Techne versus Technoscience: Divergent (and Ambiguous) Notions of Food “Quality” in the French Debate over GM Crops

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Abstract

In the French debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs), actors present divergent definitions of food quality located between poles of technoscience and techne. Although scientists often define food quality in terms of technoscience, assessing food safety, small farmers often appeal to technes of production, positing GMOs as a rupture with artisanal culture. Whereas small farmers (from the union the Confédération Paysanne [CP]) deploy notions of “techne” to promote their anti-GMO campaign, they often define quality in an ambiguous way, vacillating between ideas of agricultural method (technique) or production scale. Despite this ambiguity, the CP successfully designates GMOs as la malbouffe, or “bad” food, establishing themselves as protectors of artisanal technés such as Roquefort. Finally, unlike many cultures that cast GMOs as “unnatural,” the CP tends to frame GMOs as “uncultural.” In the French debate, the CP posits culture against a “culturelessness” associated with technoscience and industry-driven foods such as GMOs and McDonald's.

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