The plantation network : Brazilian bioenergy science and sustainability in the global South
Author(s)Labruto, Nicole Francesca Hayes
Brazilian bioenergy science and sustainability in the global South
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
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This dissertation provides a multiscalar analysis of climate change solutions from the global South by investigating how bioscientists are leveraging postcolonial ecological legacies into the basis for what they envision as a sustainable future. In Brazil, scientists from different disciplines are reengineering sugarcane-a crop central to the colonial project-at molecular, organismic, and economic scales in order to expand biofuels as international energy commodities. I argue that biology has become central to what I call the plantation network: a postcolonial agricultural formation that includes laboratories as obligatory passage points in the growing of plants to meet human needs and desires, especially in the era of "sustainability" and "green capitalism." My research uses the plantation network formation to show that even though Brazilian scientists work under ethical and ecological threats posed by climate change, they also rely on Brazilian history, ideology, and cultural practices as they reshape life forms, landscapes, and labor in Brazil and Mozambique. This multisited analysis draws on ethnographic research conducted with molecular biologists attempting to create the world's first commercially viable transgenic sugarcane plant, biochemists working to develop waste-reducing fermentation technologies by using bioprospected "wild" yeasts to digest sugarcane bagasse, and a think tank of agronomic economists seeking to transfer a "Brazilian biofuel model" to Lusophone Mozambique. For these scientists, Brazil's long history of sugarcane is coming to center on ethoses and practices of what they call "sustentabilidade" (sustainability): a form of technoscientifically-aided industrial development that contributes to environmental wellbeing while maintaining the possibility of continued capitalist production for future populations. The dissertation examines "sustainability" as it has emerged in these sites by considering the plantation as a pharmakon-like entity: at the same time (1) a destructive nexus of social-ecological relations that has propelled the harmful, unjust conditions that have led to calls for "sustainable" practices and principles and (2) a redemptive space for ethically-sound renewable fuel and food production that scientists believe is central to creating a more just, livable world. I investigate how scientific practices related to ethically-rendered biofuels are motivating changes to the biotechnologies, production techniques, and locations of sugarcane plantations.
Thesis: Ph. D. in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society (HASTS), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Science, Technology and Society, 2018.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 273-315).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Program in Science, Technology and Society.