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

  • Pieter Lemmens


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 


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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

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