Dr. Gabriela Pechlaner

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Research Interests

  • Sociology of agriculture and food
  • Sociology of agricultural biotechnologies
  • Environmental sociology

Biography

Most of my research interests are in the sociology of agriculture and food, with a particular emphasis on the legal and regulatory aspects of new technologies, such as agricultural biotechnologies. My doctoral dissertation (SFU, 2007) investigated the extent to which there has been a social reorganization of agricultural production as a result of the evolving patent laws and contractual restrictions that accompany new agricultural biotechnologies. I concluded that classical political economy concepts outlining piecemeal means of capital accumulation in agriculture needed to be supplemented by an additional concept—which I term ‘expropriationism’—that identifies several aspects of an agricultural reorganization premised on legal means of enhancing capital accumulation and on separating corporate ownership from liability. The results of this research were published in a monograph—Corporate Crops: Biotechnology, Agriculture and the Struggle for Control (University of Texas Press, 2012).

After my doctorate, I had a SSHRC-funded post-doctoral fellowship hosted at the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Lancaster University, UK). Given the importance of a supportive legal and regulatory environment for the successful commercialization of agricultural biotechnologies in the United States, I investigated the increasing use of law by the technologies’ opponents, to examine to what extent such opposition can actually affect the pro-agricultural biotechnology regulatory dynamics in the United States, if at all. This (ongoing, after a hiatus) research project includes a number of case studies, such as that of a successful 2009 ballot initiative to ban GMOs from Mendocino County, California.

Most recently, I completed a three year SSHRC standard research grant, co-investigated with Dr. Gerardo Otero (SFU), where we undertook a comparative investigation of changes in capital accumulation in agriculture and food since the mid-1980s, or what we call the “neoliberal food regime.” One of the chief dynamic factors of this regime is neoregulation, national and suprastate regulatory changes which include trade liberalization, strengthened intellectual property rights, and the promotion of the private sector. While there is a clear association between neoregulation and nutritionally degraded diets as a result of the globalization of cheap, industrial foods, the extent and spread of this trend is still ill-defined. We developed a ‘neoliberal diet risk’ index as a geographically and temporally comparative tool to this end.

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