Stimulating inquiry amidst social contestation: The seeds of reflective activism in the Costa Rican anti-GMO movement

Stream: Panel 50 - Environmental Politics: Resistance, Activism and Resilience 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 4.00 pm – 5.30 pm


There has been growing interest in bridging the study of democratic innovations and contentious social movements in order to better understand how social movement organizations (SMOs) engage with novel arenas for democratic participation and deliberation. Within this literature, an emergent focus has been directed at the tensions faced by SMOs, and their strategic orientations, in order to integrate their political action across different arenas of contention. A key integration challenge relates to the often contrasting demands between collaborative and disruptive engagement with other political actors. This paper draws on a study of the social movement opposing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Costa Rica. Much of the movement’s orientation has been predominantly strategic, aiming to bolster its influence over the dynamics of decisive spaces and public sentiment in pursuit of its substantive objective of blocking all activities by GM companies. However, certain key actors within the movement have stressed the priority of stimulating societal inquiry into the complexities of GMOs, over the strategic pursuit of substantive campaign goals. These actors and their practices can be regarded as “pockets of reflexivity” within the movement that help influence its outlook and its repertoire of action. After reviewing the orientation of these reflective actors, I explore their effect on the nature of public deliberation over the contentious issue of Genetically Modified crops and biosafety. In my analysis, I draw on the emergent literature on deliberative systems, as well as on the smaller body of emancipatory pedagogy literature on reflective practice in activism.


Sergio Guillen Grillo (Presenter), The Australian National University
Sergio Guillén is a Ph.D. candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy-ANU. Previously he worked as Senior Dialogue Specialist for the Foundation for Peace and Democracy (FUNPADEM) in Costa Rica. He has worked since 1993 as a renewable energy consultant, accredited mediator and dialogue facilitator in Latin America. He obtained a B.Eng. in Mechanical Engineering from Carleton University (Canada), a Grad.Cert. in Natural Resources and Organization Management from the University of Michigan, and an M.A. in Environmental Security from UPEACE (Costa Rica). He has lectured on leadership, sustainability and conflict resolution in Universities in Costa Rica, Mexico and Honduras.