November 10, 2019 - Caroline

RPP #8: Qualitative Sources for Interpretivist Research

I am proposing to research the discursive power of agrochemical corporations to find out how the marketing of pesticides from the 1960s to the present has contributed to the normalization of their use to help my readers better understand the political economy of pesticide use. In other words, I am studying how language and framing have normalized and decreased the risk perception surrounding the social practice of using pesticides. Because the United States’ agricultural model of overproduction is widely adopted and dominates the global agricultural industry, I would focus on the U.S. while also incorporating examples from other countries. The current global food system’s emphasis on overproduction as a way to increase food security (especially when the root problem lies in distribution and access—not quantity) often leads to drastic increases in the use of harmful inputs like pesticides.[1] This is just one of many existing theories/engrained ideas that influences why people continue to sell and use pesticides. The system is not only designed to overproduce, but also to use seeds that require the use of more pesticides.[2] Why is this system still in place with growing concern over the harmful effects of pesticides? Who is drowning out and actively trying to discredit activists and other opposers? It all comes back to companies like Monsanto or Dupont.

The object of inquiry is the representation of pesticides and their use (particularly from the 1960s to the present in the United States). The actors producing X are mainly agrochemical companies and government agencies/officials with some activists, farmers, or scientists challenging X. Pesticides and their use are generally represented as safe, efficient, and innovative in advertising and government reports (following modernization/pro-consumption/quantity discourse) and deadly or outdated in opposing articles, investigations, or interviews.

A canonical work in the movement against pesticide use has been Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring published in 1962.[3] Considering that her work is the foundation of this particular social movement, it is important to analyze how it challenged the accepted norm that pesticides are safe and efficient being enforced by the agrochemical industry. Rather pesticide use (X) is represented as dangerous and ineffective. The prior age of synthetic pesticides in the late 1930s and 1940s, along with the “Green Revolution” in the 1950s-60s when pesticides were seen as an innovation to end world hunger, influenced the creation of her book.[4]

Another primary source is Bayer-Monsanto’s website, specifically magazine articles, reports, and infographics open to the public that represent its products as safe and beneficial to the environment and human consumption.[5] Some specific parts of the website to further analyze how pesticides are marketed positively include pictures of smiling children and farmers, along with word choice, especially if the product is considered “non-carcinogenic.” The inclusion of scientific studies as an attempt to increase the validity and reliability of the company and its products is also something to consider.








[1] Frank Veraart. “Agriculture and Foods: Overproduction and Overconsumption” in Well-being, Sustainability, and Social Development. (Cham Springer, 2018), 397-400.

[2] “Big Ag’s Dirty Little Secret.” Pesticide Action Network, accessed November 10, 2019,

[3]Rachel Carson. Silent Spring. (1962), Accessed November 10, 2019,

[4] “A Short History of Pest Management,” Penn State Extension, accessed November 10, 2019,

[5] “Glyphosate Facts: Impact on Human Health and Safety,” Bayer, accessed November 10, 2019,; “A Mistake With Consequences,” Bayer Global Magazine, Last updated June 28, 2019, Accessed November 3, 2019,

Research / SISOlson / SISOlson19


  • Caroline — overall you’ve done a very good job here identifying your object of inquiry and the representations of that object of inquiry that seem puzzling or intriguing, as well as identifying some texts that demonstrate these representations. As you continue your work, make sure that the problem statement (and the second part of the problem statement in particular–the part that is, in effect, your research question in statement form) point to the meanings and representations that you propose to analyze and understand. What you have now in that second part of the problem statement — “…to find out how the marketing of pesticides from the 1960s to the present has contributed to the normalization of their use to help my readers better understand the political economy of pesticide use.” — is still pretty neopositivist (cause-effect) in its framing. I very much like the idea of normalization and how you have incorporated that into your problem statement and your discussion here. Going forward, though, remember (from Dunn and Neumann) that questions in this methodology usually take the “how…?” or “how possible…?” form that then points to the specific discourses and representations that are puzzling (e.g. “How was it possible that lone mothers came to be represented as immoral and greedy in 1830s Britain?” to use the Carabine example). Make sure to work on reframing the question and the problem statement so it aligns with the focus of this methodology (studying how shared meanings are constructed, reproduced, and challenged).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *