We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Anthropology

Pesticides and Global Health

Agrochemicals are widely accepted and promoted because they help to feed the world, but problematized because they poison the world. Arguments in favour and against the use of agrochemicals are often impassioned and powerful, drawing upon a wide range of competing medical, moral, and efficacy claims. Funded by the Wellcome Trust Fellowship Award in Society and Ethics, this sub project of the Critical Toxicologies research group asks four questions

  • How might social science contribute to an understanding of these debates?
  • How do the interests and positioning of different agents lead to differing and contrasting rhetorics?
  • In what ways is the medical and scientific evidence constructed, valued, and deployed?
  • What social, ethical, and political arguments arise and how are they related to local/global contexts?


  1. Extend theories regarding the role of agrochemicals in global health by providing a ‘pesticide’s-eye view’ of the medical, moral, and efficacy debates they generate;
  2. Illuminate the social, ethical, and political dimensions of the debates, including how notions of agrochemical health benefits and risks are constructed, valued, and used;
  3. Achieve this by developing a ‘follow the chemical’ methodology and narrative device capturing agrochemicals’ changing status as they pass between local contexts; and
  4. Actively participate in local/transnational debates concerning the health and social effects of agrochemical use and regulation by offering contextually nuanced accounts of the ways in which they become part of local agricultural and health practices and identities.


  1. Follow the development, sale, use, regulation, and lobbying of pesticide products from company headquarters to developing world contexts, Sri Lanka and India;
  2. Document how the health evidence and meanings of agrochemical use, impacts, and regulations accrue in different contexts and shape public and policy agendas;
  3. Apply these insights to Post-2015 sustainable development health goals to better understand the cultural context of social, environmental, and economic debates;
  4. Collaborate with academic, non-academic, and activist sectors in Sri Lanka and internationally to develop policy/practice impacts; and
  5. Contribute theoretical and methodological insights to medical and environmental anthropology and global health development

The research is led by Dr Tom Widger.