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BEANS BEFORE THE LAW: Knowledge Practices, Responsibility, and the Paraguayan Soy Boom

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ABSTRACT

This article provides an ethnographic response to the statement that soy kills (“la soja mata”), a refrain often repeated by campesino activists living on the edge of Paraguay's rapidly expanding soybean frontier. In the context of Paraguay's modernization projects since the 1960s, statements like these were easily disqualified as irrational or nonmodern. In the process, the political importance and analytic potential of the beans were dismissed, and so, too, were the lives and analyses of rural activists. And yet the activists with whom I worked managed, over the course of five years of court battles, to bring killer beans before the courts and to have them recognized as a force in Paraguayan politics. In so doing, they also opened up an analytic position for ethnography, allied with Isabelle Stengers's cosmopolitics, which emerges from a situation of mutually enacting responses, rather than as a mediator of relationships between beings included or excluded from the political territory by the criteria of modernity. [legal activism, response, responsibility, knowledge practices, modernity, human–plant relations, frontiers, agrarian transitions, rural politics]

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