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Locating and Spatializing Science


Dwaipayan Banerjee

RELOCATING MODERN SCIENCE: CIRCULATION AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE IN SOUTH ASIA AND EUROPE, SEVENTEENTH TO NINETEENTH CENTURIES
By Kapil Raj
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 285, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 3 March 2007

In recent years, the emergent discipline of science and technology studies has witnessed a growing interest in questions of location and mapping. The concern has been so pressing that it would not be an exaggeration to believe that the postcolonial moment has vitally entered this field, reminiscent of a similar ingress upon literary studies in the recent past. The question then of ‘locating’ and spatializing science outside European metropoles has gained some urgency, hardly surprising given the generally decentring tendency of such studies. With Kapil Raj’s work, we have here an important addition to this growing corpus.   Raj’s attempt (consonant with science studies in general) is to identify ‘objective’ science and scientific knowledge as enmeshed in social relations—here in the specific instance of the colonial encounter. In this localizing of scientific practice, his own locale imprint is unmistakable—that of French science studies interested in following actors through networks to understand the construction and circulation of scientific knowledge. Central to this understanding of science is an explosion of age-old myths about the unity of its practice and a claim to exist outside social relations and practices. Kapil Raj endeavours to take this already accumulated momentum, and push further against theories that suggest a simple diffusion of western science and knowledge during colonial times. Simultaneously it purports a comment on the colonial encounter itself, refusing to see it as a simply imposed domination but rather as a process of intercultural negotiation and mutual fashioning that goes against thinking in binaries of monolithic West and East divides. For those familiar with such arguments in historiography and literary studies, this might seem like a battle against windmills. However —with a few notable exceptions—Indian science studies have ended up acceding to thinking of science (western or eastern) as unified and monolithic. This inability to unpack the ‘black box’ has opened up such studies of essences to recent criticisms that at worst have painted it as communal and atavistic. The strength of Kapil Raj’s book runs exactly counter to this trend and provides a welcome insight into precisely those zones of intercultural encounter and articulation that exist in the blurred zone of indistinction between the West and the East—replacing their divisions with a notion of negotiation and co-construction.   The breadth of Kapil Raj’s scholarship is reflected in the expansive scope of the book. The six chapters deal with ...


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