Thesis ID: CBB551912944

Revaluing Viability: Science and Legumes in Indian Agriculture (2022)


Amrith, Sunil S. (Advisor)
Subramanian, Ajantha (Advisor)
Yellum, Iris (Author)

Amrith, Sunil S.
Subramanian, Ajantha
Harvard University
Publication date: 2022
Language: English

Publication Date: 2022
Physical Details: 175

In the mid-twentieth century, Indian scientists collected wild relatives of the pigeon pea and chickpea, piecing together their traits and useful qualities. Alongside this research and knowledge production, hybrids were created in institutional test fields around India in the hopes of replicating the apparent success of dwarf wheat. As for botanical collection, species were reclassified as knowledge and identification of wild plants expanded. This fractured intellectual history of plants in Indian agricultural and botanical research broadly demonstrates a tension between what I call viability and utility. A division emerges between notions of the unruly plant, often with connections to indigenous communities and traditional remedies, and the economically and biologically viable and standardized plant. Certain subfields among the many specialties in plant sciences emphasized the ecological role of legumes more than others, which continued to focus on inputs and yield in the 1970s. The legume troubles industrial measurements because it takes on multiple roles. The model of dwarf wheat research and commercial hybrid production did not fit onto the unruly legume, which resisted becoming predictable. No one particular hybrid emerged as the clear economical choice for production of commercial pigeon peas, though short duration varieties with a quicker harvest date emerged as promising to agricultural scientists. Because of a widespread perception of a lag in knowledge of legumes, they proved a tantalizing object for improvement and development. In this way, yield and resistance continued to be the goal for agronomists even as the “poor man’s crop” moniker of nonindustrial legumes stuck. The four chapters of the dissertation are organized as Chapter 1: An Intellectual History of Indian Plant Sciences, Chapter 2: The Unpredictable Pulse of the Green Revolution, Chapter 3: The Andaman Islands and Western Ghats in the Botanical Archive, and Chapter 4: Indian Traditional Sciences and Legumes. Chapter 1 argues that while productivism (yield) has been a component of agricultural improvement, it has not been the only element. If utility is a narrow concept which fits wheat, legumes have been part of a broader debate about modern agriculture. Viability is possibility, and legumes in particular seemed to elude the desires of agronomists as they sought to create predictable plants. Chapter 2 argues that no one hybrid emerged as the obvious beneficiary of research and development, rather short duration varieties were the result of multi-faceted efforts in the face of multi-faceted challenges. In the process, ethnographic identifiers were lost, and instead a debate about whether the legume had been modernized emerged, rather than a legume that could match the apparent success of wheat in terms of increased yield. Chapter 3 explains the role of the Andaman Islands and Western Ghats in the formation of Indian plant sciences and suggests they have been used to create and maintain the idea of an agrarian frontier. Chapter 4 argues that certain streams of Indian plant sciences have accommodated various streams of thought and paradigms challenging normative teleologies of scientific progress.

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Authors & Contributors
Berger, Rachel
Creager, Angela N. H.
Di, Lu
Gaudillière, Jean-Paul
Klanovicz, Jó
Levidow, Les
Agricultural History
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Indian Journal of History of Science
Science as Culture
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Technology and Culture
Franz Steiner Verlag
Columbia University
Berghahn Books
Harvard University Press
University of Wisconsin Press
Food and foods
Controversies and disputes
Food industry and trade
Howard, Albert, Sir
Borlaug, Norman Ernest
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
18th century
20th century, early
20th century, late
21st century
Great Britain
United States
New Jersey (U.S.)
Rockefeller Foundation

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