Innovations in genetics and genomics have drawn attention from critical scholars in a number of fields, who have argued that these technologies enable the enactment and extension of neoliberal capitalism, particularly in agriculture. Many of these critiques are motivated by the tendency of genetic science to promote reductionism in the way we understand and interact with other organisms, including the notion that they can be simply reprogrammed through genetic modification. In agriculture, this reductionist perspective has ignored the complexity of natural systems and facilitated the privatization and commodification of plant genetic resources through patents and intellectual property protections.
But many of these patterns were described well before the use of genetic technologies in biodiversity conservation became an anticipated possibility. This new application of genetic engineering, examined through the case of transgenic, blight-resistant American chestnut trees, appears to embody important continuities with neoliberal critiques of genetic technologies while also disrupting them. This project draws on participant observation, interviews, and historical analysis to consider how social and biological systems have presented some resistance to neoliberalism in conservation. It aims to provide insight into the conditions under which genetic technologies might be employed in the production of more sustainable and just futures.