Tuesday, 29 January 2008


I have finally gotten around to creating a STEPS Centre page on Flickr. You can check out the first sets of photos to go live, including our launch, recent seminars and the Farmer First Revisited event. Keep an eye open for new photos as they are posted in the Flickr box in the right hand column of this blog (scroll down a bit). And here is the rest of it. Read more


"Vaccination is one of medicine's greatest achievements, so why do so many people fear it?" Jim Giles of New Scientist asks this question of STEPS Centre director Melissa Leach and others in this week's magazine. The feature covers many of the issues Melissa and James Fairhead write about in their new book, Vaccine Anxieties. Read more

Thursday, 24 January 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Read the presentation
Listen to a podcast of this seminar Introduced by Adrian Smith (40 mins)
Helena and Les' presentation will be posted here soon
See photos from this seminar

We are excited to have Les Levidow of the Open University and Helena Paul of Econexus, London with us today. They are going to talk about one of the hottest and most controversial topics on the environmental, energy and agricultural agenda right now, biofuel crops. Their presentation is sub-title 'integrating an agri-energy industry, driving dispossession'. Photo: Helena Paul and Les Levidow give their STEPS Centre seminar

Levidow kicks off the talk, outlining the situation. Biofuel crops have been increasingly promoted as a means to mitigate problems of climate change and energy insecurity in the common good. This would depend upon significant imports from the global South, where production of similar crops has already caused harm – e.g. higher land and food prices, greater agrichemical usage and community dispossession.

There are proposals to regulate imports through sustainability criteria, in order to avoid or minimise additional damage in the global South, but such proposals downplay the fundamental causes of conflict around biofuel crops. So critical research should investigate current strategies for promoting agri-energy-industrial integration, as well as the forces resisting the consequent dispossession.

So, on to doubts rasied about the EU policy; doubts about the harm in the south to crops used for biofeulds such as higher land and food prices and dispossesion from resouces; about the claims for mitigating climate change through reduced carbon emissions; about about how and whether the EU targets should be fulfilled.

Only yesterday, the European Commission has reinforced its support for the use of biofuels to fight climate change by backing an EU research platform.

But despite sharp disagreements over the potential harm, government is driving the use of biofuels forward.

Paul take over to talk about the questions for critical analysis. What are the causes for harm, she asks? Biofuel production is extending agri-industrial systems which have already harmed rural livelihoods and environments. The intensive monoculture of crops - such as soya in Argentina and palm oil in Indonesia - are reliant on agrichemicals and cause labour insecurity, and in Argentina, almost elimination of labour.

These systems displace people from the land and once they're gone, it's very diffiuclt to get them back, says Paul. She gives the example of jatropha production in Tanzania. Rising land prices also have many knock-on effects.

This tag-team style presentation swings into action and we're back to Levidow to talk about the drivers of global industrial integration. Regulatory protection for local populations and environments are being undermined by global competitive corporate pressure that seeks standard products for a globalised commodity exchange. Thus global biofuels production depends upon and stimualtes the vertical and horizontal integration of the agri-feed-fuel industry.

The result is a recent shift towards a global integrated biofuel network (GIBN), hich has greater transboundary flows, homogenisation of products and processes and greater integration with fossil fuels. At this point Levidow introduces the concept of 'new enclosures', drawing on the traditional idea of common land that the community sustained. He says the idea of 'new enclosures' can help analyse how neoliberal regimes appropriate commons, and how resources are enclosed by pollution, private ownership, capitalizing nature etc.

And over to Paul. She talks about GIBN as new enclosures, that the global biofuel production is dispossessing people. Land is used for production of feed or fuel for other regions and small scale producers are sucked into large scale plantations.

And what is sustainability for biofuel crops, asks Paul? For GIBN, sustainabiltity criteria focuses on perameters that can be measured and regulated, but these criteria are in no way central to the industrial and market pressures of this business.

Are GM crops a solution, as have been proposed as a means of sustainable biofuel production? Pro-GM solutions assume that potential harm arises from inefficiency, but levels of efficiency is not necessarily the way to to look at this issue. The hope that GM crops can help avoid responsibiity for the harmful effects on societies while pre-empting alternative futures. Its sets us down a particualr path, she says, echoing the STEPS Centre's focus on 'pathways' - how decision-making processses leave some patwhays open and some blocked.

An finally, some of the things Paul and Levidow think would be useful - strategies for integrating a global agri-feed-fuel industry; socio-poliitcal forces attempting to resist enclosures; contending accunts of sustainability and efficiency; optimistic asumptions of government policies and efforts by state and expert bodies to mediate societal conflicts. But, asks Paul, should we be instigating these societal conflicts in the first place?

Paul concludes: "Why should it only be this one path? We really need to look at the targets, the targets are set, industry is racing ahead and we have people running behind saying 'let's look at sustainability'. But it's too little, too late."

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When agriculturists and academics from around the world attended the Farmer First Revisited workshop back in December, they were interviewed by Susanna Thorp of New Agriculturist. The resultant podcast is now live online (podcast 2008-1) as is the AgFax radio programme the magazine produces for African broadcasters (FFR is fourth item down). Have a listen. Read more

Monday, 14 January 2008


New Agriculturist has covered the Farmer First Revisted event in the January 2008 issue, with an article entitled ‘Points of view: Agricultural research and development - which way now?’.

There is also an article on Michael Kibue's work.

A New Agriculturist podcast based on interviews collected at FFR will be online soon - featuring David Howlett, Robert Chambers, Norman Uphoff and Michael Kibue - I’ll post the link when its live.

And if you haven’t had time to check out the wiki-timeline, podcasts, video interviews, blog, presentations and more from FFR yet, have a look on the website: http://www.farmer-first.org/
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Wednesday, 9 January 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Read Andrew Jamison's presentation
Listen to the podcast of this seminar introduced by Andy Stirling, co-director of the STEPS Centre

To give the first STEPS Seminar of 2008 we are delighted to welcome Andrew Jamison of Denmark's Aalborg University to SPRU this afternoon. He is here to talk about issues discussed in his last two books (Hubris and Hybrids and The Making of Green Knowledge); the quest for green knowledge and the mixing science and politics in environmental governance. (Photo: Andrew Jamison gives his STEPS Seminar)

The 'hubris and hybrids' way that science and technology has been appropriated by cultures is where Prof Jamison begins. The hubris is an extremely dangerous take, and leads to unintended consequences, he says, and then there is the taming of the hubris by hybrids - the way that humand and non-humans are combining. And the contrast between the two ideas is where we're going to focus today.

Within the first couple of Prof Jamison's presentation slides Al Gore and Arnold Scharzenegger have already made an appearance, illustrating attempts to change a cultural process that has gone too far in the wrong direction. We're talking climate change in the US here, of course.

Taking the idea of hubris and hybrids one step futher leads us to the notion of (Habit)us - a barier to change. We have a theefold struggle between hybridisation, hubris and Habit(us) - which is 'business as usual', the usual way of dealing with problems, says Prof Jamison. Bjorn Lomborg makes an appearance here, thanks to his book, Cool It, where the case is made for calmning down about climate change - he is the "nemisis" to the Al Gore-style hubris, says the Professor.

We move on to how the environmental movement was transformed into environmental governance and this is where the hubris (green business) - habitus (skepticism) -hybrid (green knowledge) matrix comes into being. The matrix shows the contending regimes of environmental governance, have a look at Prof Jamison's presentation slides on this, it's much easier to grasp the idea.

Prof Jamison takes us now on a journey of the history of transformation from Big Science to technoscience, during which process green business has emerged. With that transformation the state begins to play a more strategic role in fostering particular areas of innovation, or systems, and the emergence of green business grows out of this. Maarten Hajer's The Politics of Environmental Discourse, 1995, gets a name-check here.

Back to the idea of green business as cognitive praxis - shifting the emphasis from making appropriate technology to a product based on environmental principles, a shift from movement to institutions: so from organisationsal alliances to competeing firms; or from public eduction to popularisation and marketing; and from movement intellectuals to green salesmen.

"There is an attempt being made to eductae or train scientists to produce green products rather than to educate the public about environmental problems - this is a fundemental shift in focus and knowledge aim and ambition," says Prof Jamison. So, the the emphasis shifts to become an ecological conusmer rather than an ecological citizen.

Prof Jamison has been making the case for a ‘Mode 3’ or change-oriented research that doesn’t develop solutions but “takes its point of departure in the problems, such as climate change, and try to see that what’s necessary when we make knowledge is to put our preferences into research as therefore see it as an intervention in a political process.”

We need to find new ways to find the skill and confidence in communicating combined with skill and confidence in producing new knowledge, says Prof Jamison. What’s often involved now is this new fascination with public engagement in British science and technology policy.

“What’s important is to turn it around and not so much for scientists to go out and tell the public what they’re doing, but in getting the scientist to bring his own personal values into what he’s doing…Green knowledge-makers should give up this old idea of disinterested knowledge ,” says Prof Jamison. It’s what he calls the ‘hybrid imagination’.

“We have to change the way we talk about science and technology, change the dynamic and not see climate change as a business opportunity – according to the hybrid business model – or how the sceptics see it – but to combine the challenge with other challenges in a new discourse about environmental citizenship.

Vandana Shiva gets a name check here, for her work in anti-GMO, organic and slow food campaigning. Her hybrid imagination is trying o help us develop ways of talking that combine global justice and environmental interests with taking on corporate domination of agriculture in India.

Most recently Shiva gave us the term “Earth democracy” – a wonderful term, according to Prof Jamison. “She gives us a new vocabulary to help us talk about some of these changes…as well as a new way of practising our scientific research.”

And it is at this point that for the first time ever, and hopefully not the last, we would have ended a STEPS seminar with a blast of rock music. From Peter Garrett, Australia’s new environment minister and ex band member of Oz rockers Midnight Oil, to be exact, as an example of a hybrid imagination at work right now. But unforntunately we didn't have the technology at the ready. Which is a shame as Prof Jamison then, excitingly, reveals that he himself has been writing songs in an attempt to find new ways to express himself as a scientist. You can hear his songs on his home page. Tune in, turn on, just don't drop out.
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Thursday, 3 January 2008


Mindful of the folly of predictions, Lawrence Haddad, director of the UK Institute of Development Studies, outlines the eight events and trends he will be watching to shape the development discourse in the next 12 months, from the US elections and Beijing Olympics to power transitions in Africa and the new philanthropists. Read more


Andy Stirling, the STEPS Centre's co-director, is a panellist on BBC Radio 4's Material World programme today. Our planet provides food, water and energy for its 6.6 billion inhabitants. Science helps us maximise the Earth’s resources, but the world’s natural mechanisms are coming under unprecedented strain.

The BBC's Quentin Cooper talks to four scientists - including Andy - about the role of science in sustaining and preserving our world.

Now more than ever, scientific expertise needs to be harnessed in order to combat global warming, a challenge that affects us all.

But if science is to provide us with solutions, we also need global political agreement. And we have to recognise that science, especially at the high-tech end, requires a large financial investment from multinational companies.

Quentin discusses these issues with Professor Sir David King, recently retired Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Office of Science and Technology; Professor Chris Whitty from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; Professor Richard Davies, Director of the Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems at the University of Durham; and Professor Andy Stirling, Director of Science for The Science & Technology Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex.
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