The Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader

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For twenty years, the renowned philosopher of science Sandra Harding has argued that science and technology studies, postcolonial studies, and feminist critique must inform one another. In The Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader, Harding puts those fields in critical conversation, assembling the anthology that she has long wanted for classroom use. In classic and recent essays, international scholars from a range of disciplines think through a broad array of science and technology philosophies and practices. The contributors reevaluate conventional accounts of the West’s scientific and technological projects in the past and present, rethink the strengths and limitations of non-Western societies’ knowledge traditions, and assess the legacies of colonialism and imperialism. The collection concludes with forward-looking essays, which explore strategies for cultivating new visions of a multicultural, democratic world of sciences and for turning those visions into realities. Feminist science and technology concerns run throughout the reader and are the focus of several essays. Harding provides helpful background for each essay in her introductions to the reader’s four sections.

Helen Appleton
Karen Bäckstrand
Lucille H. Brockway
Stephen B. Brush
Judith Carney
Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment
Arturo Escobar
Maria E. Fernandez
Ward H. Goodenough
Susantha Goonatilake
Sandra Harding
Steven J. Harris
Betsy Hartmann
Cori Hayden
Catherine L. M. Hill
John M. Hobson
Peter Mühlhäusler
Catherine A. Odora Hoppers
Consuelo Quiroz
Jenny Reardon
Ella Reitsma
Ziauddin Sardar
Daniel Sarewitz
Londa Schiebinger
Catherine V. Scott
Colin Scott
Mary Terrall
D. Michael Warren

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

The Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader succeeds in mapping a new field of inquiry for those of us working in science and technology studies. This brilliant collection of essays successfully bridges postcolonialist and feminist approaches to science and technology studies and provides the foundation for essential transformations of curriculum and research in this area. The essays provoke examination of how different knowledge systems function, and they call into question who benefits and is disadvantaged by those systems. For those committed to the tenet that just societies require just practices of science, this collection is indispensable. No science and technology studies curriculum is complete without it.”—Nancy Tuana, Dupont/Class of 1949 Professor of Philosophy, Pennsylvania State University

“This magisterial, compelling, and important collection pushes the boundaries of postcolonial studies in urgent ways. It charts the richness and depth of knowledge systems across the non-Western world, delineating their differences from, contributions to, and marginalization by what is thought of as Western science. This book makes it impossible to ignore the interconnections between long histories of imperialism, the dynamics of the Cold War, and the asymmetries of globalization, or to isolate science from social relations. It also maps the ground on which we can imagine a different future.”—Ania Loomba, co-editor of South Asian Feminisms

Science and Education - Anna Mohr

“The anthology lives up to its aspirations of providing an accessible compass to issues and questions that have been approached with a ‘‘postcolonial sensibility’’... By highlighting cross-connections between contributions of different sections, Harding succeeds in bringing the texts of diverse disciplinary backgrounds into conversation with each other and thus underscores the postcolonialist need for a trans-disciplinary cooperation.”
East Asian Science, Technology and Society - Harry Yi-Jui Wu

“…Harding has succeeded in representing great geographical variety and historical depth, making her compilation an important reference book in the field of STS.” 
Technology and Culture - William Kelleher Story

“The book will serve admirably in classes for advanced undergraduates and graduate students in which the history and future of global science and technology policy are discussed.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822349570
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 8/30/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 1,463,096
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra Harding is Professor of Education and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her many books include Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities, and Modernities, also published by Duke University Press; The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies; Is Science Multicultural? Postcolonialisms, Feminisms, and Epistemologies; and The Science Question in Feminism.

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Read an Excerpt

The Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2011 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4957-0

Chapter One

John M. Hobson

Discovering the Oriental West

History cannot be written as if it belonged to one group [of people] alone. Civilization has been gradually built up, now out of the contributions of one [group], now of another. When all civilization is ascribed to the [Europeans], the claim is the same one which any anthropologist can hear any day from primitive tribes—only they tell the story of themselves. They too believe that all that is important in the world begins and ends with them ... We smile when such claims are made [by primitive tribes], but ridicule might just as well be turned against ourselves ... Provincialism may rewrite history and play up only the achievements of the historian's own group, but it remains provincialism. —RUTH BENEDICT

We have been taught, inside the classroom and outside of it, that there exists an entity called the West, and that one can think of this West as a society and civilization independent of and in opposition to other societies and civilizations [i.e., the East]. Many of us even grew up believing that this West has [an autonomous] genealogy, according to which ancient Greece begat Rome, Rome begat Christian Europe, Christian Europe begat the Renaissance, the Renaissance the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment political democracy and the industrial revolution. Industry, crossed with democracy, in turn yielded the United States, embodying the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ... [This is] misleading, first, because it turns history into a moral success story, a race in time in which each [Western] runner of the race passes on the torch of liberty to the next relay. History is thus converted into a tale about the furtherance of virtue, about how the virtuous [i.e. the West] win out over the bad guys [the East].—ERIC WOLF

Most of us naturally assume that the East and West are, and always have been, separate and different entities. We also generally believe that it is the "autonomous" or "pristine" West that has alone pioneered the creation of the modern world; at least that is what many of us are taught at school, if not at university. We typically assume that the pristine West had emerged at the top of the world by about 1492 (think of Christopher Columbus), owing to its uniquely ingenious scientific rationality, rational restlessness, and democratic/progressive properties. From then, the traditional view has it, the Europeans spread outward conquering the East and Far West while simultaneously laying down the tracks of capitalism along which the whole world could be delivered from the jaws of deprivation and misery into the bright light of modernity. Accordingly, it seems entirely natural or self-evident to most of us to conflate the progressive story of world history with the Rise and Triumph of the West. This traditional view can be called "Eurocentric." For at its heart is the notion that the West properly deserves to occupy the centre stage of progressive world history, both past and present. But does it?

The basic claim of The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation is that this familiar but deceptively seductive Eurocentric view is false for various reasons, not the least of which is that the West and East have been fundamentally and consistently interlinked through globalisation ever since 500 CE. More importantly, and by way of analogy, Martin Bernal argues that Ancient Greek civilisation was in fact significantly derived from Ancient Egypt. Likewise, the book argues that the East (which was more advanced than the West between 500 and 1800) provided a crucial role in enabling the rise of modern Western civilisation. It is for this reason that I seek to replace the notion of the autonomous or pristine West with that of the oriental West. The East enabled the rise of the West through two main processes: diffusionism/assimilationism and appropriationism. First, the Easterners created a global economy and global communications network after 500 along which the more advanced Eastern "resource portfolios" (e.g., Eastern ideas, institutions, and technologies) diffused across to the West, where they were subsequently assimilated, through what I call oriental globalisation. And second, Western imperialism after 1492 led the Europeans to appropriate all manner of Eastern economic resources to enable the rise of the West. In short, the West did not autonomously pioneer its own development in the absence of Eastern help, for its rise would have been inconceivable without the contributions of the East. The task of the book, then, is to trace the manifold Eastern contributions that led to the rise of what I call the oriental West.

The book feeds into the debate between Eurocentrism and anti-Eurocentrism. In recent years a small band of scholars have claimed that the standard theories of the rise of the West —Marxism/world-systems theory, liberalism, and Weberianism—are all Eurocentric. They all assume that the "pristine" West "made it" of its own accord as a result of its innate and superior virtues or properties. This view presumes that Europe autonomously developed through an iron logic of immanence. Accordingly, such theories assume that the rise of the modern world can be told as the story of the rise and triumph of the West. Importantly, the Eurocentric account has enjoyed a new lease of life or fresh reinvigoration, particularly with the 1998 publication of David Landes's The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, a book that implicitly harks back to John Roberts's The Triumph of the West. Landes's book in particular launches a passionate and pejorative attack against some of the recent anti-Eurocentric analyses (though for all this it is done with verve and wit and is an especially enjoyable read). Perhaps Landes's most significant service is that he has helped transform the old theoretical debate conducted between Marxism/ world-systems theory, liberalism, and Weberianism into a new one of "Eurocentrism versus anti-Eurocentrism." This, it seems to me, is where the real intellectual action lies. For arguably the old debate is something of a non-debate given that all these approaches now appear as but minor or subtle variations on the same Eurocentric theme (see the next section below). Accordingly, The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation enters this new debate and contests each of the major claims made by mainstream Eurocentrism, while simultaneously proposing an alternative account.

It could, however, be replied that the "Eurocentric versus anti-Eurocentric" framework that the book operationalises is an oversimplification and is itself a "non-debate." Presuming a kind of Manichean struggle between two coherent ideologies is problematic mainly because, it could be claimed, there is no coherent paradigm called "Eurocentrism." Indeed, I believe it would be wrong to assume that most scholars are fighting to defend an explicitly Eurocentric "triumphalist" vision of the West. And while there are some who explicitly associate themselves with Eurocentrism (such as Landes and Roberts), most do not. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that Eurocentrism infuses all the mainstream accounts of the rise of the West, even if this mostly occurs behind the back of the particular scholar (see the next section below). Accordingly, I believe it to be legitimate to develop my own account by critically evaluating the many claims made by Eurocentrism.

The main argument of The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation counters one of Eurocentrism's most basic assumptions—that the East has been a passive bystander in the story of world historical development as well as a victim or bearer of Western power, and that accordingly it can be legitimately marginalised from the progressive story of world history. Although differing in various ways from Felipe Fernández-Armesto's phenomenal book, Millennium, nevertheless I share with him his empathic belief that:

For purposes of world history, the margins sometimes demand more attention than the metropolis. Part of the mission of this book is to rehabilitate the overlooked, including places often ignored as peripheral, peoples marginalized as inferior and individuals relegated to bit-parts and footnotes.

Or in a narrower context, as W. E. B. Du Bois explained in the foreword to his important book, Africa in World History:

there has been a consistent effort to rationalize Negro slavery by omitting Africa from world history, so that today it is almost universally assumed that history can be truly written without reference to Negroid peoples ... Therefore I am seeking in this book to remind readers ... of how critical a part Africa has played in human history, past and present.

Likewise, my major claim in The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation is that the Eurocentric denial of Eastern agency and its omission of the East in the progressive story of world history is entirely inadequate. For not only do we receive a highly distorted view of the rise of the West, but we simultaneously learn little about the East except as a passive object, or provincial backwater, of main stream Western world history.

This marginalisation of the East constitutes a highly significant silence because it conceals three major points. First, the East actively pioneered its own substantial economic development after about 500. Second, the East actively created and maintained the global economy after 500. Third, and above all, the East has significantly and actively contributed to the rise of the West by pioneering and delivering many advanced "resource portfolios" (e.g., technologies, institutions and ideas) to Europe. Accordingly, we need to resuscitate both the history of economic dynamism in the East and the vital role of the East in the rise of the West. Nevertheless, as we shall also see, this does not mean that the West has been a passive recipient of Eastern resources. For the Europeans played an active role in shaping their own fate (especially through the construction of a changing collective identity, which in turn partially informed the direction of Europe's economic and political development). In sum, these two interrelated claims—Eastern agency and the assimilation of advanced Eastern "resource portfolios" via oriental globalisation on the one hand, entwined with European agency/identity and the appropriation of Eastern resources on the other—constitute the discovery of the lost story of the rise of the oriental West.

In this context it is especially noteworthy that our common perception of the irrelevance of the East and the superiority of Europe is reinforced or "confirmed" by the Mercator world map. This map is found everywhere—from world atlases to school walls to airline booking agencies and boardrooms. Crucially, the actual landmass of the southern hemisphere is exactly twice that of the northern hemi sphere. And yet on the Mercator, the landmass of the North occupies two-thirds of the map while the landmass of the South represents only a third. Thus while Scandinavia is about a third the size of India, they are accorded the same amount of space on the map. Moreover on the Mercator, Greenland appears almost twice the size of China, even though the latter is almost four times the size of the former. To correct for what he saw as the racist privileging of Europe, in 1974 Arno Peters produced the Peters projection (or the Peters–Gall projection), which sought to represent the countries of the world according to their actual surface area. Here the South properly looms much larger, while Europe is considerably downgraded. Although no perfect map of the world exists, his representation is certainly free of the implicit Eurocentric distortion found in the Mercator. Not surprisingly, when the Peters projection first appeared there was a political storm, for as Marshall Hodgson points out, "Westerners understandably cling to a projection [the Mercator] which so markedly flatters them."

The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation in effect attempts to correct our perception of world history in the same way that the Peters projection seeks to correct our perception of world geography, by discovering the relative importance of the East vis-à-vis the West. More specifically, I have presented a variant of this projection (the "Hobo-Dyer") at the beginning of the book but have reconfigured it so as to place China at the centre, given its pivotal role in the rise of the West. No less importantly, the USA and Europe now properly occupy the diminished peripheral margins of the Far North-east and Far North-west respectively. And while Africa also occupies the Far West, its upgraded size corrects for its downgraded marginalisation in the Eurocentric model.

The book proceeds in two sections. The first begins by very briefly tracing the construction of the Eurocentric discourse as it emerged during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It then proceeds to show how the major explanations of the rise of the West, found specifically in the work of Karl Marx and Max Weber, became grounded within this discourse. The second section then briefly fleshes out my own two-prong argument as a remedy to the prevailing Eurocentrism of mainstream accounts.

Constructing the Eurocentric/Orientalist Foundations of the Mainstream Theories of the Rise of the West

European Identity Formation and the Invention of Eurocentrism/Orientalism

In 1978 Edward Said famously coined the phrase "Orientalism," though in fairness a number of other scholars, including Victor Kiernan, Marshall Hodgson and Bryan Turner, were already thinking along such lines. Orientalism or Eurocentrism (I use them interchangeably) is a worldview that asserts the inherent superiority of the West over the East. Specifically Orientalism constructs a permanent image of the superior West (the "Self") which is defined negatively against the no less imaginary "Other"—the backward and inferior East. It was mainly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that this polarised and essentialist construct became fully apparent within the European imagination. What then were the specific categories by which the West came to imagine its Self as superior to the Eastern Other?

Between 1700 and 1850 European imagination divided, or more accurately forced, the world into two radically opposed camps: West and East (or the "West and the Rest"). In this new conception, the West was imagined as superior to the East. The imagined values of the inferior East were set up as the antithesis of rational Western values. Specifically, the West was imagined as being inherently blessed with unique virtues: it was rational, hard-working, productive, sacrificial and parsimonious, liberal-democratic, honest, paternal and mature, advanced, ingenious, proactive, independent, progressive, and dynamic. The East was then cast as the West's opposite Other: as irrational and arbitrary, lazy, unproductive, indulgent, exotic as well as alluring and promiscuous, despotic, corrupt, childlike and immature, backward, derivative, passive, dependent, stagnant and unchanging. Another way of expressing this is to say that the West was defined by a series of progressive presences, the East by a series of absences.

Particularly important is that this reimagining process stipulated that the West had always been superior (in that this construct was extrapolated back in time to Ancient Greece). For the West has allegedly enjoyed dynamically progressive, liberal and democratic values, and rational institutions from the outset, which in turn gave birth to the rational individual, whose flourishing life enabled economic progress and the inevitable breakthrough to the blinding light and warmth of capitalist modernity. By contrast, the East was branded as permanently inferior. It has allegedly endured despotic values and irrational institutions, which meant that in the very heart of darkness, a cruel collectivism strangled the rational individual at birth, thereby making economic stagnation and slavery its eternal fate. This argument formed the basis of the theory of oriental despotism and the Peter Pan theory of the East, which conveyed an eternal image of a "dynamic West" versus an "unchanging East" (see table 1).


Excerpted from The Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader Copyright © 2011 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction. Beyond Postcolonial Theory: Two Undertheorized Perspectives on Science and Technology 1

I. Counterhistories 33

1. Discovering the Oriental West / John M. Hobson 39

2. Long-Distance Corporations, Big Sciences, and the Geography of Knowledge / Steven J. Harris 61

3. Heroic Narratives of Quest and Discovery / Mary Terrall 84

4. Maria Sibylla Merian: A Woman of Art and Science / Ella Reitsma 103

5. Prospecting for Drugs: European Naturalists in the West Indies / Londa Schiebinger 110

6. Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanical Gardens / Lucille H. Brockway 127

7. Out of Africa: Colonial Rice History in the Black Atlantic / Judith Carney 140

II. Other Cultures' Sciences 151

8. Navigation in the Western Carolines: A Traditional Science / Ward H. Goodenough 159

9. Science for the West, Myth for the Rest? / Colin Scott 175

10. Ecolinguistics, Linguistic Diversity, Ecological Diversity / Peter Mühlhäusler 198

11. Gender and Indigenous Knowledge / Helen Appleton, Maria E. Fernandez, Catherine L. M. Hill, and Consuelo Quiroz 211

12. Whose Knowledge, Whose Genes, Whose Rights? / Stephen B. Brush 225

13. The Role of the Global Network of Indigenous Knowledge Resource Centers in the Conservation of Cultural and Biological Diversity / D. Michael Warren 247

III. Residues and Reinventions

14. Development and the Anthropology of Modernity / Arturo Escobar 269

15. Tradition and Gender in Modernization Theory / Catherine V. Scott 290

16. Security and Survival: Why Do Poor People Have Many Children? / Betsy Hartmann 310

17. Call for a New Approach / Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment 318

18. The Human Genome Diversity Project: What Went Wrong? / Jenny Reardon 321

19. Bioprospecting's Representational Dilemma / Cori Hayden 343

IV. Moving Forward: Possible Pathways 365

20. Islamic Science: The Contemporary Debate / Ziauddin Sardar 383

21. Mining Civilizational Knowledge / Susantha Goonatilake 380

22. Toward the Integration of Knowledge Systems: Challenges to Thought and Practice / Catherine A. Odora Hoppers 388

23. Human Well-Being and Federal Science: What's the Connection? / Daniel Sarewitz 403

24. Science in a Era of Globalization: Alternative Pathways / David J. Hess 419

25. Civic Science for Sustainability: Reframing the Role of Experts, Policymakers, and Citizens in Environmental Governance / Karen Bäckstrand 439

Copyright Acknowledgments 459

Index 463

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