Dissertation Abstract




Prophets Facing Backwards:

Postmodern Critiques of Science

and New Social Movements in India


Meera Nanda



Degree:          Ph.D.

Year:             2000

Pages:            302

Institution:     Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; 0185

Advisor:          Langdon Winner


Source:           DAI, 61, no. 04A (2000): p. 1585


In recent years, natural science has come under the suspicion of Eurocentricity. Social constructivist, feminist and cultural-studies scholars have claimed that the criteria of justification of natural sciences are fashioned out of local negotiations over cultural meanings and social/professional interests. Multiculturalist and postcolonial theorists have used constructivist arguments to claim that non-Western ways of knowing the natural order—"ethno-sciences"—are no less valid, within their own premises, than modern "Western" science. Development of local knowledges, it is argued, will "decolonize the imagination" of Third World people and lead to culturally-grounded "alternative modernities."

          This study aims at a critical assessment of (a) the philosophical arguments justifying the possibility of alternative epistemologies, and (b) the circulation and political impact of alternative epistemologies in two new social movements in India, including the "people's science" and ecofeminism/post-development movements.

          The philosophical component of the study establishes that the constructivist critics do not allow for a sufficient self-reflexivity in their accounts of modern science. While constructivists argue for all aspects of larger culture to shape the agenda and content of science, they do not allow the existing body of scientific knowledge to act back on science itself, or on the rest of the culture. This study attempts to correct this one-dimensional and mechanical understanding of social constructivism by recovering the idea of scientific temper from John Dewey, C. S. Peirce and their contemporary interpreters. Using the case of India's "untouchables" embrace of a Deweyan-Buddhist view of scientific temper, this study establishes that modern science is the standpoint epistemology of the oppressed in non-Western societies.

          The sociological component of the study establishes that uncritical and ahistorical acceptance of social constructivist critiques of science have led the proponents of "people's science" and ecofeminism to argue for the priority of inherited cultural traditions over reason. The insistence on "decolonization of imagination," the study concludes, has actually perpetuated a "desecularization of imagination" in India. This has inadvertently aided the rise of reactionary modernism under the aegis of the religious Right.

          The study argues for the importance of modern science as a source of auto-critique of traditions in non-Western societies.



Descriptor:       HISTORY OF SCIENCE



Accession No:     AAI9969163

Provider:        OCLC

Database:         Dissertations