TP2: Evidence Regimes of Local and International Pesticide Use

Negotiations of pest control in the Global South, (1960s to 1980s)

Prof. Dr. Helmuth Trischler, Dr. Sarah Ehlers

This study explores the controversies and negotiation processes of insecticide use in pest control campaigns in the Global South between 1960 and 1990. Using the examples of three insecticides, it develops a historical account of evidence practices for pesticide use in disease control and agriculture development programs within a global perspective. The primary aim of our research is to understand the history of pesticide use as a history of distinctive regimes of evidence; to explore how knowledge about environment, agriculture and health was produced and modified within these regimes. The crisis of development policy and its following transformation in the 1970s exemplifies the dynamics of de- and re-stabilization of evidence. In contrast to existing scholarship, this study will foreground circulations of pesticide expertise between regions in Africa and the Americas, as well as dynamics of isolation and compartmentalization.

Via an object-centered approach, we bring together the history of decolonizing regions in Africa with South American histories of development, the emergence of the environmental movement and the history of international organizations. Drawing on the conceptual framework of our research group, we compare how different regimes of evidence negotiated the costs, benefits and risks–particularly the long-term environmental consequences–of pesticide use.

The analysis falls into three sections: first, exploring the tensions between global visions and the local implementation of pesticides, and the ways in which these tensions resulted in the transformation of global pesticide regimes. Second, how the uniformity of approaches in global pest control programs shaped the life of pesticides and, more specifically, the ways in which the portability of pesticide application technologies across a variety of contexts had a validating effect. Third, using the concept of pesticides as “public technology”, we aim to describe the role of different publics in debating and negotiating pesticide regulations, and explore how public definitions of evidence shaped and co-constructed evidence practices.

Preliminary research suggests that the political transformations of the 1970s led to a diversification of spheres of negotiation with distinctive rules and compromises. We hypothesize that this fragmentation of spheres, as well as their interdependency, led to a provisional way of knowing and shaping global pest control regimes, which goes hand-in-hand with an increasing reflexivity of evidence practices. In this regard, dynamics of de- and re-stabilization of evidence not only inform development policies but also allow for reflection on current debates of decolonization and internationalism in global history.