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Local food, cultural risk and GM controversies: a case study of networks and narratives in Dorset, UK (and beyond)

Downing, D.; (2010) Local food, cultural risk and GM controversies: a case study of networks and narratives in Dorset, UK (and beyond). Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

The release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment and food chain in the UK has produced one of the most visible and enduring cultural controversies in recent times. This research explores the ways in which these debates unfolded and were mobilised in the context of one region, the southern county of Dorset, where Farm Scale Evaluations of GM crop varieties were carried out. Contrary to existing studies that focus on conceptions of the specifically ‘genetic’ aspect of GMOs, typically associated with feelings of ‘unnaturalness’, and potential health/environmental risks, I refocus on the ‘modified’ aspect. Modify is a synonym for change and I argue this controversy is all about contested cultural change. Understood as such this is less a problem of culture interfering with nature; but rather a problem of competing cultural networks, as alternative ways of doing and being are subjected to, what I term, cultural risk. Ethnographic participant observation, semi-structured interviews and other qualitative methods were used to trace the ongoing construction and defence of local food networks in Dorset, a hub of social/economic activity in the construction of new food cultures and a centre of protest in the Farm Scale Evaluations. Simultaneous ‘virtual’ ethnography was also carried out as activist groups, historically connected to performative protest in Dorset, initiated network-building activities in response to trials of GM potatoes elsewhere in the UK. By utilising theories of cultural change and rhetoric, this research asks: what cultures are at stake here in the GM controversy? How do they identify and define themselves? Upon what resources do they depend? How do they persuade others to travel with them? Throughout I suggest that a key role is played by the rhetorical weaponry of the story, a crucial tool in both boundary-making and history-making processes within the ‘serious games’ of culture.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Local food, cultural risk and GM controversies: a case study of networks and narratives in Dorset, UK (and beyond)
Language:English
Additional information:Authorisation for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Anthropology

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