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The Good Seed and Why It Matters

Monday, February 12, 2024 at 12:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

Talk by Ashawari Chaudhuri (Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University)

The introduction of genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton in India in 2002 invoked fierce debates and discussions about the future of agriculture in the country. Towards the beginning of its cultivation, some farmers received higher yields. However, over the years, concerns over the cost of cultivating GM cotton, pests developing resistance to the technology, environmental impacts, and corporate control over agriculture have taken center stage in discussions around agricultural biotechnology. Although most of these discussions have been centered on GM seeds, the seed itself remains unexplored. Based on ethnographic and archival research among communities on opposite ends of the agrarian political economy, like farmers and breeders/biotechnologists, I explore the meaning of Bt cotton for these communities. In opening the GM seed through practice, time emerges as a powerful yet understudied phenomenon. Different registers of time, like breeding time, generational time, seasonal time, and market time, are braided in ways that determine the meaning of the seed for these communities. I use braided time to critique GM seed as a commodity. I also suggest that recognizing the significance of time further enables responsibility towards human and agrarian lives and non-human ecological formations.

Ashawari Chaudhuri is an anthropologist of the environment, science, and medicine. Chaudhuri’s current book manuscript is a historically grounded ethnography of agricultural biotechnology in India. Along with asking what a good seed is for farmers and biotechnologists, Chaudhuri traces how knowledge about objects like genetically modified seeds is formed at intersections of practice, people, and time. Chaudhuri’s next project is an inquiry into the long relation between environmental heat and the body in South Asia. Chaudhuri finds historically emerging meanings of words and concepts powerful. Her teaching is often grounded in questions of ethics and creative negotiations with power around practices, technologies, and ideas that acquire palimpsests of meanings over time and across places. Chaudhuri has lived in India, Singapore, and the U.S. and knows Bengali, Hindi, and English. She has also been learning Mughal Persian for the past few years. Chaudhuri’s research and teaching are infused with my senses of self, belonging, and identity. When Chaudhuri is not teaching or researching, she is interested in healing plants, stars, and cultural interpretations of dreams.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, Science and Technology Studies





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