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The example of India

Let us examine some of the pros and cons of Western science in the context of one particular developing country. India has been chosen not merely for the size and diversity of its population and the richness of its culture, but also because almost all of the themes that have been taken up in the general debates about Western science can be found there. Indeed, it could be argued that India's struggle for independence was, to a greater extent than elsewhere, also a struggle for the resurrection of Indian civilization. At the very least, it can be said that traditional techniques and non-Western beliefs and customs were mobilized in the political struggle more explicitly than elsewhere. Under the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi the peoples of the Indian subcontinent were encouraged to revive traditional technical practices and even managed to put aside, for a time, some of their religious antagonisms in order to achieve national independence.

Gandhi, of course, was Western-trained and learned about Western philosophy and Western science while studying law in Britain. Perhaps most important for our purposes here is that Gandhi became acquainted with Western traditions of cultural criticism, associated with such names as Ruskin, Tolstoy, and Thoreau. The "experiments with truth" that made up Gandhi's life were, in large measure, a conscious effort to combine these critical Western ideas with a very personal interpretation of Hindu belief. Gandhi embodied an alternative science and technology in his own person, but he was not particularly successful in writing about it or in institutionalizing it. He has served, in post-independence India, as both a legend and personal model; and, as we shall see, his inspiration can be seen in a number of alternative activities in India today.

Gandhi was not alone in his attempts to develop alternative approaches to science and technology in colonial India. although it was his vision that has perhaps been most influential. Ashis Nandy has recently contrasted Gandhi's "critical traditionalism" to the more absolute glorification of tradition represented by the art historian and Buddhist scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy [57]. Where Gandhi made use of Indian traditions in an open-ended, reflective way, Coomaraswamy's "tradition remains homogeneous and undifferentiated from the point of view of man-made suffering.... Today, with the renewed interest in cultural visions, one has to be aware that commitment to traditions, too, can objectify by drawing a line between a culture and those who live by that culture, by setting up some as the true interpreters of a culture and the others as falsifiers, and by trying to defend the core of a culture from its periphery" [57, pp. 121, 122].

Gandhi's critique of Western science was fundamental and comprehensive. He rejected Western science in terms of all three of our dimensions, recombining the romantic or poetic critique of secularization with critiques of the institutionalized elitism and the "technicist" orientation of Western science. It was the lack of morality, the lack of idealism of Western civilization that Gandhi objected to; and Western science was, for him, a central part of that immoral value system.

The double nature of Gandhi's critique is important in understanding the subsequent Indian discourse(s) on Western and non-Western science. Unlike the Marxist or positivist leaders of most other independence movements in non-Western societies, Gandhi sought to develop an alternative way of life in which traditional techniques and non-Western beliefs had a central place. His critique of Western civilization was thus not merely a critique of its immorality, but also of its epistemology. "Traditional technology, too, was for him an ethically and cognitively better system of applied knowledge than modern technology. He rejected machine civilization, not because he was a saint making occasional forays into the secular world, but because he was a political activist and thinker with strong moral concerns" [57, p. 160].

India, of course, did not follow Gandhi's lead in the first two decades of independence. Instead, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, ambitious efforts were made to implant what Nehru called a scientific temper in Indian society. Nehru's scientism, and that of his leading scientific and political advisers, was deep and unambiguous. "It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people. I do not see any way out of our vicious circle of poverty except by utilizing the new sources of power which science has placed at our disposal" (Nehru, quoted in [35, pp. 7-8])

For Nehru, Indian civilization, with its superstitions and religious strife, was in need of radical change; a "scientific temper" needed to be imposed on Indian society, and his governments did their utmost to develop both scientific institutions and also a popular understanding and appreciation for science. Like other post-independence leaders in the third world, Nehru's attitude to Western science was positive; if there was a "non-Western" component to his science policy, it was in seeking to apply scientific research in a planned, systematic way. From the late 1940s, scientific and technological research were organized roughly along the lines of the Soviet model, with central planning and strong state control over priorities and orientation. In a recent review, Krishna and Jain have written:

The Indian experience of science policy up to the late 1960s, which was based on the close alliance between elite scientists and the political leadership, had the major objective to expand the infrastructural base for science, technology and education. The leadership of Nehru provided the necessary political will and economic assistance to ensure continuous expansion of scientific organisations and funding of science and technology. [35, p. 15]

It would be an oversimplification to say that Nehru's death in 1964 led to a revival of Gandhian thought. But as the 1960s progressed, a number of challenges emerged to the developmental strategies and emphases that had guided India since independence. The wars with China and Pakistan fostered nationalistic tendencies, and a variety of popular peasant movements began to wage struggles against the central and regional authorities. The international wave of student and anti-imperialist protest also played its part, so that, by the early 1970s, India was a society torn by inner conflict. Most significant from our perspective was the revitalization of the Gandhian undercurrent, spearheaded by Jaraprakash Narayan, or JP as he came to be called, with his "total revolution" that aimed to revive village economic life and grass-roots initiatives. The revival of Gandhism was an important factor in the protests against the large dams and government-sponsored social forestry programmes as well as the emergence of environmental movements, especially the famous Chipko "tree-huggers" in northern India. In 1978, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, after having ruled the country through an unpopular State of Emergency, was defeated by the opposition Janata party, which in many ways tried to apply Gandhian ideas during its few short years in power, before being torn apart by internal dissension.

It was in this general spirit of criticism and change that the political scientist Rajni Kothari gathered together a number of Western-trained humanists and social scientists at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in Delhi. Kothari had been the chairman of the Social Science Research Council and had been a key actor in the infrastructure building of the Nehru era. In the 1970s, however, Kothari and his colleagues at CSDS grew increasingly disillusioned with the path that Indian development had taken, and began to reconsider the Gandhian intellectual legacy. Indeed, throughout the country, perhaps particularly among science and engineering students, who were finding their knowledge increasingly irrelevant to the needs of their country, the received position about the crucial role of modern science in Indian development began to be questioned. It was particularly among engineering students that the appeal of appropriate technology seems to have been felt most strongly, and in the 1970s a number of different units were established [43].

At the end of the 1970s, three books appeared that served to articulate a new kind of intellectual critique of Western science in India. In 1978, J.P.S. Uberoi, professor of sociology at Delhi University, published Science and Culture, in which he developed an all-encompassing critique of Western science, or, more specifically, of the Western positivist tradition, which he traced back to the Reformation and the separation of subject and object. According to Uberoi:

I am persuaded that so long as the problem of the alternative is seen in India or elsewhere in purely practical extrinsic terms, whether political, social or economic, modern Western science itself will remain a stranger and liable to exploit us for its own ends. Its so-called diffusion, implantation or assimilation in the non-Western world will very properly remain a failure or turn into something worse. On the other hand, if the intrinsic intellectual problem of the positivist theory and praxis of science and its claims come to be appreciated by us, leading to a dialogue with native theory and praxis, whether classical or vernacular, then modern Western science will find itself reconstituted into something new in the process [95, p. 86].

The following year, 1979, the Bombay-based journalist and political activist Claude Alvares, who had gone to Holland to study philosophy, provided what would become a catalyst for much of the new critical thinking in his doctoral dissertation, Homo Faber: Technology and Culture in India, China and the West 1500-1972. Alvares's book opened up an arena for critical reappreciation, among intellectuals, of the non-Western scientific traditions in India. It presented what Alvares called a new anthropological model of technological development, and explicitly called for the integration of ethnosciences, or indigenous scientific traditions, in the development of appropriate technologies and developmental strategies. For Alvares, "the model of social and technological development idealized out of the industrial revolution in England, the United States and certain parts of Western Europe is no longer the sole means by which the Southern countries and nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America can hope to survive" [1, p. 45]. Alvares traced the historical development of technology in India, China, and England and sought to show how cultural traditions and, in particular, the experiences of imperialism and colonialism had affected all three countries in fundamental ways. Such historical relativization was necessary, according to Alvares, if the non-Western countries were to escape their historical dependency on the West. "The displacement of the West in its monopoly over the productive process will be accompanied by the displacement of its monopoly position as the arbiter of what is proper for the Southern nations in the realm of culture, ideas and ideals. The wider dispersal of the ability to produce goods will be accompanied by the wider dispersal of the ability to produce ideas" [1, p. 221].

A third book of the Janata period, Ashis Nandy's Alternative Sciences, brought the critique of Western science down to a micro, or individual, level. Nandy analysed the different ways in which Jagadis Chandra Bose, the plant physiologist, and Srinivasa Ramanujan, the mathematician, had become "alien insiders" in the world of Western science. His was not a straightforward critique of Western science, but rather a more subtle psychological critique that carried a number of different messages. On the one hand, Nandy showed how two Indian scientists had been constrained in their work by their Indianness, but he also indicated how Indian tradition had provided opportunities for creative "dissent" from Western science [56].

The theme of creative dissent has continued to concern Nandy in his more recent writings [57]. His discussion of Gandhi's "critical traditionalism" referred to earlier also stresses the psychological dimension of non-Western science. His criticism, like Gandhi's, has come to be directed ever more to the intrinsic violence of Western science - against Nature and against humanity. While Uberoi has tended to focus more of his attention on alternative traditions in the West - he has recently written on Goethe's "alternative" science [96] - Nandy has continued to explore the psychological tensions and conflicts at work in Indian science. His critique of a "statement on scientific temper" produced in 1981 by a group of distinguished Indian scientists led to a major debate between the proverbial two cultures in India the humanists and the scientists; and the intellectual critique of Western science that Nandy and his colleagues at CSDS have produced [97] can be expected to grow ever more relevant to the future development of Indian science.

Even more significant has been the emergence of a critique of Western science in the various new social movements themselves. On the one hand, there are the so-called people's science movements that have been particularly active in southern India, beginning with the founding of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) in 1962. Here the emphasis has been on critical popularization, linking science in selective ways to popular myths and traditions and bringing scientific expertise to bear on protests against government-sponsored irrigation and forestry projects [19, 35]. The people's science movements are not critical of Western science; rather they are critical of the ways in which Western science has been misused in Indian society. Much like the Red Guard in China during the Cultural Revolution, but with less rhetoric and often, it seems, more popular support, the people's science movements are seeking to develop a socialist science, a "science for social revolution," according to the KSSP's main slogan.

What has emerged in other parts of India, as an outgrowth of the environmental movements in the forests and on tribal lands, has been a very different kind of alternative. Here the various critiques of Western science developed in the West have been "recombined" in the praxis of environmental activism. As articulated by the physicist turned Green activist Vandana Shiva, "maldevelopment is intellectually based on, and justified through, reductionist categories of scientific thought and action. Politically and economically, each project which has fragmented nature and displaced women from productive work has been legitimised as scientific by operationalising reductionist concepts to realise uniformity, centralization and control" [87, p. 14]. In her book Staying Alive, Shiva combines an ecological and feminist critique of Western science and discovers alternative "feminine" principles and a feminine attitude to Nature in traditional Indian thought. "Contemporary Western views of nature are fraught with the dichotomy or duality between man and woman, and person and nature.... In Indian cosmology, by contrast, person and nature (Purusha-Pakriti) are a duality in unity" [87, p. 40].

Shiva's argument is that social forestry and the Green Revolution in agriculture have been masculine, reductionist projects that have separated women (and men) from their natural roots as well as destroying valuable natural resources. In the protests of rural women, especially the Chipko movement in northern India, Shiva sees the "countervailing power" of women's knowledge and politics:

Women producing survival are showing us that nature is the very basis and matrix of economic life.... They are challenging concepts of waste, rubbish and dispensability as the modern West has defined them.... They have the knowledge and experience to extricate us from the ecological cul-de-sac that the Western masculine mind has maneuvered us into. [87, p. 224]

Shiva and other scientists who have joined forces with the environmental movements in India have, by the end of the 1980s, developed a range of research institutions and alternative organizations for the dissemination of their ecological alternative. Particularly significant has been the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, which has produced widely read reports (in 1983 and 1985) on The State of India's Environment and produced a large number of magazine and newspaper articles through its press service. Together with the appropriate technology groups that still are dotted around the Indian countryside, the environmental movements represent a practical critique of Western science in India. Here, as elsewhere, the critique is Western-inspired and the critics Western-trained; but it has produced an ongoing dialogue with Indian traditions that is likely to grow in importance in the years ahead.

The significance of the alternatives

Until now, alternatives to Western science have tended to be partial and often self-defeating. One aspect of Western science has been criticized or challenged while other aspects have been accepted even utilized - in mounting the critique. This is to be expected. Western science has developed its contemporary form and its impressive power through a long historical process and it is thus only to be expected that it cannot, in a short time, be replaced by a new form of knowledge production that is as effective and all-encompassing. On the other hand, the problems with Western science do not mean that the entire tradition is in need of overhaul. Very few of the critical viewpoints that have been discussed in this chapter reject the general ambition of modern science to provide a verifiable, even universal, kind of knowledge about Nature. Rationality itself is not the issue as much as the uses to which rationality is put and the institutional contexts in which it is organized.

In an article published in 1979, the German philosopher Gernot Böhme contrasted alternative approaches to science with alternative traditions in science [7]. For Böhme, the alternative to science is irrationalism or obscurantism; there had been, throughout modern history, sufficient alternative traditions within science to sustain visions of the good society. The difficulty was in realizing the good science while avoiding the "bad" applications and priorities. Over 10 years later, the situation is not much changed. There has been a much greater movement to address environmental issues in developing countries, and the rediscovery of non-Western idea traditions has, if anything' grown more intense. While the level of rhetoric has been raised, however, it is far too early to see a full-fledged alternative to Western science emerging in the efforts currently under way.

If the search for alternatives to Western science can lead to a more modest, even more humane, science, or if it can encourage a more open dialogue with other traditions of knowledge production, then much will be gained. At the very least, the critiques of Western science have raised some fundamental questions about the ways in which human societies make use of their creative resources, and out of that questioning, it is perhaps not too optimistic to think that the world's citizens might obtain a more variegated, even pluralistic, range of approaches to deal with the problems that confront them.


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5 The institutionalization process

Hebe Vessuri

The Pandora's box of "colonial science"
Strategies and styles of the major powers
Cultural responses to Western learning
The disciplines and institutions of colonial science
Institutional growth in the moulds of "national science"
The role of government science policy
The interface between higher education and research capabilities
Concluding remarks


In the process of transplanting Western science into developing countries, the scientific institutions of the most advanced nations became "models" to be reproduced. The presence of Western-type scientific institutions in the developing world has been widely accepted as an indication of modernity. But this notion, embodied in endless projects of institutions created throughout the modern history of developing countries, has been accompanied by very unequal success and, in general, by difficulties of consolidation. It has often been argued that the social weight of scientific institutions in developing countries is very small, derived from the low prestige and marginality of science in those countries; that scientific institutions tend to suffer from premature obsolescence; that it is very difficult for them to survive their creators; that they have difficulties in adjusting to the transformations of society; that their excessive bureaucratization detracts from their original aims. In short, scientific institutionalization in developing countries as depicted in the literature frequently appears as characterized by fragility, fragmentation, and incoherence.

How true are these generalizations? What was the historical process of scientific institutionalization in developing societies? Did different (national) Western models lead to different "styles" of scientific institutionalization? How did receiving cultures perceive and respond to Western science? What was the local scientific structure, if any, that received it? How was it used in the knowledge transfer, or was it disregarded as simply backward? What is specifically "European" about Western science [45]? India, Japan, China, and Islam had well-developed scientific traditions, elaborate and firmly established theories of life, and rich traditions of education that drew the admiration of many in the West. The high cultures of Latin America, like the Mayan, Aztec, and Incan civilizations, also surprised Westerners because of their achievements. Australia, North America, and most of South America and Africa, with smaller populations, had their cultures pushed aside and destroyed by Europeans. The enormous differences in the frequency and nature of the contacts between the West and what eventually came to be categorized as the developing countries and the recent renaissance of historical scholarship about the non-Western world invite a reassessment of prevailing approaches to the institutionalization of science in developing countries. However, received opinion about the spread of Western science has been so one-sided and prejudiced since the heyday of the European-centred world of the nineteenth century [10] that comparatively little progress has been made towards the resolution of the Western science-backward cultures dichotomy.

Within the larger disciplines of history or sociology, the subject appeals to only a handful of devotees - most of them practitioners of a still unfashionable social or institutional study of science. Most existing literature merely sketches the terrain, using scientific institutions as markers and identifying significant social forms upon which more interpretative studies may be based. What follows is a reconnaissance that highlights some of the themes and concepts that have received attention from scholars.

Scientific institutionalization in the present analysis is the process by which modern national scientific traditions have emerged in the varied social contexts in the post-colonial nation-states, and where scientific institutions have represented at different times the multifarious manifestations of specific patterns of cultural and economic response to the complex combination of ideas and developments identified as Western science. Stress is laid on the diversity of forms in the social organization of science, on the contextual definition of norms and of the establishment of social control, and on the provisions made to ensure the continuity of scientific activity in peripheral settings lacking scientific traditions or in cultures that accommodated Western science with rich, non-Western traditional sciences.

The Pandora's box of "colonial science"

"Colonial science" is a blanket term, supposed to cover a variety of situations. It has been described as "low science" (limited to data gathering, while the theoretical synthesis was supposed to take place in the metropolis); "derivative" (working on problems set by savants in Europe); "dependent" on metropolitan recognition [44, p. 221]; "a lodge in the wilderness," the product of expatriate Europeans for European consumption [62, pp. 1-16]. The term has even been used to refer to an indigenous population that was itself European in culture and outlook, like French Canadians and the Irish, but who for different reasons left the cultivation of science in the nineteenth century to the colonizers of British stock [39, p. 339].

The question of colonial science is relatively new, dating back only to 1967, when Basalla wrote his by now classic paper on the global spread of Western science [11]. He proposed a simple three-phase evolutionary model, very much in tune with the conceptual framework of developmentalism and international cooperation of the 1960s. Not only has this model been very much discussed and disputed since its publication, but its "colonial phase" in particular has attracted a good deal of attention in recent years, stimulating a continuous flow of empirical research that reveals that the phenomena involved are much more complex than originally thought. The question may be more profitably looked upon as a complex power relationship involving a metropolis, a colonial or semi-colonial territory and social structure, scientists of European descent living overseas, and non-Western people involved in scientific research. Western science developed a most powerful assemblage of social devices for validating knowledge and indeed for moving knowledge among localities. The key dilemma of modernity for those who do not belong merely by birth, primary socialization, and intellectual training to some version or other of the hegemonic culture of the modern world, is, in Dunn's words [23, p. 5], how to distinguish those aspects of the culture that genuinely exemplify the capacity to know better from those that exemplify instead only its brazen and deceptive claim to do so. For it is the ability to draw this distinction, continues Dunn, that alone makes it possible to discriminate an extension of cognitive capacity that no human agent or human society could have good reason to reject in itself from a cognitively arbitrary erosion of personal or social identity by the action of alien force. The problem comes, of course, when - as is usually the case - culture contains unmistakable elements of both. There has been continuous negotiation and redefinition over who gains local control over useful knowledge institutions. If controlled from outside the national boundaries, then local knowledge and local interests are condemned to marginality. If controlled from within, there are potentialities but also dangers of other kinds.

It is worthwhile keeping a double approach to this subject. On the one hand are the strategies of the major powers for the export of Western science to their colonial outposts and zones of influence. There has been substantial variation among the strategies and at different periods. This chapter examines only the last 150 years, although of course colonialism goes back much longer, but such delimitation makes it possible to consider processes that have a direct bearing on contemporary arrangements. A characteristic figure of "colonial science" linked to colonial administration was the individual or institution that was basically a "gatekeeper" of colonial science, actually blocking the advancement of scientific research by keeping an image of "low science," for activities useful to the colonial administration, although the picture would be incomplete without mentioning the "scientific soldier," for whom the work ethic was of paramount importance and who did his best in the given circumstances [40, p. 58]. On the other hand are the views and interests of individuals in societies other than Western ones towards scientific developments occurring beyond their frontiers and/or towards the emergence of national scientific traditions in the new nations resulting from the often traumatic experience of colonialism. Typical figures in this other perspective were the groups of scientists - mostly non-European but also some Western settlers - who were basically part of the emerging nationalism and who were also partners in the freedom movement in colonial outposts and in semi-colonies or zones of influence. Let us look first at the metropolitan powers.

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