September 29, 2014
GEORGE STEINMETZ: Sociology, University of Michigan
"The Colonial Moment in French and British Sociology, 1940s-1960s"
Description: This lecture examines French and British colonial sociology between the 1940s and the 1960s, asking about the ways political contexts, including colonial and imperial contexts, shape social research; about the sources of scientific autonomy and heteronomy; and about the construction and reconfiguration of disciplinary boundaries, especially the boundary between sociology and anthropology. The paper also explores the ways the two imperial intellectual fields differed, converged, and interacted with one another. The first finding is that colonies and empires constituted a central object and terrain of investigation for sociologists in both empires during this period, when sociology was reemerging as a scientific field. The widespread engagement with colonialism had a significant imprint on the discipline, even if this episode was subsequently forgotten. Sociologists engaged in imperial careering, moving from one colonial site to another and between metropoles and colonies. Imperial academic sociological fields began to emerge, with a primary orientation toward their metropoles and with asymmetrical but increasingly important relations between colonizing and colonized sociologists. Colonial sociology made several contributions, some of which have recently been rediscovered or unwittingly reinvented by theorists of postcolonialism, transnationalism, and race relations.
October 13, 2014
MORANA ALAC: Communication and Science Studies, UC San Diego
"On Everyday Encounters with an Educational Robot and the Quest for Individualized Instruction"
Description: US mass media and academic discourses on digital technologies for education are animated by the idea of individualized instruction. I engage this idea in the context of an ethnographic study of a social robotics project in a university laboratory of machine learning. In this project, the researchers design low-cost educational robots geared toward children between 18 and 24 months of age, and, to inform and further evolve the robot’s design, immerse the robot in a preschool setting. Following scientists around, I ended up observing the preschool’s local methods employed in interacting with the robot. In this talk, I pay attention to touch, spatial organizations, and how communicative modes, such as gesture, speech, gaze and body orientation, feature in concerted action between preschool inhabitants, researchers and their robot. While the design of educational robots uses as a resource and inscribes the idea of individualized instruction in its technologies, I show how particular instances of the embodied and multisensory interaction on the occasion of robot’s design and use both produce and challenge this idea.
October 27, 2014
JAVIER LEZAUN: Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford
"Almost There? Hopes and Regrets in Antimalarial Drug Development"
Description: After decades of divestment, pharmaceutical research on new antimalarials is experiencing something of a renaissance. Since the turn of the century, multiple public-private partnerships have embarked on new drug development projects, often with the financial support of philanthropic organizations – primarily the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This paper will focus on the case of Tafenoquine, an investigational new drug currently undergoing its final Phase III clinical trial. What makes Tafenoquine a fascinating example is that this molecule has been “in development” for more than three decades. In that limbo – “neither alive nor dead” – it has witnessed profound transformations in the political economy of neglected diseases. Initially developed by the US Army as a prophylactic to protect troops deployed overseas, the drug is now poised to enter the market as a “radical cure” for patients suffering from chronic Plasmodium vivax infections in malaria-endemic countries. The paper analyzes the twists and turns in Tafenoquine’s long and convoluted career, and explores the volatile mixture of hope and disappointment that characterizes the contemporary “global health” era.
November 10, 2014
NORTON WISE: History, Institute for Society and Genetics, UCLA
"The Steam-Powered Gardens of Industrializing Berlin"
Description: The naturalistic beauty of the large landscape gardens in and around Berlin attracts residents and tourists alike. It is not often remarked today, however, that the gardens were built during the nineteenth century with steam engines at their heart, nor that their aesthetic quality derives in part from the engines (now electric motors) that power them. It was not always so. Originally the engines were intended to be celebrated by a wondering public, who visited them in their often splendid houses, designed by such architects as Schinkel and Persius. Over the course of the century, as industrialization developed, ownership of steam-powered gardens continually expanded, from the royal family to individual entrepreneurs to bourgeois colonies to the larger public. The gardens and their engines, therefore, provide a unique opportunity to view the social history of industrialization literally on the ground, by making the now-invisible technology visible once again and by reuniting it with the aesthetics of the gardens.
November 17, 2014
SHEILA WILLE: AKIH, History, and EPC, Northwestern University
"The Insect Empire Invades! Unmanageable Nature in Eighteenth-century Britain and the Empire"
Description: Over the course of the eighteenth century, insects were increasingly visible to Britons both at home and abroad. British naturalists, colonials, and agriculturalists noticed, discussed, and wrote more about insects’ destructive and invasive capabilities, as well as their potential profitability and aesthetic qualities, than they ever had before. Primarily, though, these men began to see insects as natural forces to be managed by the industrious for the benefit of the nation and humanity. In this talk, I will examine the increasing visibility of insects over the course of this period and pay special attention to the growing consensus that humans were both able and compelled to intervene in insectile Creation. Perhaps surprisingly, the late-century encouragement of human intervention is not a case study in the secularization of science, but shows instead the remarkable adaptability of seventeenth-century natural theology – especially its foundational assumptions about the stability and fruitfulness of nature – to the program of enlightened entomological improvement.