Vibrant Risks: Scientific Aquaculture and Political Ecologies in China
Keywordsagrarian capitalism; aquaculture; China; food studies; risk; Science and Technology Studies
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AbstractThesis (Ph.D.)--University of Washington, 2012
This dissertation examines how the dissemination of science in shrimp aquaculture is intertwined with issues of sustainability and risks in south China. In the Leizhou Peninsula of Guangdong Province, shrimp aquaculture took off in the mid-1980s with the dissolution of collective farming, when farmers were encouraged to become enterprising and independent shrimp farmers who produced an export-oriented commodity. In the early 2000s, after the exposure of illicit drug residues created trade barriers for farmed shrimp from China, the focus of science and technology extension shifted from disease control to food safety. The change from food quantity to quality reflects how the global food regime promotes a discourse of sustainability that is hinged on dynamic growth of limits in response to capitalist crisis. I explore how shrimp farmers have experienced the paradox of being incited to do high-intensity farming on one hand, while assuming a heavy burden of risk on the other. To experience this risk at first hand, I rented a shrimp pond from a village to conduct experimental shrimp farming myself. This was an excellent ethnographic gambit as villagers were eager to teach me the ins and outs of shrimp farming, yielding rich insight about why they inadvertently face a drive for overproduction but suffer from depreciation of labor values as well as heightened risk of disease. This "treadmill effect" of forever increasing the intensity of farming cannot happen without the involvement of extension agents and scientists. Using methodologies developed in Science and Technology Studies to study laboratory scientists, I adapted these to the study of field science to examine how the science and technology of disease control and food safety standardization might generate new risks. While predicated on excluding the observed pathogens and hazards, these technologies disregarded the vitalities of unobservables. I examine how forms of nonhuman agency emerge from developmental schemes pushing for high-intensity production by looking at the complex dynamics between the biological materiality of the shrimp species themselves, the emergence of new pathogens, and the innovation of pharmaceutical technologies as a means of "crisis management" that mimic the increasingly unstable conditions of global capital accumulation.