The study tracked down the debate on GM maize in 216 news media articles in four southern African countries, namely, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, from 1997 to 2007. The study explored the discussions of the topic of GMOs and the emergence and the evolution of the GM maize debate. The researcher’s reading of the analyses of the GM debate elsewhere in the world showed that in the Euro-American (US) debates, issues of Safety and human health, the Environment, Biodiversity, and the Ecosystem were predominant. In science debates outside the Euro-American zones, for example, in Canada, South East Asia, and Mesoamerica, issues of the Safety of the agricultural environment (especially the concern about the Contamination of local crop varieties by GM crops, for example, in Canada and Mexico), the monopolistic Multinationals, Biodiversity and the Ecosystem were predominant. The researcher found these two sets of issues in the data of the study. Specifically, the researcher found them in all the four countries, especially issues of Safety and human health, Biodiversity and the Ecosystem. These are the early phases of the regional debate marking the evolution from coverage of the topic of GMOs to coverage of the GM maize debate. Then the researcher reread the data closely, in search of key issues that occurred in neither of the above zones or regions of the world. The regional debate shows local inflections—that is, particularities, peculiarities, and nuances --that distinguish it from debates on GMOs elsewhere in the world. Firstly, the researcher found that three events, namely, the 2001/2002 hunger, the UN WFP’s offer of the US-produced GM maize wholegrain to southern Africa, and the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit, provided an arena for regional debate on GM maize in particular and on GMOs in general. The regional debate brought to light such key issues as Seed, Food Security, GM Regulation, Multinationals, International Trade, Aid Conditionalities, Experimentation, Biopiracy, and the tenacious Knowledge-Power/Politics nexus in the historically-informed, problematic Africa-West Relations, among others. Secondly, and more importantly, the researcher found regional resistance to the installation of dependency on the métropole, its allies and agents as the regional debate evolved into a high-intensity argumentative debate. Thirdly, and most importantly, the researcher identified babelization (not just 'polarization,' á la Fukuyama, 2003) as a unique key feature of the regional debate, whereby participants talked past each other. In the regional debate, babelization occurred in both the early (low-intensity) phases and the middle (high-intensity or the resistance qua resistance) phases. Babelization is an example of non-dialogical communication, which, as a concept, does not seem to be a direct derivative from current theoretical thought on communication news media in modernity. For example, as regards communication conducted in and enabled by news media today, Thompson (1995) identifies monological communication in mediated quasi-interaction. The phenomenon of babelization entails a ‘logical disjuncture’ between ‘the merits and demerits of GMOs’ aspect and ‘the socio-political anxieties’ aspect of the regional debate. The latter aspect speaks to deep-seated anxieties in the African postcolony about Science in general, which are historically-informed by the colonization of Africa by the West, the legacy of western Science and Knowledge in Africa,

and, at present, by the Conflict-ridden, Tension-riddled, and Contestatory status of Africa–West Relations. Therefore, ultimately, the study is important because it improves our understanding about: (a) the global and the local in the regional debate; (b) local inflections to the regional debate; (c) the resistance, conflict and contestation that arise at the discursive-communicative intersections between science, politics and society vis-aÌ€-vis Africa-West Relations; and (d) the forms and formats of public debate as a genre, or an example, of public deliberation that is mediated and ‘mediatized’ by news media.

">
 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Some dynamics of public debate on GM maize in southern Africa(1997-2007)

Pascal Mwale   University of the Witwatersrand

The study tracked down the debate on GM maize in 216 news media articles in four southern African countries, namely, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, from 1997 to 2007. The study explored the discussions of the topic of GMOs and the emergence and the evolution of the GM maize debate. The researcher’s reading of the analyses of the GM debate elsewhere in the world showed that in the Euro-American (US) debates, issues of Safety and human health, the Environment, Biodiversity, and the Ecosystem were predominant. In science debates outside the Euro-American zones, for example, in Canada, South East Asia, and Mesoamerica, issues of the Safety of the agricultural environment (especially the concern about the Contamination of local crop varieties by GM crops, for example, in Canada and Mexico), the monopolistic Multinationals, Biodiversity and the Ecosystem were predominant. The researcher found these two sets of issues in the data of the study. Specifically, the researcher found them in all the four countries, especially issues of Safety and human health, Biodiversity and the Ecosystem. These are the early phases of the regional debate marking the evolution from coverage of the topic of GMOs to coverage of the GM maize debate. Then the researcher reread the data closely, in search of key issues that occurred in neither of the above zones or regions of the world. The regional debate shows local inflections—that is, particularities, peculiarities, and nuances --that distinguish it from debates on GMOs elsewhere in the world. Firstly, the researcher found that three events, namely, the 2001/2002 hunger, the UN WFP’s offer of the US-produced GM maize wholegrain to southern Africa, and the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit, provided an arena for regional debate on GM maize in particular and on GMOs in general. The regional debate brought to light such key issues as Seed, Food Security, GM Regulation, Multinationals, International Trade, Aid Conditionalities, Experimentation, Biopiracy, and the tenacious Knowledge-Power/Politics nexus in the historically-informed, problematic Africa-West Relations, among others. Secondly, and more importantly, the researcher found regional resistance to the installation of dependency on the métropole, its allies and agents as the regional debate evolved into a high-intensity argumentative debate. Thirdly, and most importantly, the researcher identified babelization (not just 'polarization,' á la Fukuyama, 2003) as a unique key feature of the regional debate, whereby participants talked past each other. In the regional debate, babelization occurred in both the early (low-intensity) phases and the middle (high-intensity or the resistance qua resistance) phases. Babelization is an example of non-dialogical communication, which, as a concept, does not seem to be a direct derivative from current theoretical thought on communication news media in modernity. For example, as regards communication conducted in and enabled by news media today, Thompson (1995) identifies monological communication in mediated quasi-interaction. The phenomenon of babelization entails a ‘logical disjuncture’ between ‘the merits and demerits of GMOs’ aspect and ‘the socio-political anxieties’ aspect of the regional debate. The latter aspect speaks to deep-seated anxieties in the African postcolony about Science in general, which are historically-informed by the colonization of Africa by the West, the legacy of western Science and Knowledge in Africa,

and, at present, by the Conflict-ridden, Tension-riddled, and Contestatory status of Africa–West Relations. Therefore, ultimately, the study is important because it improves our understanding about: (a) the global and the local in the regional debate; (b) local inflections to the regional debate; (c) the resistance, conflict and contestation that arise at the discursive-communicative intersections between science, politics and society vis-aÌ€-vis Africa-West Relations; and (d) the forms and formats of public debate as a genre, or an example, of public deliberation that is mediated and ‘mediatized’ by news media.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

BACK TO TOP