Culturalist Critiques of Modern Science and a Debate in the late 1990s

 The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of the EPW. 

 

In 1994, Alan Sokal, a theoretical physicist at New York University, submitted an essay to a leading cultural studies journal called Social Text published by the Duke University Press.

The essay, titled, Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, was supposed to be a scholarly article about the postmodern philosophical and political implications of developments in quantum gravity. Social Text published the essay in April 1996, in a special double issue on “Science Wars" devoted to rebutting an earlier critique of postmodern critiques of science. Immediately after the essay was published, Sokal revealed that his essay was never meant to be a serious piece of scholarship, but was actually a parody of the genre of cultural/science studies critiques. 

In August 1997, Gita Chadha, brought the debate surrounding this essay to the EPW. To “initiat[e] a critical reassessment of the culturalist critiques of modern science among Indian intellectuals”, the EPW published a set of papers by Alan Sokal and Meera Nanda in April 1998 which gave way to a dialogue between scholars. 

Chadha responded to Sokal’s paper in November 1998 and Sundar Sarukkai to Nanda’s article in March 1999. Sokal finally responded to Chadha in April 2000 with his sharply titled discussion piece Setting the Record Straight. 

In this feature, we map this debate for engagement, especially in the light of recent discussions around the March for Science demonstrations in India on 9 August 2017, which prompted a series of articles on the nature of scientific temper and the practice of science in India. 

 

Click on each icon to read about the article.

 

 

Each of the authors above responded to the debate in the "Discussion" section of the EPW. 

Click on the icons above to read the description about each article of the debate. You can also read the full articles here. For the 51st Anniversary, these have been taken out of paywall.  

 

Other works that have broadly responded to or are related to this debate since:

  • Beyond Modern vs Alternative Science Debate, Amit Prasad, 2006

  • Democracy, Governance and Science: Strange Case of the Missing Discipline, Shiv Visvanathan, 2001

  • Uses of Scientific Argument: The Case of 'Development' in India, c 1930-1950, Benjamin Zachariah, 2001

  • Towards an Understanding of Gandhi's Views on Science, Shambhu Prasad, 2001

  • Chronicles of a Queer Relationship with Science, Chayanika Shah, 2017

  • Patrick Blackett and Military and Scientific Development of India Empire's Setting Sun?, Robert S Anderson, 2001

  • The Contradictory Spaces of Postcolonial Techno-Science, Itty Abraham, 2006

Ed: We will be continually updating this list. Please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section that will contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line— "Science and Truth Discussion"

 

[Curated by Sohnee Harshey (sohnee@epw.in)]

        

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