Presentación de la nueva web interactiva

El pasado día 17 de abril, en el marco de la Semana de la Lucha por la Tierra organizada por Aragón Hacia la Soberanía Alimentaria, CERAI Arazón y el Ayuntamiento de Zaragoza, presentamos -por primera vez- la web interactiva que estamos realizando en el proyecto Agri/Cultures. La web es una herramienta visual cuyo objetivo es empoderarnos para la toma de decisiones sobre nuestro sistema alimentaria a través de explorar las relaciones que esconden nuestras elecciones alimentarias diarias. La web presenta información recopilada a lo
largo de los cuatro años de The Agri/Cultures Project entorno a cuatro sistemas alimentarios de maíz: el agroecológico, el ecológico convencional, intensivo en químicos (lo que se conoce como “convencional” y transgénico. Al mismo tiempo, quiere ser una herramienta que permita experimentar con nuevas formas de comunicación científica para promover debates sobre nuestras complejas realidades alimentarias. Por lo tanto -y a pesar de algunos problemas técnicos- fue una gran oportunidad para nosotras poder presentar en público el prototipo de la web interactiva.

Tuvimos el gusto de poder compartir la charla con José Ramon Olarieta Alberdi, que presentó el libro “Transgénicos: ¿de verdad son seguros y necesarios. Evidencias cientificas que llaman al principio de precaución”, recientemente editado por La Fertilidad de la Tierra y Juan Carlos Simón, que nos explicó su experiencia de campo en relación a los efectos de la contaminación transgénica en el maíz ecológico de Aragón.

La Semana de Lucha por la Tierra se celebra el 17 de abril, día de la lucha campesina, en memoria y homenaje a 19 campesinos del Movimiento Sin Tierra de Brasil que fueron asesinados  en 1996 en la localidad de El Dorado dos Carajás, en el Estado de Pará (Brasil). Desde entonces en ese día se organizan actos en todo el mundo.



Exploring the Art-Science-Sustainability nexus with poetic analysis

This was the title of the workshop I attended last Friday at the University of Vic with María Fernández Giménez, from the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship at the Colorado State University. María is collaborating with different projects at the Chair on Agroecology at the University of Vic dealing with shepherds, traditional knowledge and adaptation to climate change, which are also exploring new ways of scientific communication using arts.

In the seminar, assistants shared their views and experiences on poetic analysis, defined by María Fernándex as one facet of the emerging field of arts-based inquiry through which social science researchers use artistic expression, including literature, visual art and perfomance throughout the research process. Poetic analysis can take several different forms:

a) representation of data in poetic form, in which the researcher creates poems from interview transcripts or other primary texts. In this form, poems are a means of data reduction, similar to other qualitative data analysis approaches;

b) poetry as a means of enquiry, where the researcher analyses poems (created by the researcher or a research subject) to identify themes, and reveal meaning and emotion; and

c) ethnographic poetry, in which the researcher writes ethnography or research results as poetry.

The workshop was attended by researchers working on agroecology, climate change and education (especially focused on videos, music and theater), and after a presentation given by María on different researches using poetry both as a research and communication tool, we did a practical exercise composing a poem using either interview quotations or by scientific articles. I enjoyed it a lot, and I found it especially interesting to read and listen to the different poems we wrote all inspired by the same original text.

Resilience for Development colloquium – on reading landscapes and imagining agri/cultural futures


Performative artwork titled Eland and Benko which was burned onto the landscape by artist Hannelie Coetzee as part of a science – at collaboration where scientists were studying burning of grasslands and the effect on grassland species and habitats.

Last week i attended the Resilience for Development Colloquium which was held in Johannesburg. The colloqium was organised by  GRAID (Guidance for Resilience in the Anthropocene: Investments for development) and SAPECs (Southern African Program on Ecosystem Change and Society) which falls within the Stockholm Resilience Centre. GRAID has been set up to “generate the latest knowledge on resilience thinking, synthesize and employ insights to assess and build resilience in the context of development across Global South”.

Busiso Moyo’s keynote provided a deeply insightful place from which to think about South Africa’s social-economic challenges rooted in the complex history of the country which underpins the current lived realities. Lorenzo Fioramonti’s key note speech on the ‘well being economy‘ provided an  introduction to imagining  development without the economic growth being at the centre of decision making in South Africa and globally. And finally Michelle Lee-Moore’s keynote provided an overview of the history of resilience thinking and how its is growing in appeal globally as tool for approaching the social-ecological challenges and oppourtunities were are faced with today in a development context.

The colloquium explored the importance of a resilience perspective within development and in finding ways to work collectively towards human and ecological wellbeing. It also focused on workshopping research methodologies and approaches towards monitoring and sustaining longterm resilience focused projects or “transformative development projects”. The program was extensive and comprised of 3 sets of 3 parallel session over 3 days. Therefore it was not possible to attend all the sessions but i was able to attend most of the ones that i was interested in and which i felt would be useful for the agri/cultures work. Themes of talks and workshops ranged from thinking about resilience in agriculture and food security, to marine ecosystems, and urban environments. A  number of practitioners who are exploring resilience as a lens in their work shared their experiences from around the globe. Some of the discussion focused on how a resilience approach has been interpreted widely by practitioners and it was agreed that while some tools and methodologies are valuable to guide practice,  tools must be flexible so as to be adaptive to different contexts.

The colloquium was a great opportunity to learn more about the resilience work being carried out and also learn more about the focus within this field on social-ecological connections and research and how practitioners are approaching this. In attending thecoloquium i was curious about how a resilience perspective may add insights to exploring agri/cultural futures in South Africa.  Within the PhD project i have been exploring changing social-ecological knowledge in agri/cultural systems and how agri/cultural knowledge of both farmers and scientists (involved in maize agri/culture) in South Africa has changed over time and specifically in relation to the introduction of new seed varieties and technologies. As new technologies are introduced agri/cultural knowledge shifts, leading to changes in social-ecologial relationhips and knowledge.  I am interested in how a resilience perspective may support the the growth of research and development that moves beyond the dominant models ( which are largely geared towards supporting industrial agri/cultural systems) and which take seriously diverse agri/cultural knowledges (which are ever changing) as vital for building social-ecological resilience for the future of agri/culture in South Africa.

The colloquium program also had a strong focus on interdisciplinary research methodologies as being important within the resilience field. It was an opportunity to share experiences with other researchers making use of visual and sensory data collection methodologies. Over the past year while i have been very excited about the interdisciplinary component of the project this has also been a challenging part to develop and often i have felt a bit disconnected from others working in this way and it is extremely useful to have the change to engage with other researchers experiencing similar challenges and excitement around the use of these methods.

I attended 3 sessions which explored the use of visual disciplies. One was on paricipatory mapping and “photo voice”, one was on photograpy and research and the final was presenting a case study art-scince collaboration between a team of ecologists and a fine artist (Hannelie Coetzee – see art work in the top image) who works with ecological materials and concepts. In the collaboration the ecologists had set out to explore the effect of annual fires on grassland ecosystems. In the process they would burn a patch of grassland annually and record data as the area evolved from the fires over time. Hanellie Coetzee joined up with this team of ecologists and designed an image of a human and an Eland antelope that would be burnt into the landscape (rather than a square). They described how the art science collaboration got each other thinking about their tools and methods in new ways and how it brought a new set of dialogues and a new audience to the project. This third session was an extremely powerful session and stimlated a great dialogue around the value of interdisciplinary work and the value art can bring to scientific research.  In recent months i have been contemplating the how people from different vantage points, interact and read landscapes in different ways – whether it be scientist or artist, farmer or researcher. I asked the   collaborators if they were inspired by each others reading of landscape/ or relationship with landscape and this evolve into a very interesting dialogue on how multiple knowledges may contribute to building more resilient futures.


In context trajectories: participation in an international symposium in Paris

Last Thursday (6th October) I participated in an international symposium titled “Studying the social, ethical and economic impacts of GMPs. Implementation of the EU Directive 2015/412” which was organised by the Haut Conseil des Biotechnologies of France. I introduced our proposal to use four different cartographies that represent the different journeys of a kernel of maize in GM, chemically-intensive, certified organic and agroecological agri-food systems in Spain, as a systems-based approach to assessing socio-economic and ethical aspects related to GMOs.

Screenshot from 2016-10-10 12-14-24The symposium was divided in two parts: the morning was devoted to the analysis of the implication of the Directive 2015/412, that allows EU Member States to restrict or prohibit cultivation of GMOs in their territory (or parts of it) on grounds that were not previously admissible. This includes grounds relating to public policy, socio-economic impacts or the impossibility of achieving “coexistence”. This session included presentations on different national approaches (France, Germany and the Netherlands) as well as a presentation on the position of the European Commission and a former representative of the World Trade Organization. Practical difficulties for applying the Directive were discussed. It was a very interesting debate, and it was really illuminating to see how the different countries related the Directive to their own contexts in practical terms. It was concluded that despite difficulties, the Directive opens the possibility to debate concerns on GMOs on another level and complements traditional risk assessment focused on health and the environment with other tools and approaches.disyuntivaThe second part of the symposium was devoted to presenting different socio-economic analysis methods. First, the recommendation issued by the HCB to the French Government was presented. It is a very valuable document worth taking the time to read. Firstly it was explained that this methodology should be seen as an analytical method (rather than an assessment methodology), thus it aims to create the opportunity to reflect on the socio-economic process in order to work towards a decision, instead of placing the focus only on the final product. Secondly, it adopts the “in-context trajectory” perspective: this is to say that impacts will be analysed in comparison to impacts of other possible solutions for a given problem (this requires a transparent problem formulation) in a specific context. Social and political values that are implicitly and explicitly embedded in a given technology’s trajectory should be made transparent. Thirdly, it is important to account for the existing uncertainties related to GMOs, and thus avoid the “quantification myth” that creates false security by  only using quantitative indicators. Finally, it is also important to keep in mind that the socio-economic and ethical analysis is complementary to environmental and health risk assessment.

In addition to the HCB presenattion and our presentation on using comparative cartographies for sustainability assessment of GMOs (based on our paper published in Sustainability), Sylvain Aubry presented a recent study conducted by the Office Fédéral de l’Agriculture of Switzerland. The study analyses GM crops in Switzerland from the point of view of sustainability using a multi-criteria model. It was interesting to see different perspectives on methodologies on the table, and to discuss and compare their applicability and approaches. It was also rewarding to hear that more proposals are trying to adopt systems-based approaches that could take into account the full agri-food system and allow for comparison of different cultures of agriculture in order to foster the discussion on the different possible futures of agriculture.

The symposium ended with a round table which included members of the HCB and stakeholders outside this body. The discussion focused on advantages and limitations of ex-ante socio-economic analysis and the role of stakeholders. This stimulated a dynamic debate in which members of the public also participated.

Steps towards an interactive website of maize systems


At the Agri/Cultures Project we are starting to develop an interactive website to communicate some of the research we have been doing over the last 2 years.

We have now completed the layout of four different cartographies that represent the different journeys of a kernel of maize in GM, chemically-intensive, certified organic and agroecological agri-food systems in Spain.

Now our plan is to move into the development of an interactive website based on these cartographies. On the one side, with this website we would like to offer the possibility of exploring each of the different agri-food systems, for instance by visiting certain locations or nodes and learning some of the aspects that characterize it (e.g some actors, legislation, history, co-technologies, other actants etc). On the other side, we aim to offer a way to be able to comparefield-trails these systems and facilitate the identification of their main differences.

Our working team on this elements of the project has expanded as we are working with a fantastic illustrator and great programmer and we expect to develop this interactive product together with them over the next year.

We have barely begun the planning and already we have to start thinking about server-related questions (e.g where should the site be hosted? how much space will we need? for how long do we want the website to be active?). Working with this is novel terrain for all of us but we are very excited to start developing this new stage of the project and think it can become an attractive and innovative way to communicate science. For this, we will be bringing our interdisciplinary research into the – also interdisciplinary – domains of science communication and art. We expect this collaboration to produce a useful tool for education purposes and to learn a bunch during the whole process.

Keep track of our next developments!


‘The social and political life of seeds’ at the AIBR Conference

Last week, Amaranta and I attended the AIBR Conference in Barcelona. AIBR stands for the Network of Iberoamerican Anthropologists, an international organisation of Spanish, Latin American and Portuguese anthropologists.


On Tuesday 6th of September was the opening session of the conference, with an excellent presentation by the Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar. He is one of the most important Latin American anthropologists, with extensive work on political ecology, social movements and post-development studies. His talk introduced aspects such as the ethnic-territorial struggles in Latin America being ontological struggles for building a world in which all worlds have a place or the resurgence of the “commons” as a transitional discourse.

queremos un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos

After the opening, we presented in a panel titled “The social and political life of seeds“, coordinated by Susana Carro Ripalda and Marta Barba Gassó. In our presentation “Una perspectiva sistémica en la evaluación los OGMs: El viaje de una semilla de maíz transgénica“, we introduced the value of the systemic perspective for assessing GMOs using the multi-sited ethnography approach that we are implementing in Spain. This is also what we explained in our paper: Seeing GMOs from a Systems perspective. During the talk we also had the opportunity to present the cartographies of GM, chemically-intensive, certified organic and agroecological cartographies that we have recently developed using this approach.

During our session, other very interesting talks were presented, on topics like the cultural aspects of GM vs indigenous maize in Mexico, the story of how a tomato variety became a “traditional” seed in the Basque Country from a gender perspective, and the socio-cultural value of seed conservation in two study cases in Spain. All presentations shared the vision of seeds as entities that shape and are shaped, beyond their biological substrate, by the interests, values and visions that emerge in the contexts where they are developed and used. At the same time, seeds influence the discourses, practices, knowledges and skills of the other agents with whom they interact. The session was in fact very rich despite the fact that, as very often happens in academic conferences, there was too little time to discuss and share.

After the session ended, we discussed potential collaborations on this topic, which would give us the possibility to keep exploring these visions about seeds in the future.

Engaging in Science Journalism


Two weeks ago we started our writing retreat in one of the beautiful boathouses on Regents Canal, in London. Since we are almost obsessed about improving the ways science is communicated to the rest of society, we signed up for a short Masterclass at The Guardian on scientific journalism. In fact, I think the target audience was journalists rather than scientists, but below I list some things we learned:

Before writing:

  • Think of your reader. Really. Do it. Ask yourself, who is going to read this? and How long can you expect them to read your piece?
  • Don’t think about educating your public on science as your primary goal.
  • Think more about stimulating, entertaining and amusing your audience through a story. And if there’s learning as a side effect, great!

When writing:

  • Choose short words over long words.
  • Avoid clichés and familiar metaphors. Invent fresh ways to express yourself instead.
  • If you can cut a word, do it.
  • Use active voice, not passive.
  • Only use jargon when there is no alternative.

What makes a good story?

  • It is relevant to me/family/friends (e.g news-you-can-use, health issues stories…)
  • It includes ‘wow’ facts that people want to tell their friends at the pub/on twitter…
  • It is important – even if possibly not that interesting to most people.

Something I really missed from The Guardian Masterclass was to have some examples of journalists reporting to research and findings from the social sciences (e.g Anthropology, Sociology, Social Psychology…), and, specifically, using qualitative methodologies. The unity of knowledge is formed by many scientific disciplines, including also the study of human communities. In fact, comprehending why human societies do what they do is critical in order to understand the huge challenges of contemporary times, namely the global ecological crisis in all its multiple expressions. Scientific journalism has a wide field open to explore in creating new ways to communicate this social scientific knowledge too.

Bridging science and society with movie animations

One of the aims of The Agri/Cultures Project is to develop new ways to communicate scientific results and during the last 10 days I have been working with an artist to create a stop motion animation that narrates some insights from our latest paper (still to be published). This paper is focused on the everyday – mostly practical – forms of resistance to GM crops in contexts where there is unregulated coexistence, such as Spain.


As part of a social group whose job specifically aims at producing collective knowledge, scientists have a duty to share our research results and discussions with the rest of society, especially in the case of publicly funded science. But, unfortunately, very often scientific production remains trapped in a self-reproductive bubble primarily only accessible to a small elite.

In order to explore new ways to bridge the gaps between science and (the rest of) society and broaden the spectrum of audiences that might be interested in our research, we are producing a couple of short movies to help explain some aspects of our research. In fact, visualisation of concepts, experiences, practices, processes, and situations has been proven to be a great tool for enhancing learning processes generally and scientific knowledge specifically.


In our case, we thought that an animation could tell the story of the ordinary struggle of the actors within the non-GM agri-food systems to avoid GM contamination and fight the expansion of GMOs. We involved an artist in the process because artists are experts in the field of visual communication and can offer valuable resources to say things differently. Of course, a 3 minute video is not a 15 page text and there is certainly a notable degree of simplification required which represents a constant challenge in terms of balancing form and content. That is to say that watching our short movie will not be equal to reading the full paper. It is just a different format that helps us introduce some of the main ideas to different audiences (e.g people who normally would not spend their time reading scientific journals). As we will link the animation with the paper (which we hope to publish as open access), we expect it to be a double directional channel and a way to introduce non-scientists to scientific knowledge production.

Actually, although our short animation movie may not primarily be for scientists-as-audience, they might also find it interesting for other purposes. For instance, it can be an introductory tool to present the topic to students, journalists, NGOs, or even politicians and a way to create a context for generating fruitful discussions.

We’ll keep you updated about the forthcoming paper and about its short-animation movie release!

Seminar on Critical Perspectives on GMOs at Cape Town University


The last two weeks we have been in South Africa. It has been truly a very insightful experience that has helped us understand slightly better some of the complex realities that shape maize production in this amazing country. During the first week, we visited three very different small-scale farming communities in Kwazulu Natal, and for the second week we traveled to Cape Town to have our team meeting and to participate in two seminars at the University of Cape Town.

The first seminar was with postgraduate students conducting research related to GMOs in South Africa. It was a really interesting session that allowed us to share our own experiences with other researchers working on this topic from different perspectives and contexts. It also helped us us very much to better understand the functioning of the food systems where GM maize has been introduced in the country, the driving forces, circumstances and changes produced. Finally, we also focused on the ethical implications of our research, our challenges and strategies.

The second seminar was titled “Critical perspectives on GMOs”, and was organised by the Bio-economy Chair at the University of Cape Town.

critical-perspectives-posterThe seminar brought together different critical perspectives on the analysis and assessment of GMOs. The session was chaired by Rachel Wynberg from the University of Cape Town and Maya’s PhD co-supervisor. First, Fern Wickson presented her paper on exploring the advantages of using feminist care ethics lens for the assessment of agricultural biotechnology. Following this presentation, the three other presentations explored the concept of resistance related to GM crops from very different approaches. In the second talk, I discussed the emergence of glyphosate-resistant Johnsongrass and the situation in relation with herbicide-resistant weeds in Argentina by analysing the driving forces behind the initial spread of GR johnsongrass, its impacts and the social, economic and environmental implications of response strategies, including the institutional conditions and constraints involved. Then, professor Johnnie van den Bergh from the Northwest University explored the insect resistance in Bt GM crops in South Africa, its consequences for the future use of Bt maize and for the conservation of heirloom seeds. It was very interesting to see many coincidences in the processes of resistance evolution in both cases, as well as in the responses given to it. Finally Amaranta Herrero introduced a paper we are currently working on the everyday forms of human resistance to the expansion of GM maize by exploring the often no-visible practices of farmers and other actors practicing non-GM agriculture in Spain.

The seminar ended with a vivid round of question and discussions, and a shared lunch. It was again a great opportunity for us to share our research and to learn from all the assistants at the seminar.




Paper Published…and therefore no longer ours

In an earlier post, I described a paper I was working on together with Assoc. Prof. Christopher Preston on the value of using a care ethics lens in the governance of emerging technologies, using agricultural biotechnology as an example. I am pleased to report that that paper has now been published. While the general content of the article was outlined in the earlier post, anyone wanting to read the work in all its glorious detail can access it here.


Or at least, they can access it via that link until May 3rd. After that, all readers (or their supporting institutes) will have to pay to see the full content of the paper. Alternatively, for us as authors to make the content free to everyone through the open access mechanism, we will have to pay $US 1800.

The challenge of weighing up different criteria when publishing a paper was something I presented in a previous post. The topic of how to handle the competing demands of publishers wanting to recoup their costs (and make a profit) and authors wanting to reach as broad an audience as possible (and minimise their research costs) was also the topic of a lunch discussion here at GenØk this week. Are researchers ethically bound to respect the exclusive contract they sign with their publishers, or can it also be acceptable for them to take additional actions to enable their work to reach as broad an audience as possible?

As new players in facilitating scholarly networking and communication, such as and ResearchGate, gain users and popularity, publishers are increasingly having to police the way their papers are spread online. This is because while researchers routinely share pdfs of their papers online, this usually constitutes a breach of copyright because when academics publish in scholarly journals, they typically transfer their copyright to the journal’s publisher. This effectively means that they are no longer the owner of the article’s content.


To help authors swallow this bitter pill, we are offered concessions, like the link I have shared in this post which gives everyone free access to the article for 50 days after the date of publication. So I suggest you access this link while you can, download the paper, read and enjoy it, because after May 3rd, my ideas are no longer mine to share as I wish. Unless of course I can find $US 1800 to pay the open access fee.

Perhaps my next paper should be about what a care ethics lens may reveal for the context of academic publishing.