power and sub-politics. Tailoring Biotechnologies, 1(1).Google Scholar
  44. Ruivenkamp, G. (2008a). Biotechnology in development. Experiences from the South, Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers (book plus dvd).Google Scholar
  45. Ruivenkamp, G. (2008b). Tailoring biotechnologies: A manifesto. In G. Ruivenkamp, S. Hisano, & J. Jongerden (Eds.), Reconstructing biotechnologies. Critical social analyses (pp. 5–29). Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ruivenkamp, G. (2011). Seeds: From commodities to commons. Journal of Agrarian Change (submitted).Google Scholar
  47. Ruivenkamp, G., Hisano, S., & Jongerden, J. (2008). Reconstructing biotechnologies. Critical social analyses. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ruivenkamp, G., & Jongerden, J. (2010). Open source and commons in development. ISDA 2010:
  49. Sloterdijk, P. (2001). Nicht gerettet. Versuche nach Heidegger. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  50. Stallman, R. (2002). Free software, free society. Selected essays of Richard M. Stallman. Boston: Free Software Foundation.Google Scholar
  51. Stiegler, B. (1998). Technics and time 1. The fault of epimetheus. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Stiegler, B. & Ars Industrialis. (2006). Réenchanter le monde. La valeur esprit contre le populisme industriel. Paris: Flammarion.Google Scholar
  53. Stiegler, B. (2007). Zorg dragen. Landbouw en industrie. Ethische Perspectieven, pp. 214–227.Google Scholar
  54. Stiegler, B. (2008). Le design des nos existences à l’époque de l’innovation ascendante. Paris: Mille et une nuits.Google Scholar
  55. Stiegler, B. (2009). Technics and time 2. Disorientation. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Stiegler, B. (2010a). Taking care of youth and the generations. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Stiegler, B. (2010b). For a new critique of political economy. London: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  58. Stiegler, B. (2010c). Ce qui vaut que la vie vaut la peine d’être vécue. De la pharmacologie. Paris: Flammarion.Google Scholar
  59. Stiegler, B. (2011). Technics and time 3. Cinematic time and the question of Malaise. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Van der Ploeg, J. D. (2008). The new peasantries. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  61. Van der Ploeg, J. D., & Long, A. (1994). Endogenous development: Practices and perspectives. In J. D. Ploeg, & van der A. Long (Eds.), Born from within practices and perspectives of endogenous rural development. Assen: Van Gorcum.Google Scholar
  62. Verzola, R. (2010). Undermining abundance: Counterproductive uses of technology and law in nature, agriculture, and the information sector. In G. Krikorian & A. Kapczynski (Eds.), Access to knowledge in the age of intellectual property. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  63. Vroom, W., Ruivenkamp, G., & Jongerden, J. (2007). Articulating alternatives: Biotechnology and genomics development within a critical constructivist framework. Graduate Journal of Social Science, 4, 11–32.Google Scholar
  64. Weber, S. (2005). The success of open source. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Wield, D., Chataway, J., & Bolo, M. (2010). Issues in the political economy of agricultural biotechnology. Journal of Agrarian Change, 10(3), 342–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. CAMBIA-BiOS website:
  67. Yoon, B.-S. (2006). Who is threatening our dinner table? The power of transnational agribusiness. Monthly Review, 58(6).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Science Studies, Faculty of ScienceRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations