Klopsteg Lectures

All lectures are open to the public, thanks to the generosity of the Klopsteg fund, and (unless indicated otherwise below) are held in the Hagstrum Room (University Hall Room 201) on Mondays from 4:00-5:30pm.

FALL 2016

October 10, 2016
MICHAEL GORDIN: History, Princeton University
“Scientific Babel: The Languages of Science before and after Global English”

Description: Communication, especially publication, in the natural sciences today takes place almost exclusively in English. This phenomenon is relatively recent, with a strong shift toward monoglot natural science taking place roughly half a century ago. This talk offers an account of the transformation of communication in the natural sciences from a primarily trilingual situation in 1850 (English, French, and German) to a bilingual situation after the Second World War (English primary, Russian secondary), to the essentially monoglot system of today.

October 17, 2016
SHELLEN WU: History, Tennessee University Knoxville
"The Endless Frontiers of Science in Twentieth Century China”

Description: From the 1890s until the mid-twentieth century, the world entered into a period of prolonged angst and crisis, intersected by two World Wars and countless regional and local conflicts. During this period, examples of frontier discourse around the world display the power of science and the social sciences as an international and common language of state power in the twentieth century; such discussions built upon a rising consciousness of natural resources and environmental dependency. The global circulation of imperialist and geopolitical discourse helped to shape the modern Chinese geographical imagination. Geopolitical discourse in China emerged from this fundamental spatial reconceptualization of Chinese territoriality.

October 31, 2016
JOHN PARKER: Honors College, Arizona State University
"How Theory Groups Die: Emotional and Intellectual Decay in Path-breaking Scientific Groups"

Description: Small, intensely interacting research groups collaborating in opposition to dominant intellectual trends are the primary dynamos of intellectual change across disciples, cultures, and history. These ‘coherent’ groups coordinate research, centralize communication and recruitment, and establish the intellectual foundation of new scientific and intellectual movements. To do so, they must craft a group culture capable of generating both novel ideas and the collective socio-emotional states (e.g., trust, solidarity, flow) required for producing large amounts of creative work and defending it from attack. Examples include the Columbia Skinnerians, Neils Bohr’s quantum physics group, and the Phage group in molecular biology.

 Coherent groups exhibit a general developmental pattern: 1. A small group gathers around a charismatic intellectual leader. 2. An organizational leader emerges and a semi-formal group is established with unique ideas and training practices. 3. New entrants join, the network grows, and (if successful) its research becomes institutionalized in journals, conferences, and (more rarely) a new discipline. 4. The group’s influence wanes and its creative work obsolesces. This study focuses on the final ‘stage’ of coherent group development by integrating research in the sociology of science, emotions, and small groups and applying it to ten years of observations, interviews, bibliometric, and documentary analyses of a contemporary coherent group in ecology. Adopting a micro-sociological focus, it examines how social and epistemological dynamics characteristic of late stage coherent groups interact with the micro-politics of intellectual fields to cause group disintegration. In doing so it characterizes and establishes two interdependent social processes that decrease the group’s capacity to produce novel scientific work and reduce the social value of its intellectual contributions:

 1. Emotional decay refers to the loss of the socio-emotional dynamics that allowed the group to produce novel research. Group expansion and diversification makes it increasingly difficult to create interaction rituals of sufficient intensity to create the requisite collective emotions required to pursue, develop, and defend new ideas. Key relationships, roles, and emotional memory are also lost as original leaders retire, while new members develop alternate solidarities that threaten group coherence. Finally, attacks by influential outsiders can split opinions, solidarities, and occasion group fractionation.

 2. Ideational decay refers to the loss of value of the group’s ideas for the intellectual field. The ascendency of the group’s ideas invites outside criticism by virtue of their strategic value as an intellectual target, because no theory is ever complete, and because of the micro-politics of inter group conflict in science. Moreover, as the group’s ideas gain currency they are reinterpreted and misinterpreted in ways that lessen their value. Their ideas can also become accepted as essentially true, losing the requisite novelty definitive of scientific work. Finally, the same scientific phenomena can come to be analyzed by others using completely new concepts and terminology, effectively obliterating the group’s research.

 Overall, this project advances a more dynamic and holistic conceptualization of change in coherent groups and an enhanced appreciation of the conjoint intellectual and affective mechanisms that structure their social dynamics.

November 7, 2016
MARK HARRISON: History of Medicine, Oxford University
"Medicine and Commodity Culture in British India"

Description: For many years it was assumed that British rule in India resulted in the denigration of Indian medical traditions, in almost inverse proportion to the elevation of that of the West.  Although this version of history still has its adherents, work by Guy Attewell, Kavita Sivaramakrishan and others has shown that Indian medical practices continued to flourish and diversify.  They adapted in ingenious ways to the challenges posed by Western medicine and new opportunities presented by the expansion of print media in English and vernacular languages.  These tactics enabled Indian medical traditions to prosper despite the institutionalization of Western medicine and the cultural authority this bestowed.  However, Western medicine gained popularity not only on account of official endorsement but as a result of the same processes that allowed Indian practitioners to reach new patients and consumers.  In this paper I shall argue that Western medicine gained purchase in India primarily as a result of the mass manufacture of its pharmaceutical products, their wide distribution in a subcontinent increasingly connected by railways, and their advertisement in English language and vernacular publications.  At the end of the nineteenth century and in the early nineteenth century, a new commodity-based, pan-medical culture emerged, which resulted in the broader dissemination of Western medicine and formerly localised practises of Indian medicine, while giving birth to new hybrid forms of pharmaceutically-grounded healing.

**co-sponsored by the Buffett Institute's Global Medical Cultures & Law Research Group

November 14, 2016
ON BARAK: Middle Eastern and African History, Tel Aviv University
“Reading Boyle in Istanbul: British Coal and the Animation of Ottoman Technopolitics”

Description: The separation of politics and experimental science, or Leviathan and air-pump, is traditionally recounted as an English story with less attention to whether and how it was informed by, and in turn impacted other places. This talk brings the Ottoman Empire into the frame: It suggests that the success of this project in the British Isles depended on trans-imperial connections already in the seventeenth century and well into the long nineteenth. Moreover, it demonstrates how this divorce in Europe limited the possibility of a hermetic separation of science, politics, and religion in the Ottoman and post-Ottoman worlds. Examining Ottoman appropriations of European knowledge about coal, its extraction and utilization (geology, mineralogy, engineering, and thermodynamics), the talk asks how increased transnational connectivity in the age of steam-power energized global incommensurability.


January 30, 2017
KIM TALLBEAR: Native Studies, University of Alberta


February 6, 2017
ELIZABETH ROBERTS: Anthropology, University of Michigan


February 20, 2017
BRETT WALKER: History, Philosophy, & Religious Studies, Montana State University


February 27, 2017
KELLY WISECUP: English, Northwestern University


March 6, 2017
CLARA HAN: Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
"A life in debt to the dead: Learning kinship in a setting of pervasive death"

Description: How do children come to learn kinship in a setting of pervasive death? How do children come to inherit the dead within a web of kinship? What is it to be “in debt to the dead”, as seen through the eyes of the child? In this talk, I draw on ethnographic research in a low-income neighborhood under police occupation in Santiago, Chile. In particular, I focus on an extended case study of a young man who was killed by police during a drug raid in the neighborhood. At the time of his death, he and his girlfriend were expecting their first child, a daughter. This ethnography brings into soft focus the ways in which the extended kinship network and neighbors brought this child into a web of kinship and how the child is coming to learn who her father is and what a father is. Much anthropological literature has explored how the debts to the dead are given form through commemoration. This paper takes a different angle on the debt to the dead – not in terms of how the dead are remembered or forgotten in commemorative practices, but rather how the dead are intimately made alive to us in everyday life. Through exploring the ways in which the child was seen to inherit gestures and expressions from her father, the father’s visits to the child and her relatives in dreams, and the child’s efforts to touch and hear her father, this talk considers how the dead are woven into kinship and how kinship is marked by a complex interplay of death and life, absence and presence in this neighborhood.

**co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities's Debt Dialogue Series


April 3, 2017
PAULA FINDLEN: History, Stanford University


SPECIAL EVENT: May 5-7 | Faculty Conference
"Global Medical Cultures and Law"

keynote speakers:
JOHANNA GIBSON: School of Law, Queen Mary University of London

JOHN COMAROFF: African & African American Studies, Harvard University
JEAN COMAROFF: African & African American Studies, Harvard University

SPECIAL EVENT: TBD | Graduate Student Conference
"Science and Technology in Global Affairs"

keynote speakers: