The political uses of culture

Maize production and the GM corn debates in Mexico

in Focaal

In the Mexican debates over genetically modified (GM) corn, critics reject the official narrative about risk expertise and the inefficiency of maize production. Corn is used to symbolize the Mexican countryside and traditional culture threatened by the forces of neo-liberal globalization. At times, however, both GM critics and proponents portray maize-based livelihoods as a culture of use-values beyond the reach of the market. This article explores these claims in relation to neo-liberal policies and their effect on small-scale cultivators. While critics draw our attention to how such policies exacerbate the difficulties faced by peasants, their notion of a corn culture obscures some of the changes taking place. Drawing on research in the Tehuacán Valley, where maize production is increasingly monetized and rejected by a younger generation, this article suggests that such agriculture is a dynamic practice, rather than a millennial culture, which interacts with processes of capital accumulation and state policy.

Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology