Configurations of agency and power in the academic discourse on the Green Revolution in East Africa

Working Paper
  • Published 06/07/17

STEPS Working Paper 97

In this paper I perform a discourse analysis of the academic literature on the Green Revolution (GR) in East Africa, governed by two questions: what form or shape is given to agency in each GR study? And, which agencies are considered prime movers that play leading roles in the narratives and which others are relegated to subsidiary roles? A wide variety of figurations of agency are mapped, including socio-ecological events that are Malthusian or critical, heroic individuals, technology and its users, as well as relational entanglements between social, ecological and technical entities. Yet, the analysis reveals that the process of adjustment and adaptation between different social, ecological and technical entities, in practice, on farmers’ fields and beyond, is largely unarticulated in the GR discourse. Central among prime mover figurations are national governments, donors, scientists, market-based approaches and agricultural intensification technologies. I argue that such figurations help legitimate government- and donor-driven GR efforts in the last decade and a half, which are delivered largely through market mechanisms. Subsuming heterogeneous entities into unified groups such as East African smallholders, or Sub-Saharan African soils, some studies may depict their actions as homogeneous. Such homogenization masks relations of power within groups and obscures the ontological multiplicity of things. Homogenizing depictions of (inefficient) smallholders and (depleted) soils may also help steamroll the use of standardized modern technologies such as inorganic fertilizers.