Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2016

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation explores the ways in which genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds, rice seeds, and organic cotton seeds in Telangana, India set farmers on diverging economic, environmental, and social trajectories. GM cotton, a cash crop sold under hundreds of different brand names by private corporations, leads farmers to rapidly change to new seeds and copy their neighbors’ choices as they chase high yields that counter their high investments in an input-intensive agriculture. Rice, a subsistence and market crop distributed largely by public breeders, allows farmers to change their seeds more slowly as they carefully evaluate durability and taste alongside overall yield. Organic cotton seeds, often provided free of cost by sponsoring NGOs or ethical fiber companies, show farmers that agricultural cost-benefit analysis can be less important than learning to work in tandem with a sponsoring organization. The solutions to agrarian crisis or underdevelopment are often presented as a series of technological fixes. However, agriculture is a fundamentally social act, hinging on the ways in which farmers learn to manage their fields. Taking individual seeds as a lens, I use ethnographic detail and quantitative analysis to study how farmers learn to navigate confusing seed markets, state programs, ethical supply chains, and the village hierarchies that determine who looks to whom for agricultural advice. This work has implications for international development as well as a broader question of modern life: how do we make technologies sustainable in new contexts?


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Glenn D. Stone

Committee Members

Peter Benson, Geoff Childs, Gayle Fritz, Gautam Yadama


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/doi:10.7936/K7R49P5C