On Labor and Creative Transformations in the Experimental Fields of the Philippines


Through an ethnography of the C4 Rice Project’s sorghum experiment in the Philippines, this article analyzes particular practices in experimental rice fields and how rice researchers understand their work through specific material practices and engagements with the plants. Returning to the critiques of disembodied science, the author looks at the particular, situated, and subjective labor that researchers do in the fields to argue that these relationships offer different and richer ways to understand scientific knowledge production and practices. Drawing out a distinction between working on plants (the human as producer and plant as passive raw material) and working with plants (a process of humans and plants working together in a situated and particular relationship), the article offers an different approach to Marx’s concept of labor by incorporating nonhumans as active and relational actors in the labor process. Labor, then, can be seen as a creative relationship between humans and nonhumans situated in particular times and places.