Brock University

The Green Agenda of Bioeconomy - La face verte de la bioéconomie

Through the development of GMOs, synthetic biology, nanotechnologies, or geoengineering, bioeconomy promises us to survive climate change, to make up for fossil resources, to feed the growing world population. By presenting itself as a solution for the ecological crisis, it opens up to the promise of a world of plenty, one in which the call for degrowth (décroissance), that follows the idea of a limited world, becomes irrelevant. This interdisciplinary session wishes to bring to discussion the tenets of the "green innovation”. Be they sociocultural, epistemological, ecological, political, or others, what are the blind spots? How biodiversity, nature, living organisms, as well as communities and individuals are transformed, conceptually and materially, under the principles of the "green" bioeconomy? To what extent it constitutes a real(istic) alternative? More locally, what forms are taking such issues in Quebec and Canada?


Que ce soit par les OGMs, la biologie synthétique, les nanotechnologies, ou la géoingénierie, la bioéconomie promet de nous faire survivre aux changements climatiques, de suppléer aux ressources fossiles, de nourrir la population mondiale en croissance. En se présentant comme solution à la crise écologique, elle ouvre à la promesse d'un monde d’abondance, permettant de dévier le regard de l’injonction à la décroissance qu’impose l’idée d’un monde fini. Cette séance à visée interdisciplinaire veut mettre en discussion les fondements de l’« innovation verte ». Du point de vue socio-culturel, épistémologique, écologique, démocratique, ou autres, quels en sont les angles morts? Comment sont transformés, théoriquement et matériellement, la biodiversité, la nature, le vivant, mais aussi les communautés et les individus sous les principes de la bioéconomie « verte »? Dans quelle mesure est-elle une réelle alternative? Plus localement, comment se placent le Québec et le Canada face à ces enjeux?

Session Organizer: Daphne Esquivel Sada, University of Montreal, ; Didier Fayon, University of Montreal, ; Mathieu Noury, University of Montreal,


The Socio-Technics of the “Green” Bioeconomy: Economic “Growth” and Cutbacks to the “Commons”

Petra Hroch, University of Alberta,

This presentation focuses on design as a technology of “sustainability” in a “green” bioeconomy. More specifically, I examine the shift in sustainable design theory and practice toward what Ezio Manzini has called “design for social innovation” and its role in the movement toward ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable cities. Drawing on Manzini’s work, as well as Deleuze and Guattari’s critiques of design as a “discipline of communication” (1994), and, also, Deleuze’s observation in “A Postscript for Societies of Control” that technology is always “social before it is technical” (1992, 40), I will discuss the socio-technics of design (in other words, design as a social technology) and its connection to “sustainability” and the “green” bioeconomy as contested terms.  Using design examples from fieldwork in Toronto, and with reference to examples from other Canadian cities, I will explore the potentials and the limitations of “the social” as a material and medium for “green” ecologies and economies. In doing so, I invite us to rethink the way in which the imperative to “grow” the economy is becoming naturalized and, drawing on Hardt and Negri’s argument in Commonwealth (2009), the way in which this “growth” limits the possibility (as idea and reality) for an ecological, economic, and social “commons.”


Bio-technology, Patenting of Life, and the Future of Food

Md Islam, Asst Prof, Sociology, Nanyang Technological University,

The emergence of agro-biotechnology allowing the targeted manipulation of genes in living organisms as well as patenting of seeds has generated a scholarly interest in sociology in recent years. In this paper, highlighting the current structure of the global food production system dominated largely by the transnational corporations (TNCs), we will analyse the implications of the massive adoption of agro-biotechnology in social and environmental landscapes, and  discuss how various actors along the food production chain can effect a change in the food governance and drive the future of food towards sustainability.  

This study is framed by the treadmill of production theory (Schnaiberg 1980) and the double-risk society thesis (Islam 2013). Treadmill of production, a strand of Neo-Marxist understanding of capitalism’s relationship with the environment, argues, the continuous race of production—through a continuous enhancement of productive forces (biotechnology in our case)—and the need for its continued consumption—galvanized by, for example, the corporate-framed ideology of modernization, competitiveness, free-trade, and social institutions such as education, family, labor union, and media—creates a critical interchange of ‘withdrawals’ (extraction of resources from the environment) and ‘additions’ (what is returned to the environment in the form of pollution and garbage) that can disorganize the biospheric system. As new technologies are more energy-and chemical-intensive, industry takes more from the environment and return more toxic elements. The impacts of the treadmill of production, however, are realized and experienced differently in the global North and the global South. To capture this dynamics, we have used a recently developed ‘double-risk society’ model that argues that compared with the global North, global South is ‘doubly vulnerable’ because of its pre-existing vulnerable social system (characterized by, among other things, lack of democratic practices, pervasive social inequality and corruption, and poor record of rule of law) as well as external pressures (coming from, for example, global climate change, debt repayment schedule etc.). A framework comprised of both treadmill of production and double-risk society is necessary to understand a new form of global agro-food dynamics induced by gene revolution and patenting of life, and their concomitant effects on the social and ecological landscapes of the global South. The framework provides a powerful sociological insight into the consequences and the future of food, elucidating, for example, why over 100,000 farmers committed suicide in India since the arrival of gene revolution.

This research project begins with a documentary content analysis, allowing us for a “careful, detailed, systematic examination and interpretation of a particular body of material in an effort to identify patterns, themes, biases and meanings” (Berg 2007:303-304). The documentary The Future of Food (Garcia 2009) provides a condense background information on the current situation in the food production system, distilling the complex technology and consumer issues surrounding major changes in the food system today such as genetically engineered foods, patenting, and the corporatization of food. Following which, an extensive review of secondary sources including journal articles and books is conducted to understand the different propositions put forth by scholars in the respective field in order to make just, sound and balanced critique. A conscious effort is made to juxtapose the information presented in the secondary sources against those in the documentary The Future of Food in search of constancy and contradiction. Based on our robust search, we first address the common misunderstanding between Green Revolution and Gene Revolution, discuss the social and environmental impacts of Gene Revolution, and finally, analyse the ‘limited’ role of the government and the promising role of the consumers in shaping the future of food.

Our study shows that agro-biotechnology has altered the agricultural landscapes and operations. Proponents of agro-biotechnology assert that such technology has led to the development of crops which are not only pest and disease resistant but also fertilizer sensitive. Resultantly, agricultural productivity increased significantly. However, agro-biotechnology has its withdrawals – such technology has led to environmental degradation and has deepened the exploitative relationship between the corporations and farmers. Moreover, with the extension of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) to agricultural products and processes, market power is concentrated in the hands of the minority corporations that have significant influence in shaping the regulations, rules and policies on food governance. Such arrangement provokes the question of corporate accountability, food security, food safety, and consumer sovereignty.


Discovering Innovation through a Public Research Model

Kathleen Herzog, University of Alberta, , Kevin Jones, University of Alberta, , Rob Shields, University of Alberta, , Yun-Csang Ghimn, University of Alberta,

The language of innovation has become increasingly present in urban discourses, in attempts to respond to the uncertainties of development, growth, and sustainability in our ever more global and competitive world. However, there is a lack of understanding of how innovation can support community needs and values for the future, and a need to understand the places, cultures, and communities that support technological innovation.

Consequently, since 2011, members of the University of Alberta's City-Region Studies Centre (CRSC) have worked together to develop a critical understanding of what it means to be an innovative city. Specifically, this research has targeted the identification and development of Edmonton, and the Alberta Capital Region as a centre for innovative nanotechnologies and associated industries. We aim to put forward strategies for scientific innovation that are responsive to local needs and contexts, that contribute to collective prosperity, and that are thereby socially robust.

We provide background on our research and discuss the public research model undertaken during the Nanotechnology and the Community project, which emphasizes public research as well as partnership and civic capacity building. In particular, we elaborate on two key research activities that exemplify this model – a Citizens’ Summit and the Futurescape City Tours.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie