The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a novel approach to rice cultivation that is claimed to be both more productive and more sustainable than conventional methods. It is said to have been discovered by a French Jesuit missionary working in Madagascar during the 1970s and 1980s. The system has been depicted as a set of methods determined by the needs of rice itself. However, a close analysis of its origins indicates that the creation of the system involved elements of invention as well as discovery. In a process where conceptual understanding evolved over a period of years, empirical observation, theoretical analysis, practical experimentation, and purposive judgment all contributed to the compilation of a set of cultivation practices making up SRI. In particular, some aspects of the SRI methodology were not dictated by agronomy alone but were intended to suit peasant farmers. The theoretical underpinnings of SRI could equally have been used to justify alternative choices. Key aspects of the scientific controversy that surrounds SRI reflect not only disagreements on scientific questions but also different perspectives on the appropriate roles of agricultural researchers and strategies of agricultural research.