Governing the liberal self in a ‘post-truth’ era: science, class and the debate over GMOs

Heidi Zimmerman, Aaron Eddens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This essay examines four case studies in which prominent commentators in media sites that target the liberal-leaning, educated class–The Daily Show, Slate magazine, the New York Times, and Real Time with Bill Maher–announced that they had changed their minds on the issue of genetically modified foods (GMOs). Though each had previously been sceptical of the technology, they now embraced it in the name of science and humanitarianism, and urged audiences to do the same. These cases were flashpoints in a broader shift in which the liberal, educated middle class–a formation historically critical of GMOs–has increasingly denounced scepticism about biotechnology as a pernicious ‘anti-science’ conservatism. This liberal pro-GMO discourse posits itself as a matter of truth versus lies. We argue, however, that the manner in which it framed GMO opposition as irrational and immoral threatened attachments that have long been central to liberal, educated middle class selfhood and capital–attachments to being a caring and rational self. Moreover, this discourse intensified as this class was experiencing heightened cultural and economic instability under neoliberalism, the post-industrial labour economy, and the aftermath of the Great Recession. Through their narratives of coming to believe in GMOs, our case studies provide their audiences with technologies, in the Foucauldian sense, for making classed selves and shoring up this class’ claims to authority under these conditions. We suggest that this swell of cultural technologies aiming to cultivate liberal support for GMOs has a great deal to teach us about the class dynamics of the so-called ‘post-truth’ era.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)953-974
Number of pages22
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Tracey Deutsch, Will Jones, members of the University of Minnesota's Agrifood reading group, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on this essay.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • genetically modified food
  • governmentality
  • Middle class
  • neoliberalism
  • post-truth
  • science


Dive into the research topics of 'Governing the liberal self in a ‘post-truth’ era: science, class and the debate over GMOs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this