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Conscious, Complacent, Fearful: Agri-Food Tech’s Market-Making Public Imaginaries

  • Biltekoff, Charlotte
  • Guthman, Julie
Publication Date
Jan 02, 2023
eScholarship - University of California
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While the tech sector has seized upon the food system as an area in which it can have a major impact, innovators within the agri-food tech domain are dogged by concerns about public acceptance of technologies that may be controversial or simply not of interest. At the same time, because they operate within an investor-dependent political economy, they must demonstrate that the public will consume the products they are creating. To both secure markets and legitimate their approaches to problem-solving, entrepreneurial innovators draw on three existing imaginaries of consumers, each of which articulates with a particular tendency they have pursued in problem-solving. Reflecting a tendency of solutionism, those promoting technologies that promise minimal processing and/or short or traceable supply chains invoke a health- and eco-conscious consumer. In keeping with technofixes, those promoting technologies of mimicry invoke a complacent consumer. Reflecting the tendency toward scientism in problem-solving and related projections of public knowledge deficits, those promoting potentially controversial technologies invoke a fearful consumer and embrace transparency to inform and assure such consumers. By promising future consumers who will willingly accept emerging technologies, each of these imaginaries seeks to resolve–for investors–potential problems of consumer acceptance generated by the particular approaches to problem-solving innovators have adopted. While STS scholars have shown how public-facing engagement exercises and policy work are often limited by deficit-driven imaginaries of the public, in these investor-facing spaces possible objections are both imagined and overcome without any interaction with actual publics.

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