Opening up for participation in agro-biodiversity conservation: The expert-lay interplay in a Brazilian social movement [Book Review]

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 21 (6):559-577 (2008)
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In science and environmental studies, there is a general concern for the democratization of the expert-lay interplay. However, the democratization of expertise does not necessarily lead to more sustainable decisions. If citizens do not take the sustainable choice, what should experts and decision makers do? Should the expert-lay interplay be dissolved? In thinking about how to shape the expert-lay interplay in a better way in agro-biodiversity conservation, I take the case of the MST (Movimento Sem Terra/Landless People’s Movement), possibly the largest rural movement in Latin America. The MST is in a process of turning towards environmentalism. It has adopted agroecology, a democratically oriented knowledge field. However, not all of the farmers were willing to adopt new environmentalist ideas and practices. Through ethnographic research, I analyze how expertise was recognized and redistributed within the MST, attending particularly to the role of MST coordinators and technicians. I explore how participation was framed and put into action. The adoption of agroecology brought to the MST a new and more inclusive map of expertise, but it also influenced new social distinctions within the communities. In part, farmers’ knowledge was labeled as ignorance. This may close down possibilities for dialogue as well as for sustainability. The paper suggests that experts’ power for discriminating among lay knowledges should come together with a responsibility for opening spaces for dialogue and action. One way of doing so could be by adding “interactional reflexivity” to experts’ expertise.



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