Background Information

The Indian peasantry is the largest body of surviving small farmers in the world, where two thirds of India makes its living from the land. However, as farming continued to be disconnected from the earth, the biodiversity, and the climate, and linked to global corporations and global markets, and the generosity of the
earth is replaced by the greed of corporations, the viability of small farmers and small farms is destroyed. In 1998, the World Bank's structural adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed sector to global
corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Syngenta. The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds, which needed fertilizers and pesticides and could not be saved. As seed saving is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable traits, seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year. This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness. As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to
sell kidneys or even commit suicide. More than 25,000 peasants in India have taken their lives since 1997 when the practice of seed saving was transformed under globalization pressures and multinational seed corporations started to take control of the seed supply. Seed saving gives farmers life. Seed monopolies
rob farmers of life.

Research questions

With this background as my framework, I intend to apply Boyle's notion of the Romantic author to understand how under globalization Indian farmers are losing their social, cultural, economic identity as a producer and is becoming a "consumer" of costly seeds and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations through powerful local elites. This combination is leading to corporate feudalism, the most inhumane, brutal and exploitative convergence of global corporate capitalism and local feudalism, in the face of which the farmer as an individual victim feels helpless. The bureaucratic and technocratic systems of the state are coming to the rescue of the dominant economic interests by blaming the victim. Further, parallel to this dominant discourse of blaming the victim, another counter hegemonic discourse was taking
shape initiated by the suicides by the farmers and lead by activists like Vandana Shiva, Ashok Khosla that is challenging not only the bureaucratic and technocratic systems of the state but also challenging the global power nexus. Some questions that will guide my research are,
What will be the outcome of the dynamics between these two opposite discourses? Can the counter hegemonic discourse challenge the power embedded in the institutions of the society to claim representations for their own values and interests? Will the discord between the two discourses help shape
the new face of the Indian patent law?


I plan to do discourse analysis of news published regarding the counter power revolution. I will look at three mainstream English language national newspapers in India: The Times of India, The Hindu, and The Indian Express from August 2009 to July 2012. I am choosing this time frame as during this time another controversy regarding Monsanto's illegally use of Indian brinjal seeds to create GM seeds came into prominence, that not only triggered country wide uprising, but also compelled the judicial system to reconsider the patent laws.  


I argue that just as Castells mentions in his text a counter power is required to challenge the hegemony of the state. It is necessary to stop this war against small farmers and in order to stop this it is necessary to re-write the rules of trade in agriculture. A counter hegemonic movement initiated by Vandana Shiva in India to promote native seeds, is the necessary first step to change our paradigms of food production. Further, I
argue that the very presence of oppositional voices of farmers and activists, constrains the dominant discourse perpetuated by big multinational companies who consider these seeds their "intellectual property" as they own the patents. The study of this contestation is significant to understand if the counter- hegemonic activists are able to bring the discussion of appropriation of native seeds into the public sphere.


  • In order to understand the phenomenon of the convergence of global corporate capitalism and
    local feudalism that initiated the discourse of blame the victim, I intend to
    use Gramsci's notion of hegemony. 
  •  Further, I will use Balibar's (1991) conception of class racism where he indicated that the phenomenon of institutional racism is attributed in the construction of the category "masses."
  • Additionally, I will use Boyle's (1996) notion of the "romantic author" to understand how through the intellectual property rights the identity of an Indian farmer is changed from a producer to a consumer. 
  • Coleman will help me understand the contribution of the movement through the concepts of free speech can find how meanings of patents can be recoded through it.
  • Coombe's "ethics of contingency" helps in thinking about alternative approach of food production. An alternative agriculture is possible and necessary - an agriculture that would protect farmers livelihoods, the earth and its biodiversity and public health. 
  • I am greatly inspired by Castells' notion of counter power, I hope to use it to understand the uprising of the anti GM seeds movement in India. 

I am going into the project from a very wide angel, I am trying hard to narrow my focus, and I hope to get a lot of feed back from you all to help me focus more, any suggestion is most welcome- Thanks Somava
Rachel Sauerbier
2/10/2013 07:37:24 am

Somava, this already looks really well thought out, and while I understand you don't want the project to get too unwieldy, I don't have too many good suggestions. I think starting with this notion of the romantic author as it is applied to genetic material and then seeing how that then is connected to the Gramscian notions of hegemony, copyright, intellectual property and so on is interesting and could be well contained as long as each concept is specifically connected. On a side note, if you haven't already seen Food, Inc., I encourage you to do so. There is a great section in the film that talks about the ramifications of Monsanto "owning" 90% of the soybeans in the United States and what happens to "seed keepers." Good luck with the project!

2/10/2013 08:25:44 am

Hiya Somava,

I fully admit that I am not "up" on this issue, and I hope you'll forgive my ignorance.

How are Vandana Shiva (and other activists) organizing the resistance to the corporatization of farming in India, and how is the resistance being carried out? Do you see the movement having actual material effects, or is it more of a "moral movement" that is meant to change the discourse without actually changing policy?

Looking forward to hearing more about this!

2/10/2013 12:29:23 pm

Hi Somava,

Your project is already well established. I like your idea of using Boyle's analysis of the romantic author and Coombe's ethics of contingency.

I actually had a group of students last semester do projects on seed saving (my class theme was intellectual property). This article focuses on seed saving in the context of the US, but you might find some good sources in the references section:

One question on your methodology: why will you analyze three different newspapers? Do you suspect these newspapers will approach the issues differently because of their political interests? Just wondering because it would be interesting to find differences (cracks, tensions) in how ownership of seeds is represented in mass media.

Kim Christen
2/11/2013 01:34:17 am

Good start.

1. Tsing will be very useful to you. You need to look at the PRACTICES of globalization and not treat it as a conclusion or an actor itself. It will be helpful to map out all the players in this web first and then look to the stakes each has and where the cracks and overlaps are.

2. Boyle is a good start but you'll need to expand this there is a HUGE amount of lit on "seed wars" from many persectives, if you want to position the Indian peasants at the center that is a good way to go, but you'll need to fleshout the IP narratives from each angle and not assume that Boyle's argument applies here. You should look at Anupam Chander† and Madhavi Sunder's "The Romance of the Public Domain" and " Invention of Traditional Knowledge" both good starts

3.The counter hegemonic is a good place to start but I think you can fine-tune your questions once you've articulated the IP question more clearly.

2/12/2013 04:03:44 am

Hello Somava,

This is great! I really enjoyed reading on your approach to interrogating dominant-and counter-dominant perspectives regarding seed patent's and its consequences on human life. I recently began reading Vandana Shiva's Earth Democracy for my T&L587 class and so I'm really glad to see how your using her interventions here. Have you considered using Deleuze and Guattari rhizome philosophy? Your project's focus on land struggle, and its methodology in locating power-contrasts in the way narration of land inequities or intellectual properties (depending on what side of the fence your in) seems to fit well with the very concept of a Rhizome. I know Castells touched on it briefly this week as well.

I myself very much introducing myself to these counter-discourses of reality, so I hope I wasn't too unclear in my thoughts. Check out the link below if it is something you might want to explore further. Best of luck :)

Lizeth Gutierrez
2/12/2013 05:15:37 am

Somava this project sounds very interesting. I am really curious to know how exactly you will use the three national newspapers. How will they inform your theoretical layout, especially when framing them as counter hegemonic modes of production even though they are mainstreamed sources in India? This strategic reading of counter hegemony speaks to Castells own discussion of spaciality and resistance. Good luck!

2/12/2013 06:09:46 am

Somova, I love this project! I would definitely suggest seeking out some of Vandana Shiva's work on related subjects, as well as (for a background understanding of the varying ways these conversations are framed in media in communities kinda comparatively) Winona LaDuke's activism/scholarship re: wild rice, in addition to coverage of the GMO maize controversy in Mexico right now:

2/13/2013 06:43:13 am

Vandana Shiva was fantastic when she visited WSU. The monocropping farmers around here do is very much a part of the disappearance of seedsaving. But there are seedsavers on the Palouse. A couple of organizations exist that you can find online. Good luck with this project.


Leave a Reply.