Fleck Prize 2022: Aniket Aga

The Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) has awarded the Ludwik Fleck Prize of 2022 to Aniket Aga for his book Genetically Modified Democracy (Yale University Press, 2021).

The Fleck Prize, first awarded in 1992, recognizes an outstanding book in the area of Science and Technology Studies (STS). For the 2021 prize, the Committee reviewed more than 60 books and evaluated nominated books on their contributions to the field of Science and Technology Studies, their novelty, and their overall scholarly quality.

Genetically Modified Democracy is a rigorous and fascinating study that puts in dialogue different issues that challenge us in the science-technology-democracy relationship.

Aniket Aga’s book reconstructs in great detail and in a very rigorous way the process of regulation of GMO crops in India, showing at the same time the bureaucratic structures, the interests at stake, the power relations and the epistemic changes that took place during the period under analysis.

Genetically Modified Democracy makes multiple and brilliant contributions to the STS field. First, it is a rigorous reconstruction of the emergence and development of a scientific field that is transforming from traditional biology to biotechnology, with strong support from the state apparatus. During the process of institutionalization of this research, Aniket Aga highlights the role of some pioneers, such as Satish Maheshwari and Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, among other outstanding scientists. In this sense, it deftly demonstrates how the seeds of biotechnology were sown into the very birth of the green revolution in India rather than representing some kind of second wave.

Secondly, it analyzes the complex relationships between scientific development in a semi-peripheral context and the globalized industrial development, and how this put in tension epistemic changes and their economic-industrial meanings in relation to the interests at stake. Since funding from Indian private foundations or corporate interest was scarce or non-existent, the State encouraged the creation of national research laboratories; a process similar to what happened in other developing contexts.

Third, it is a careful analysis of the controversies generated by the emergence of techno-scientific innovations, questioning the positions of the various actors, as well as the role of the state and the actions of diverse social movements. Indeed, within the struggles surrounding GMOs—their production, use and regulation—it is worth highlighting the wonderful analysis of the emergence of social movements involved in activism against GM crops. In a similar way to what we observed in Brazil during the same years (for example, with the Movimento sem Terra), the focus was on the role played by large companies such as Monsanto (Monsanto Quit India! Quit India! were the slogans). While in India the situation is altered by the entry of Monsanto’s Bt Cotton, in South America it was about genetically modified soybeans, introduced at the same time and by the same globalized company.

Fourth, it lucidly raises the problem of the regulation of knowledge, its development and applications, as well as the role of public institutions in the implementation of evidence-based modes of regulation or, ultimately, co-production of regulations together with the changes taking place in society and the state.

It is a masterful and thoroughly researched account of the making of GMO biotechnology in India and the concurrent emergence of novel matters of concern and governance forms fueled by calls for equity and justice. Aniket Aga’s book reflects on what happens in a globalized world with other modes of technoscientific development in different regions, for example by showing the fundamental role of the state, in contrast to the Western mode of development.

Although the book is based on empirical work done in India, it should be read by scholars in other contexts, as the lessons it offers explain, no doubt, the tensions in that country, but exceed its situated character, and speaks to the contemporary world.

For all these invaluable contributions, the Society for Social Studies of Science is honored to award Genetically Modified Democracy this year’s Ludwik Fleck Prize (2022).

2022 Fleck Prize Committee: Pablo Kreimer (chair), Aya Kimura, Angela Okune, Maka Suarez, Ayo Wahlberg.

Acceptance statement:

I am greatly honored to receive the 2022 Ludwik Fleck Prize. Genetically Modified Democracy, and my broader work, has benefited immensely from the searching questions that the 4S community has pioneered – concerning knowledge and democracy, inequality among knowledge systems, and the oppressive and liberatory potentials of science. So I am particularly thankful to the Fleck Prize Committee members for this distinction.

At the outset, I wish to mark the passing away of Bruno Latour. His ‘Actor-Network Theory’ and Politics of Nature are what first got me interested in the anthropology of science. He is an inspiration for STS scholars across the world.

My book frames new technologies in agriculture as problems for democratic politics and justice. I was keen to demonstrate that the GM debate in India is not derivative. Rather, the debate poses fundamental questions about the direction of scientific research drawing from India’s history and political economy. I think that paying attention to regional histories allows us to construct an STS that is truly reflective of the global experience. This recognition from the 4S is a shot in the arm for research which studies science in the global South on its own terms and looks beyond the resource constraints here.

This research would not have been possible without the inspiration provided by numerous activists, farmers, journalists and scientists in India. I would also like to thank my doctoral supervisor, K. Sivaramakrishnan and several other mentors who helped me shape and execute this research in invaluable ways. They kept faith in this research in my moments of doubt. My partner, the journalist Chitrangada Choudhury, provided incalculable support through this research and beyond, and helped me to creatively navigate conceptual and practical dilemmas. The fieldwork that went into the book was generously funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and different grants from Yale University, in particular, the South Asia Studies Council and the Program in Agrarian Studies.

This prize has come to India at a time when critical inquiry, scientific research, and speaking truth to power is under unprecedented attack. Several activists, notably M. M. Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh, Narendra Dabholkar, and Govind Pansare, have been assassinated for promoting the spirit of critical inquiry among the masses, while many others face harassment or languish in jails. I dedicate this prize to the many activists, journalists, teachers and students who shine a light in these dark times.


Aniket Aga is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Ashoka University in India, and the author of Genetically Modified Democracy: Transgenic crops in contemporary India, published by Yale University Press (global edition) and Orient Blackswan (South Asia edition). He is interested in science and technology studies, democratic politics and agrarian studies, and works on questions of food democracy and environmental justice. He has published research in the Journal of Peasant Studies, Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, Scientific American, and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, while public-oriented writings have appeared in The Hindu, The People’s Archive of Rural India, Article 14, and The Wire, among others.