Internal changes within the sciences are rendered more complex by the organizational transformation at the different sites of knowledge production. Institutions of higher learning and research forge new collaborative ties and arrangements with a variety of stakeholders and clients under the pressure of a state that appears to be withdrawing as the major, and sometimes only, supporter of scientific research. In fact, the state’s relationship with the world of science, and the internal dynamic of scientific and technological evolution, has rendered the study of `science and state’ highly problematic and contested.
In order to engage with this problematic a group of scholars had congregated at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla in 2012 for a two-day workshop. The purpose was to examine and explore the relationship between science, state and society as well as the concepts and theories employed by researchers studying the relationship. The proceedings of this engagement appeared in the February 2014 issue of Seminarentitled `State of Science’. The contributions in this issue reflected the changing science, state and society relationship in the South. A major concern of several of these papers was the field of agricultural science and agricultural biotechnology. From their respective disciplinary perspectives, the contribution asked what the transformations in the state, institutional and organizational practice of the technosciences meant for democracy and citizenship. They sought to understand what these changes signified for the making of policy for the sciences and development, and how these transformations were produced within institutions of higher education that sustain the system for the production of knowledge.
A seminar is now being organized at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, between 24-25 November 2015, that proposes to focus the next discussion on the several sites of interrogation and research, civil action and resistance. Five decades ago there was a greater degree of convergence on questions and approaches. In contrast, the dissatisfaction and differentiation with the world of sciences is reflected more tangibly in the metadiscourse as well. At a foundational level the social imaginary of science has itself changed, as has the language of political legitimacy. These changes can be identified at the epistemological, institutional, organizational and ideological levels; not to mention the entanglements and nested association between these levels.
The study of controversies and controversial science has revealed the diversity of the sciences as opposed to its unity. Furthermore, the greater emphasis on its instrumental side, captured in the concept of technoscience, sometimes at the expense of its intrinsic goals, has further exacerbated this diversity and differentiation. These sciences are in turn implicated in equally diverse relations with the state, and this in turn is reflected in the varied cultures of policy-making across and within nations. Likewise, there are different cultures of science policy making spread across the sciences and technosciences. The concept of technoscience itself is a product of a particular moment in the evolution of science and technology, a conjuncture both in the development of the sciences where one ideal of knowledge is overwhelmed if not suppressed by another.
A claim one could reasonably make is that the technosciences are embedded in equally diverse social relations and cultures of policy and decision-making. This call for papers solicits contributions that reflect upon this diversity in the areas of medicine, health, environment, and communication technologies. The plural contexts within which the sciences are embedded have given rise to a proliferation of conceptual categories and languages that overlap even while referring to distinct objects—mandated science, post-academic science, mode-2 science, triple helix, academic capitalism, post-normal science, social robust science, science in the agora, and so on. Clearly, this transformation has been catalyzed by the genetics-communication revolution, which in turn transforms the state as well: from a nation state into a `network state’, driven by the new logics of networks and identities. Despite the proliferation of conceptual categories, they all gesture towards a greater socialization of science which brings with it questions of accountability, social responsibility and innovation, all entangled in a variety of ways, though the dominant discussion around innovation very frequently refers to market innovation. So much so, Nowotny et al. would characterize the 1950s as an era of the scientization of society and the last two decades as marking in more ways than one, the socialization of science.
There appears to be the recognition that a culture of democratic pluralism is the very prerequisite for the production and reproduction of the culture of science. Ironically enough, speaking of matters closer home, we have been witness to a precipitous decline in the democratic culture of science in the subcontinent. The inability of the scientific community to cope with the democratization and expansion of the social reach of science has reinforced authoritarian tendencies within the scientific community, sometimes expressed in the assertion of their rightful and sole claim to scientific expertise. This undermines science’s ability to adjudicate between several epistemic or social alternatives. The centring of scientific authority in the narrativization of science plays a role analogous to the imaginary of science as value-neutral. Furthermore, in the auditing of scientific innovation or resolution of controversies, there is a failure to highlight the socially distributed nature of knowledge in the making— thereby legitimating the new intellectual property regimes. As public controversies related to science proliferate—a sign of the socialization of science— one misses the voices of democracy and dissidence within the world of science. The seminar hopes to stimulate a conversation on the changing social and organizational context of science and a reflection on how our concepts, categories and theories are shaped by and mirror these changes.
Contributions from interested participants are invited on the following themes:
A limited number of participants will be invited for the seminar. Those interested in participating should send a synopsis (700 words) of the proposed paper to following Email ID's:-
The Seminar on ‘Disciplines, Movements, Policies: The Changing Relationship between Science , State and Society’ was held on 24th ad 25th of November 2014, at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. This was the second in the series of Seminars on the relationship between science, state and society, the first one being on `Concepts,Theories and Practices: The Changing Relationship between Science, State and Society’ held on 26th and 27th of November at the same venue. The present seminar was marked by discussion on several themes that were flagged in the first seminar and a couple of new ones came up for discussion. The major conversation was around the political and social imaginary of science, the culture of science, accountability and authoritarianism of science, the interface of institutions, funding and scientific research as well as discussion on the public, civil society and the role of legal institutions.
Prof. Chetan Singh’s, Director of the India Institute of Advanced Study, welcome remarks were followed by the introductory remarks by Prof. Dhruv Raina. In his welcome address Prof. Singh more or less pre-empted the discussion to follow over the next two days. Reiterating the point that science is not value free, he highlighted the layers of complexity and interest that influence science policy, research and management that in turn raise issues of the accountability of science and the question of ‘accountability to whom and to what’. At the same time while consensus building was important to science, the rise of authoritarianism was problematic for the culture of science. The interrogation of the latter should be possible, he felt, without lapsing into an anti-science position.
In his opening remarks Prof. Raina traced the evolution of the relationship between science, state and society over time. He pointed out that the emergence of Science Technology Studies (STS) was concurrent with the recognition of the significant impact of technoscience: an important concern of the studies that followed was the governance of science, which in turn was linked to the question of democracy or how the democratic governance of institutions of science can be ensured. A major concern was thus the democratization of big science that was drawn into a complex relationship with the military-industry complex. In the process the market has become a significant player in the arena of knowledge production, affecting traditional sites of knowledge production like the university. At another level, STS itself had emerged as a critical stance towards science and society but now seems to be depoliticized. This requires that STS be re-invented by engaging with everyday politics of post-fordist societies. Perhaps this analytical posture could be reclaimed by not restricting ourselves to STS but through a variety of approaches – drawing on the STS literature he referred to the need for perspectives from “other epistemic places”. With the shift of focus of studies from the epistemology of science to the role of the scientific expert and expertise, the dialectic between scientific expert and public response was signaled as a particularly important investigative node. Finally, he briefly reviewed some of the papers from the last Seminar for the new participants in order to set the backdrop for the proceedings.
The eleven papers presented were organized into four sessions. The first session was chaired by Dr. Esha Shah and broadly focused on issues pertaining to health research and practices Dr. Amit Sengupta spoke about A Counter Hegemonic Agenda for Health Research, developing an argument, to highlight the importance of a more community driven and health systems based research agenda. Underlining the dominance of biomedical research over the system of health research, he explained the intricate economic and political dynamics that underlie this unjustifiable focus on the former. In the alternate perspective health seen holistically cannot be reduced to access to doctors or biomedical products. Within the paradigm of biomedical research there is a 90-10 gap, wherein 90% of the resources are devoted to research on problems affecting 10% of the population. Consequently, it follows that biomedical research is almost entirely driven by an intellectual property rights regime which forms and integral part of the global market. New transnational private agencies step in to funding science, diminishing the role of state and other international bodies like the United Nations, and set research priorities. Dr. Sengupta substantiated his arguments with scientometric data suggesting that in 2000 only 0.71 % papers on health research talked about health systems research. The trends have since started to change because of the new developments in the structure of health services like the emergence of public-private partnerships, which manifests most typically in the Universal Health Coverage program. But the research and policy making that went into the formulation of the UHC program were market driven. This became evident through the findings of informal research led by civil society and other public initiatives. Consequently, it appears that the entire agenda of health research has to be revamped in the direction of a more community driven and holistic understanding of health that distances itself from the product based reward system of the IPR regime. Dr. Sengupta emphasized the need for a critical perspective that defines the role of civil society in building a counter hegemonic discourse on health research.
The paper by Prof. Mohan Rao carried forward the discussion of the market logic driving health systems research and services, with reference to the particular case of commercial surrogacy. The paper entitled Reproductive Tourism, Surrogacy and Neo- Liberal State in India provided a detailed picture of the bioeconomy that flourishes around assisted reproductive technologies, and commercial surrogacy, where India is emerging as one of the leading donor countries for commercial surrogacy. The discussion on commercial surrogacy ignores women, their conditions and rights. In this context he conceptually pitched the discussion on commercial surrogacy against ‘altruism’ – an idea that is often used to justify the exploitation of women’s labour. The idea of gift and donation is often invoked in the discussion on commercial surrogacy, which masks the exploitative nature of this transnational industry. In the language of commercial surrogacy and assisted reproductive technologies ‘reproductive’ is taken to mean ‘productive’ in an industrial sense and women are treated only as providers of raw materials to which value is added later on in the chain. This is evident in the disproportionate amount paid to commercial surrogates, while much of the money that comes in to the business goes into the pockets of other stake holders. Thus to understand the underlying economic dynamics of the commercial surrogacy industry it is important to pay attention to other actors involved like the third party administrators, hospitals, law firms, NGOs, surrogate hostels etc. The process through which the women’s body is commoditized and commercialized in the commercial surrogacy industry suggests an immediate need for a change in the perspective of discussion on women and reproduction that shifts the paradigm towards reproductive justice rather than on reproductive choice.
Dr. Shiju Sam Varghese’s paper entitled Science, State and Democracy in the Era of Biopolitics: Endosulfan Survivors as ‘Non Publics’ in Kerela argued that the politico-epistemological contract between state and science is important for understanding the public engagement with science. The contract confers on the sovereign state the ability to identify the many publics generated through its techno-scientific projects. There are three identifiable spheres of engagement of the public with science - the scientist citizen public sphere, the quasi-publics and the non-publics. Distinguishing the roles of the civil society publics comprised of the scientist as well, whose deliberations are welcomed by liberal democracy and the quasi-public sphere which is populated by those whose engagements with science is based on their assessment of the risk and uncertainties that is posed to their life by techno-scientific project, Dr. Varghese sought to explain the role and nature of the non-public in a liberal democracy through a case study of the Endosulfan survivors in Kerela. The Endosulfan survivors were seen as the non-publics produced by the contract between state and science. The disfigured bodies of the Endosulfan survivors help us to understand the paradox of the politico-epistemological contract between the state and science, since the bodies of the survivors are suspended between life and death, they cannot be included in the political community but at the same time they cannot be ignored because the existence of the bodies are also a testimony to the results produced by state and science. But the disfigured bodies of the survivors constantly appear in the public sphere because it is over the bodies of the survivors that the truth of endosulfan’s effects on human lives is verified. The non-publics pose a paradox for politics because they neither lie inside nor outside the political community but at the same time they lie at the centre of the contract between science and the state. This paradox he argued exposes the limits of liberal democracies and their claim of guaranteeing universal citizenship. In the discussion that followed the politico-epistemological contract was discussed and some clarification was sought regarding the exact nature of this contract. The important question that was raised was that in a democracy what happens when science speaks for the state and not for the welfare of its citizens? The relationship between quasi-public and non-public was also discussed and problematised.
The second session was chaired by Dr. Amit Sengupta and the first paper presented was by Dr. Esha Shah who spoke on the Science based Risk Assessment: Rethinking Scientific and Social Appraisal of Transgenics. Dr. Esha Shah discussed the controversies regarding transgenic crops and shows how the scientific and social appraisal of science becomes a contested terrain. Citing the controversies surrounding Bt Cotton and Bt Brinjal, she pointed out that the science behind the two was justified on the basis of risk assessment and performance studies, which in any case do not provide adequate criteria to validate the commercial use of these crops, as there are several other scientific issues involved apart from the social, economic and ecological factors relevant to each agricultural region. She invoked the terms bad science, ugly science and good science to designate the various shades of science that appear during the controversy. Bad science is where science does not utilize adequate methodological and theoretical tools, ugly science denotes the unfair practices in science like the falsification of results, rampant today in the context of commercial/ capitalist interests in science. Good science is seen as normal, rigorous peer reviewed science. In the cases of the Bt Cotton and Bt Brinjal controversies it appears that civil society actors accused scientists of doing bad and ugly science and trusted good science’s ability to resolve controversies. The idea of good science was illustrated with the controversy surrounding genetically modified potatoes. Pusztai’s controversial paper published in Lancet demonstrates how so called good science also does not resolve controversies. The paper was subject to the rigorous peer review process before publication despite which good science could not resolve the controversy because of the entanglement of the social and scientific. Dr. Shah suggested the need to develop new frameworks that incorporate social and political aspects with the scientific ones. She concluded by pointing out that the meta-narrative of science as progress has lost its purchase as a source of political and social legitimacy.
The second paper was by Dr Rajeswari Raina entitled Agronomy and Agrarian Alternatives in India: the Discipline as Lens. Dr. Raina employed the discipline of agronomy-- the core discipline in the agricultural sciences, to understand agrarian alternatives and the engagement of these alternatives with state and public sector science. Agronomy as we understand it today is limited in its scope and hence unable to articulate an engagement of the disciplines with a variety of agrarian alternatives. The paper traced the evolution of agricultural knowledge and the research agendas that it prioritized. Even though agriculture chemistry had a head start as a formal discipline, it was agronomy that led the practice and theorization of the field leading up to the agricultural revolution in Europe. Agronomy as a discipline evolved from a collection of principles concerning knowledge of the land, water and crop management to the management of resources for increasing crop yields. This transformation of the discipline gave birth to a host of other disciplines within the agricultural sciences. By the 1980’s a consensus had emerged that the Green Revolution of the earlier decade or two had ended and that breeding-genetics based research had begun yielding diminishing returns. In this context the two alternatives which emerged were (i) the second or doubly green revolution of sustainable intensification and (ii) a plethora of agrarian alternatives. While tracing the evolution of these alternatives Dr. Raina pointed out the ways in which agrarian alternatives seek legitimization from mainstream formal agricultural research, even though what many of them espouse lies outside the world of mainstream agricultural research. She concluded her paper by pointing out the implications of agronomy for agrarian alternatives, public sector science and science policy in India. The discussion that followed raised issues of the nature of public sector science, private sector science and the relationship between the two.
The third session commenced with Dr. Leon Morenas’ paper entitled Dissimulating the Smart City. The paper provided a glimpse of the manner in which policy makers are advertising the Smart City as the new horizon of urban planning. Smart Cities are firmly placed in the future as a solution to the problems plaguing the present Indian City. The concept of ‘dissimulation’ is borrowed from the sciences to describe processes which conceal more than they reveal to understand the Smart City. By projecting the Smart City as the next generation of urban planning the underlying politics was being concealed. Urban planners were never consulted in the Smart City project; rather it was the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) that leads the discourse on Smart Cities as part of a global phenomenon where industry takes on the mantle of urban planning. Smart Cities were imagined as places where the private is to be hidden from the public through technological systems closely regulating various aspects of life within the smart city like traffic flow and management of parks. Dr. Morenas introduced the concept of Ubiquitous Computing where the computer would be all pervasive in its endeavour to regulate life and thereby to locate the Smart City firmly in the future, without a past. The Smart City as a technological system by design would coerce society to adapt to it rather that technology adapt to the needs of society. This would exonerate planners of the smart city to shield themselves from responsibilities of the present. In this urban future the everydayness of life will be guided by the CPU and the city which has historically been linked to struggles over political rights and social justice will be erased by a seamlessness that solves problems of those living in the city even before they become problems. A very interesting discussion followed where it was pointed out that this was not the first idea of the Smart City for satellite cities like Gurgaon were projected very similarly. What makes Smart Cities a new category in urban planning is its linkage with the expanding sphere of the city and the relationship between urban planning, real estate.
In her paper Supreme Court and Technologies Dr. Nupur Chowdhary looked at the judgments, orders and pronouncements of the Supreme Court as a lens to comprehend technology. The post 1947 national narrative that heavily influenced the Supreme Court’s understanding of technology was built around the idea of technology as integral to economic development and progress. The Supreme Court’s relationship with technology is a grey area where the state is not only a promoter of technology but also the regulator of technology. Through a study of a controversy surrounding GM crops, she argues that the Supreme Court viewed technology as value neutral. The institutional ambition of the court is to be seen in the public eye as delivering justice, but in the process it is drawn into cases where the court has to consult ‘public experts’ who are basically scientists associated with institutions of the state and not those who are situated outside these institutions. The court sees technology as expert driven and only institutional scientists as capable of providing expert opinion. However, the role of the Supreme Court regarding Public Interest Litigations (PILs) has evolved over time and the court has tended to become more inquisitorial where the opinion of the expert is considered sacrosanct. While the PIL’s have gained admission to court, the party which has filed the PIL never has a say as experts. This reiterates the point that for the Supreme Court technology and technological knowledge is restricted to experts within institutions. As a result vulnerable groups who take recourse to PIL as a means of acquiring justice are considered non-experts by the court in cases where technology is a bone of contention. The discussion problematised the term ‘public experts’ and it was suggested that a more appropriate term would be ‘state expert’.
Sukumar Muralidharan’s paper Civil Society in the Network State, the Technopolitics of Anti- Politics presented a theoretical discussion on ‘civil society’ and ‘network state’, woven around recent social movements such as the Arab spring, the anti corruption movement in India and the mass protest that followed the Delhi Rape case of 2012. Drawing on Castells theory of the network state Muralidharan examines the techno-politics behind these mass uprisings that were hailed as the success of the new social media: facebook, twitter, youtube, mobile phones etc. Two features identified by Castells, the centrality of innovation and the networking of production and management were discussed with respect to earlier industrial society and its specific manifestations in a network society. These mass uprisings were opposed to the worst of globalization, and an understanding of these movements can come from an understanding of globalization. According to Castell’s social structures originate from the production and management of values and values are determined by the dominant institutions of society. The genealogy of the thesis is traced back to Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, Ricardo and Marx, in order to understand the socio- economic features of globalization in its current form. Similarly, deliberations on the idea of civil society in the current context of globalization are traced back to Hegel, Gramsci and Habermas to pin down the imagination of nation- state. If as Anderson suggests the imagination of nation was created by the print media, the question is how network society transforms this imagination. Network society creates a disembodiment of social relations from the local context of interaction and restructures them indefinitely across time and space. The instantaneous, internet based media has engendered a new sense of virtual community that does not correspond to the harsh realities of social life. Consequently, the dynamics of exclusion and inclusion in network society, notwithstanding the ‘mass’ character of the technopolitics of anti- politics, is essentially unequal and discriminatory in character The disjuncture between the reality and rhetoric of the idea of network society came up in the discussion.
Day two of the seminar started with Dr. Saumen Chattopadhyay’s paper on the Funding of Science: Emerging Relationship between State and Society, which examined how the changes in the mode of funding from public to private, impinged on the relationship between science and society. Elaborating upon the neo-liberal rationale driving policy changes in funding to research institutes and universities it was pointed out that changes in the funding sources increases levels of competition that results in increased industry – university collaboration. This leads to a situation where academic freedom could be curtailed and priorities and accountability of research are revised. The new public management paradigm in the organization and functioning of research generates large-scale organizational reform inspired by the logic of industrial corporations, manifest in new norms of measuring academic output, accountability as well as evaluation of research. The likely fall-out of such a transformation is that the quantity of research, that is the measurable output of research, will grow while the quality of research will be compromised. Creativity of research will be a victim as will be research in the fundamental sciences. He went on to explain the changes that will result from a change in the mode of funding and referred to the mode-1/mode-2 framework to understand these changes. The presentation was followed by an engaging discussion on the role of the state as the guarantor of academic freedom.
The next paper to be discussed in the session was presented by Prof. Arvind titled Polity, Power and Entitlement: Positioning the Indian Scientist. He began by posing a question, could Indian science have taken a different trajectory at the time of Independence? He briefly presented the actual trajectory that science took after independence where many institutions like the CSIR and its labs were created, in addition to educational institutions like the IIT’s, the central Universities for scientific research and to produce a techno-scientific cadre. He argued that through these institutions a particular image of the scientist was created viz. that of the problem solvers of the nation. The role of science was however first critiqued in the aftermath of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984. He also provided a brief overview of how the student profile in IIT’s changed post 1990’s and the closing down of research departments at State Universities. Scientists at these institutes could be bracketed into 4 categories:  those who wish to establish themselves renowned scientist at all costs,  those looking for paradigms abroad and pursue science for science sake.  those who wish to develop local schools of thought and interact globally,  people science and technology All four categories of scientists can be seen as jostling for space in the new institutions.
The paper titled The University and the Development Agenda by Prof. Milind Sohoni was the last paper of the seminar where he argued that the development agenda, apart from many other factors, was plagued by a knowledge deficit and it is important for institutions of higher learning to step in and bridge this deficit by professionalizing development. For this the University will need to reinvent itself, and develop a more accessible understanding of knowledge and rigor. A knowledge and practice deficit was a major hurdle in optimizing development practices. In the final part of his paper Prof. Sohoni provided a model to illustrate how the University could contribute to the development process. This meant that the elite institutions recognize that they do not have the framework to contribute to the development process and in the light of this they must reframe their curriculum and research agenda which will bring rigor to the development process as well as build up connections with regional institutions. Professional graduate and research courses on development must also be introduced to create development professionals. The state must be a willing partner to this endeavor. This model he concluded is based on the 30 year experience of CTARA at IIT Bombay of enabling engineers to work on rural problems. The discussion that followed sought more clarity on the role of politics because governance or the lack of it cannot be understood without understanding the role of politics.
The Seminar ended with a vote of thanks from Prof. Raina and concluding remarks by Prof. Singh. There was a brief a recapitulation of the themes discussed and a decision taken to produce the proceedings of the two seminars as a book, where each of the contributors would be given ample space and time to develop their arguments.
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