About the Workshop

Post-liberalization Indian society has experienced profound changes. Alongside large-scale political-economic reorganization, core categories of sociality—self, community, and nation, for example—have also been fundamentally altered (cf. Lukose, R. (2009). Liberalization’s Children: Gender, Youth, and Consumer Citizenship in Globalizing India. Duke University Press). Against this backdrop, and given the foundational importance of technoscience to the very idea of modern India (cf. Prakash, G. (1999). Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India. Princeton University Press), the central question of this workshop is: What is the place of technoscience in ongoing re-articulations of culture, state, and society in contemporary India? Sub-questions orienting our inquiry include: What models of innovation, public participation, and democratic governance are available and being implemented in technoscientific decision-making? What (new) axes of inclusion and exclusion are evident in these processes? How does the rise of consumerism implicate technoscientific-decision making? How can an Indo-Dutch collaboration contribute to insights across these distinct political cultures?

These questions are particularly appropriate given the increased contestations over technoscientific decision-making in India in recent years. Examples include the high-profile international negotiations resulting in India’s exception from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the much lauded exercise of public consultations over the introduction of genetically modified food in the form of Bt. Brinjal, and ongoing mobilizations against the recommissioning of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. Moreover, while political mobilizations over technoscientific decision-making are seemingly on the rise, mechanisms for engaging the public in these processes, with the notable exception of the Bt. Brinjal consultations, remain limited. Decision-making in these domains remains expert-driven, with the state-bureaucratic apparatus often seeking to manage, rather than engage, the public.

Similar concerns are being pursued in the EU. The recent societal dialogue on nanotechnology in the Netherlands, for example, constitutes an interesting experiment in the democratic governance of technoscience (Bijker, W. “The Public and Issues of Science”, OpEd in The Hindu, February 10, 2011). Moreover, a need for cross-national research is strongly evident: note, for example, the EU-funded project, Global Ethics in Science and Technology, with a central role for the Dutch Rathenau Institute, which seeks to draw comparative insights into politico-ethical challenges posed by emerging technologies in China, India, and Europe. Recognizing the inter-connectedness of technologies, actors, and institutions globally, such research pushes towards a serious dialogue on governing technoscience in globalized contexts.

Our workshop furthers these scholarly trajectories. Drawing on our collective research strengths, we have identified the following four sub-themes to frame one session each at the workshop. Each sub-theme brings together and extends scholarship in the interdisciplinary fields of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and South Asian Studies in novel ways, and identifies key directions for future research.

1. Democracy, Publics, and the Governance of Technoscience: This session focuses on available models of public participation in the governance of technoscience. This entails, firstly, critically examining concepts such as “democracy,” “publics,” and “governance,” and their shifting articulations in India historically. STS scholars have richly documented the many modes of constituting publics and participation across varied contexts: together this body of scholarship moves away from work based on the rubric, “public understanding of science,” in which the public is assumed to be in need of science education in order to more willingly accept technoscience-related decisions made by experts, to one which emphasizes the active role played by diverse groups of actors in constructing and legitimizing technoscientific knowledge and policies. This literature explores, for example, the works of geeks and hackers, and notions such as “citizen science” and “appropriation of technology.” However, this literature retains a Euro-American bias and concomitant assumptions about the nature of politics and democracy—assumptions which often breakdown in Indian contexts. This session will identify lessons and limitations of such scholarship towards efforts aimed at the democratic governance of technoscience in India.

2. Expertise, Justice, and the Politics of Risk: Establishing ever more expert systems has been a key response to managing and mitigating the many risks that characterize contemporary conditions of globalization. This session interrogates two related issues:

  1. Expertise: Here we focus on questions such as how/what knowledges become authoritative, and who count as experts in articulating risks associated with emergent technosciences. Existing scholarship suggests that while certain group of actors get to participate in these processes readily (e.g. scientists and policy makers), certain others are often excluded (e.g. indigenous populations).
  2. Justice: Moreover, actor-groups such as indigenous populations are doubly excluded from decision-making: (i) as citizens with a stake in evolving risks (social injustice), and (ii) as individuals/communities possessing other-than-scientific ways of comprehending the risks involved (cognitive/epistemic injustice).
  • Bijker, W., R.Bal, and R.Hendriks (2009). The Paradox of Scientific Authority: The Role of Scientific Advice in Democracies. MIT Press.
    Visvanathan, S. and T.Setelvad (forthcoming in 2013). “Narratives of Vulnerability and Violence: Retelling the Gujarat Riots.” In Hommels, A., J.Mesman & W.E.Bijker (Eds.). Vulnerability in Technological Cultures: New Directions in Research and Governance. MIT Press.
  • Visvanathan, S. (1997). A Carnival for Science: Essays on Science, Technology, and Development. Oxford University Press.

3. Consumerism and Technoscience: Consumerist ideologies have been a key driver of cultural and political-economic shifts in contemporary India: for example, a language of consumer rights has come to displace an erstwhile emphasis on labour rights, and the (consumerist) “new middle class” has become an important player on the socio-political landscape. In other words, consumer-citizenship has become the predominant model of social organization. This has far-reaching implications for the governance of technoscience: it implicates, inter alia, which technosciences and expertise are invested in, and how risks are articulated and distributed. Certain issues become more readily recognizable than others: consumerism becoming the governing mentality, for example, partly explains the successful scaling-up of the 2006 campaign against the presence of pesticides in Coca-Cola, or why discussions about ”product safety” dominated the Bt. Brinjal consulations while displacing other ecological and socio-economic concerns. This workshop-session asks how the rise of consumerism implicates the governance of technoscience.

4. Cultures of Innovation: The prominent visibility of notions such as “Gandhian innovation,” “frugal innovation,” and “jugaad,” index the rising interest in understanding culturally situated innovation processes. MUSTS researchers have been studying a broad range of such socio-technical innovations geared towards sustainable futures, focusing on diverse domains including agriculture, handloom, public health, and nanotechnology for development. The challenges for innovation studies, we suggest, are: (1) accounting for culturally specific value-frames, organizational models, and prevailing infrastructural systems that influence innovation processes, and (2) rejecting a priori distinctions between traditional and modern knowledges and artifacts, viewing them instead as synergistic and interactive. Drawing on our existing research, this session interrogates what Indian cultures of innovation are, and how, in turn, these cultures must themselves be innovated towards socially desirable ends.

The proposed workshop, thus, draws on our core expertise in STS and South Asian Studies, and seeks to strengthen emergent scholarship on STS in/of India by articulating an agenda for research on technoscience-democracy re-articulations in contemporary India.