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A Social-Network Study of a Conflict over Pesticide Use


This award supports a post-doctoral research project that studies the structure and dynamics of expert networks as they interact with social movements and shape the development of new fields of environmental health. It will identify and map the networks that linked experts to social movement organizations in the conflict over pesticide use in Argentina triggered by the adoption of genetically modified soy, and assess how these networks shaped political mobilization as well as new knowledge on the health effects of pesticides. It will also trace the contribution of non-experts to the development of new knowledge to outline the network that connect all the contributors to the production of different types of knowledge. The study employs in-depth interviews with mobilized experts and activists, archival research, and network analysis; it includes eighteen months of field work in six GM soy producing provinces of Argentina. The results will be broadly disseminated in academic multidisciplinary STS, environmental studies journals and sociology journals; as well as to activists through a summary report that will be sent to media outlets and will be generally available on the project website. An oral presentation of the main findings and conclusions will be delivered in a final workshop with interviewees and other stakeholders in Argentina.<br/><br/>This study will test, refine, and synthesize existing theories of the co-production of activism and expertise within different types of conflicts and settings. Given the potential importance and complexity of the cooperation of environmental movements and environmental sciences, there is a need for research that explores this interaction within a broader scope than most case- study-based research. The study will bring together two theories about expert activism and expertise that have never been brought into conversation, and in doing so it will develop a symmetrical-network theory of expert activism. It will also implement a new symmetrical network-organizational approach to data collection and analysis, and it will test theoretical ideas developed in the US in a fundamentally different national setting in the global South. These innovations will deepen understanding of expert-movement interpenetration and the broader dynamics of knowledge production within environmental conflicts. The results will help environmental health experts and environmental movements to better coordinate their efforts to produce and mobilize different types of knowledge towards solving pressing environmental health problems unrecognized or silenced by the governments.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Scott Frickel
Brown University
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