The legitimation of risk and Bt cotton: a case study of Bantala village in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, India

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Desmond, Elaine
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This article explores Ulrich Beck’s theorisation of risk society through focusing on the way in which the risk of Bt cotton is legitimated by six cultivators in Bantala, a village in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, in India. The fieldwork for this study was conducted between June 2010 and March 2011, a duration chosen to coincide with a cotton season. The study explores the experience of the cultivators using the ‘categories of legitimation’ defined by Van Leeuwen. These are authorisation, moral evaluation, rationalisation and mythopoesis. As well as permitting an exploration of the legitimation of Bt cotton by cultivators themselves within the high-risk context of the Indian agrarian crisis, the categories also serve as an analytical framework with which to structure a discourse analysis of participant perspectives. The study examines the complex trade-off, which Renn argues the legitimation of ambiguous risk, such as that associated with Bt technology, entails. The research explores the way in which legitimation of the technology is informed by wider normative conceptualisations of development. This highlights that, in a context where indebtedness is strongly linked to farmer suicides, the potential of Bt cotton for poverty alleviation is traded against the uncertainty associated with the technology’s risks, which include its purported links to animal deaths. The study highlights the way in which the wider legitimation of a neoliberal approach to development in Andhra Pradesh serves to reinforce the choice of Bt cotton, and results in a depoliticisation of risk in Bantala. The research indicates, however, that this trade-off is subject to change over time, as economic benefits wane and risks accumulate. It also highlights the need for caution in relation to the proposed extension of Bt technology to food crops, such as Bt brinjal (aubergine).
Risk , Legitimation , Discourse analysis , Bt cotton , India , Development , Democracy
Desmond, E. (2016) ‘The legitimation of risk and Bt cotton: a case study of Bantala village in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, India’, Journal of Risk Research, 19(2), pp. 233-245. doi: 10.1080/13669877.2014.961516
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© 2014 Taylor & Francis. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Risk research on 26 Sep 2014, available online: