2016-2017 Klopsteg Lecture Series
Program Director: Professor Helen Tilley (Sociology)
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October 10, 2016
MICHAEL GORDIN: History, Princeton University
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
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
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.
NANCY HUNT: History & African Studies, University of Florida – Gainesville
Abstract: In A Nervous State, I consider the afterlives of violence and harm in King Leopold’s Congo Free State. Discarding catastrophe as narrative form, I instead work to bring alive a history of colonial nervousness. This mood suffused medical investigations, security operations, and vernacular healing movements. Using a heuristic of two colonial states—one “nervous,” one biopolitical—the analysis alternates between scientific research into birthrates, gonorrhea, and childlessness, and the securitization of subaltern “therapeutic insurgencies.” By the time of the developmentalist 1950s, a shining infertility clinic and bleak penal colony stood close by in a region that formerly held a grisly rubber concession. I strive to make this history burst forth with layers of perceptibility and song, while conveying everyday surfaces and daydreams of subalterns and colonials alike. Congolese endured and evaded corvées and medical and security screening. With sharp wits, they stirred unease through healing, wonder, memory, and dance. By its close, this capacious medical history sheds light on Congolese sexual and musical economies, on practices of distraction, urbanity, and hedonism. In my lecture, I will give a sense of these surfaces, daydreaming, and moods, as well as how concepts from Georges Canguilhem (a shrunken milieu), Georges Balandier (colonial pathologies), and Gaston Bachelard (reverie) yield a new framework for teasing out complexities in a colonial history.
November 14, 2016
ON BARAK: Middle Eastern and African History, Tel Aviv University
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
KELLY WISECUP: English, Northwestern University
Description: Colony botany and colonial expansion went hand in hand in eighteenth-century British America: colonial botanists collected specimens and materials on expeditions that also aimed to survey Native American lands and trade networks. This talk shows that botanical practices and textual forms provided a foundation on which early American men of science and politics could imagine what Philadelphia botanist John Bartram called Indigenous “dependence” on British American political and economic systems. Yet Indigenous medical practitioners employed their knowledge to posit a different set of relations, one that foregrounded connections among place, bodies, and plants. I place Mohegan minister Samson Occom’s 1754 “List of Herbs and Roots” against colonial botanical projects in order to rethink histories of botany as well as the relationship between herbals and colonialism.
February 6, 2017
ELIZABETH ROBERTS: Anthropology, University of Michigan
Description: Entanglement is a key concept in contemporary science and technology studies (STS). By tracing all the contingent and uncertain relations that endow objects with seemingly stable boundaries, entanglement allows us to see how such boundaries restrict our ability to know the world better. This talk deploys the concept of entanglement in an examination of contemporary life in a working-class Mexico City neighborhood, Colonia Periferico, and a longitudinal environmental health project that studies the neighborhood’s residents. While entanglement is useful for analyzing the study (e.g., for reconnecting variables that the scientists have isolated), my examination of the entanglement of working-class bodies with NAFTA and the ongoing War on Drugs shows that the concept has its limits. For working-class residents of Mexico City life is already deeply entangled with chronic economic and political instability shaped through the violent ravages of transnational capital. To explore the utility and limits of entanglement I trace how residents in Col. Periferico seek stability by making boundaries to keep out the disruptive effects of police and public health surveillance. Col. Periferico’s toxic boundaries, which include a sewage-filled dam, cement dust, and freeway exhaust, are clearly entangled with residents’ health. They get inside. These entanglements are the price paid for a remarkable stability within Col. Periferico’s boundaries, where children can play on the streets and attentive care for drug-addicted and disabled residents is part of everyday life. Additionally, residents would like to share in the privilege of inhabiting a world where objects can be experienced separate from the relations that make them; a world with reliable drinking water and accurate blood lead measurements. With the goal of knowing the world better, then, STS might complicate celebratory calls for the uncertainty of entanglement by taking into account both the practices that make boundaries, and what boundaries have to offer.
**co-sponsored by the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program (LACS)
(February 20, 2017 unfortunately this visit has been cancelled and will be rescheduled for a date tbd. meanwhile, we will host a town hall Feb 27. details below.)
BRETT WALKER: History, Philosophy, & Religious Studies, Montana State University
"Natural and Unnatural Disasters: 3/11, Asbestos, and the Unmaking of Japan’s Modern World"
Description: At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake devastated northeastern Japan and caused one of Earth’s most dangerous nuclear catastrophes. The quake was 9.0 on the Richter scale and it unleashed a tsunami that swept away entire communities. Along with an enduring nuclear legacy, it also left an estimated 25 millions tons of rubble, much of it contaminated with asbestos and other carcinogenic toxins. Indeed, when the tides of the devastating tsunami ebbed, the unnatural disaster of cleaning up Japan’s pulverized and aerosolized built environment remained. Now, every time a backhoe or shovel digs into this rubble, asbestos fibers are released into the environment to threaten human health.
Japan’s history of asbestos use contrasts with many other industrialized nations. Although the United States E.P.A. began phasing out asbestos in the 1970s and banned most of its use in the 1980s, as did the United Kingdom in 1985, Japan continued to use chrysotile asbestos until 2004. Indeed, asbestos was a critical fiber in the construction of Japan’s modern built environment because of the culturally engrained fear of fire. Unlike many other industrialized countries, Japan has had large cities since the late sixteenth century, as well as the accompanying catastrophes of massive urban conflagrations. Japan also suffered through the most blistering examples of fires in built environments: the incendiary and atomic bombs that burned some of its largest cities to the ground during World War II, cooking hundreds of thousands of people. In the postwar period, with such grim wartime memories fresh in the minds of urban planners, asbestos offered a powerful solution to fires in sprawling built environments, until it became closely connected to pulmonary diseases, including lung cancers.
This paper investigates asbestos in the construction and, more importantly, destruction of Japan’s built environment, with a focus on the impact of the 3/11 disaster and the later clean up. The paper is part of a larger Guggenheim-funded project concerned with the unmaking of the modern built world, and what it means for the future of human health.
**co-sponsored by the Kaplan Environmental Humanities Workshop
February 27, 2017
This was an SHC-sponsored town hall meeting about truth, trust, and evidence in the current political environment. We came together to discuss scientific societies' reactions to the election, the status of debates about climate change, and how the recent turn of events affects the work we do in the classroom and beyond.
The speakers included:
Pablo Boczkowski, from the School of Communications and an expert on fake news and media as the opposition (in both the U.S. and Argentina);
Yarrow Axford, a fellow faculty member from Earth and Planetary Sciences, who works in field sites in Arctic and alpine environments, and who spoke about the different kinds of problems she's encountered doing her research and the political and funding trends she's witnessed; and
Aviva Rothman, a University of Chicago teaching fellow, who spoke about what it's like to teach bread and butter authors in science studies such as Thomas Kuhn and Michel Foucault at a moment when "alternative facts" are an emerging and increasingly salient part of political rhetoric.
Also present was one of SHC's affiliates in the medical school, Phil Hockberger, who serves as assistant vice president for research and who encouraged us to attend the scientists' march in Chicago (for which he served on the coordinating committee): http://sciencemarchchicago.org/
This conversation was an explicit effort to bridge North and South campuses and was also part of an initial foray into the Kaplan Institute's theme on "truth" for the 2017-18 academic year. Our event dovetailed with efforts at other universities that are actively considering "science, public trust, and governance." For instance, here's Harvard's website on the subject: http://first100days.stsprogram.org
(March 6, 2017 unfortunately this visit has been cancelled and will be rescheduled for a date tbd)
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.
Thanks to the generous support of the Buffett Institute for Global Studies
SHEILA JASANOFF harvard kennedy school
April 3, 2017
PAULA FINDLEN: History, Stanford University
Description: What can an image tell us about nature? Agostino Scilla’s Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense (1670) has been the subject of a growing discussion as an important contribution to the development of a new understanding of the nature of fossils as a record of the earth’s history in the mid-seventeenth century. The fact that Scilla was a painter who drew his own illustrations from his collection in Messina, subsequently engraved by the Perugian artist Pietro Santi Bartoli in Rome, makes his work even more interesting for understanding the evolution of scientific illustrations and diagrams. This talk explores some of the unique features of Scilla’s representations of fossils as key element of the significance of his contribution to natural history. What inspired his new approach to depicting fossils? How might we see this as an example of visual thinking?
April 17, 2017
MARY MORGAN: Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science
Description: Socio-economic measurements good for scientific purposes are not necessarily good for policy purposes, political action, or popular usage. And there are trade-offs or tensions between different forms of measurements created for such different purposes in these different communities. These differences are evident in the recent history of measuring ‘development’, and in the switch from earlier forms of aggregate measurements to the dis-aggregated array of indicators found in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These latter look very strange as a contemporary scientific measuring project, but have parallels in one of the earliest social scientific attempts to observe poverty, namely Charles Booth’s survey and maps of poverty in late 19th century London. This comparison illuminates more exactly how and why different measurements of poverty are good for different things - some for figuring out causes and so designing interventions, and others for mobilizing action via their rhetorical power. Significantly, some, but not all, measuring strategies and kinds of numbers offer possibilities to create 'voice' for those measured and so, potentially, a bottom-up route for achieving ‘the good life for all’.
Funded by the Buffett Institute for Global Studies in support of its Global Medical Cultures and Law Research Group
MADHAVI SUNDER law, university of california davis
CHIDI OGUAMANAM law, university of Ottawa
::panelists (with pre-circulated papers)
ROSEMARY COOMBE law, communication and culture, york university
KAUSHIK SUNDER RAJAN anthropology, university of chicago
BRIDIE ANDREWS history, bentley university
MARÍA CARRANZA inciensa, university of costa rica
PAUL JOHNSON history, university of michigan
STACEY LANGWICK anthropology, cornell university
PROJIT MUKHARJI history and sociology of science, university of pennsylvania
STEVEN PALMER history, university of windsor
SIRI SUH gender, women, and sexuality studies, university of minnesota