Gustavo Esteva’s talk on ‘Challenging the Institutional Production of Truth’

Mexican activist Gustavo Esteva is a world renowned intellectual and is the founder of Universidad de La Tierra. He is a well-known advocate of post-development as well as being active in the Zapatista movement in Mexico which advocates the rights of indigenous people. In 2012 he gave a provocative talk on ‘Challenging the Institutional Production of Truth’ at Berkley, California. In this talk, he mentioned the “current situation”. This is as he feels is a radical situation. The radical situation he describes as “A radical situation is a moment, a period of collective awakening. Produced by two separate factors. One is a tough situation, jobs, assets, expectations are gone” (Gustavo Esteva, Berkley 2012). The second factor he described as being “With increasing evidence that the powers that be are doing, aggravate the situation, instead of solving our problems. These two factors combined produce this collective awareness.” (Gustavo Esteva, Berkley 2012).


The institutional Production of Truth


Esteva says that there is nothing more important than “challenging the institutional production of truth” Esteva mentions the “Truth not being right or wrong but the statement’s to which we burn ourselves”. This a statement which many believe in and hold real value in. Truth is universal, and it is singular. However, there are two forms of this truth.To begin with, there is the empirical truth, for example, humans need oxygen to survive. The other form of truth is truth itself, this is defined by ourselves, what we believe, what we do, the way we think.(Michael Patrick Lynch, The nature of truth, MIT press,2001) This does not mean however the truth that we know is in fact the established real truth. Esteva describes the truth that we know as being “constructed by the powers that be” and that “they decide what is right and wrong”. The Cambridge dictionary shows that “the powers that be” refers to “important people, who have power over others”. It could, however, be ascertained in this case in particular that Esteva is referring to the government or at least political bodies of the government. In a democracy, it is believed that the decisions are made democratically. Evidence against this view can be obtained from The Foundation for Economic Education ( it states” Before a democratic process can even begin to function, some nondemocratic process has to make the rules. And those rules will have a major impact on the choices available to the people once they finally begin to have a say. “So an example of this could be shown when a legislator is voted is elected in America. When they are then elected, there is no guarantee they will adhere to what the people will truly wish of them when in power. The protest against the war in Iraq is one such instance labeled “the largest protest event in human history”(Walgrave, Stefaan; Rucht, Dieter(2010). The number of protesters accounted by the BBC ranged from eight to thirty million. All of these protests and shows of rejection were to no avail. However, nothing stopped the war in Iraq. It is true politicians are democratically elected, they do however determine the very rules in which they will stand for election.



Esteva makes several points on food. Food is something no longer in the hands of everyday people but is in fact in the hands of larger powerful companies .He points out that “half the world is starving, the other half are scared to eat”. There are multinational super companies that control so much of the world now: Monsanto, Walmart, Nestle, and Kraft to name but a few. He talks about them having a ”moral epiphany”. It is well documented that these companies are very powerful in and amongst themselves. Coca-Cola for example is summarized by Bob Zurn(Coca-Cola: The Power of a Brand) he describes it as “showing the popularity of a soft drink as well as the dominance of American entrepreneurialism in the twentieth century and beyond.” This is simply one of many super companies that control vast amounts of industry throughout the world as can be depicted in the image below.graphic-72dpi-8x5-english_custom-e7798a240cf729589c407e5c47c5e3db515da21a-s40-c85.jpg

To Challenge the Institutional Production of Truth

As mentioned before Esteva said how important it is to “Challenge the Institutional production of Truth”. He even gives examples of some acts where people have wrought such. One such person that Esteva mentions is Pope Gregory the seventh. Esteva was a very beloved and abhorred man in his time. During the twelfth century he was a pioneer in many regards. One such example is “connected with his championship of compulsory celibacy among the clergy and his attack on simony” (Encyclopedia Britannica, Chrisholm Hugh).This was very unpopular among the clergy and he invoked widespread resistance which led ultimately to his exile. A people which Esteva also mentions is the Zapatista army of National Liberalism (EZLN) more commonly referred to as the Zapatistas. They are a revolutionary leftist group movement based in Chiapas, Mexico. Possibly there most famous act is the 1994 uprising also known as the Chiapas conflict. This is where the EZLN led an armed insurgence against the Mexican government because of the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).This agreement undermined the rights of indigenous people in Mexico. Since then the EZLN has declared war against the state and stands for social, Cultural and land rights for indigenous people. Even today they still oppose the Mexican Government.







These were just a few and brief minor points and people mentioned by Esteva. He has apparently painted a clear picture of ‘the current situation’. It is a time when people are ruled by ‘the powers that be’ and as Esteve put it “there is a crack in the dominant mentality”. His talk gave much evidence that although many social movements have made tremendous changes throughout history, they must be started by one person. That is all that it takes, one person to make the difference. From lowly medieval peasants leading revolts against their Lord everyday individuals in the French revolution, this is what the world needs. Social change to be started by just one ordinary person.


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