Impeding Dispossession, Enabling Repossession: Biological Open Source and the Recovery of Seed Sovereignty


  • The author is grateful to the editors of this special issue for their comments on earlier drafts.

Jack Kloppenburg, Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, 1450 Linden Street, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA, E-mail:


Corporate appropriation of genetic resources, development and deployment of transgenic varieties, and the global imposition of intellectual property rights are now widely recognized as moments of accumulation by dispossession. Though robust and globally distributed, opposition to such processes have been largely defensive in orientation, and even accommodationist in demands for the development of market mechanisms for compensating those from whom germplasm is being collected. A more radical stance founded on legal and operational mechanisms drawn from the open-source software movement could not only function to impede processes of dispossession, but might actually facilitate the repossession of ‘seed sovereignty’. Implementation of ‘biological open-source’ arrangements could plausibly undergird the creation of a protected commons populated by farmers and plant breeders whose materials would be freely available and widely exchanged, but would be protected from appropriation by those who would monopolize them.