الرئيسية The British Journal of Sociology Colonizing nature: scientific knowledge, colonial power and the incorporation of India into the...
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Zaheer Baber Colonizing nature: scienti c knowledge, colonial power and the incorporation of India into the modern world-system ABSTRACT In this paper, the role of scienti c knowledge, institutions and colonialism in mutually co-producing each other is analysed. Under the overarching rubric of colonial structures and imperatives, amateur scientists sought to deploy scienti c expertise to expand the empire while at the same time seeking to take advantage of the opportunities to develop their careers as ‘scientists’. The role of a complex interplay of structure and agency in the development of modern science, not just in India but in Britain too is analysed. The role of science and technology in the incorporation of South Asian into the modern world system, as well as the consequences of the emergent structures in understanding the trajectory of modern science in post-colonial India is examined. Overall, colonial rule did not simply diffuse modern science from the core to the periphery. Rather the colonial encounter led to the development of new forms of scienti c knowledge and institutions both in the peripher y and the core. KEYWORDS: Science; technology and society; colonialism; India; world-system BEYOND THE ‘SCIENCE WARS’: BRINGING HISTORY AND INSTITUTIONS BACK IN As the dust, kicked up by the ‘science wars’ begins to settle, a number of neglected issues in the eld of science and technology studies will assume renewed signi cance. Judging by the tone and temper of the polemic, it is obvious that critics of science studies assume that a radical constructivist agenda de nes the eld (Gross and Levitt 1994; Koertge 1998). Determined to construct hyper-social constructivists, these critics have homogenized a heterogeneous eld. Letting their polemical imagination run British Journal of Sociology Vol. No. 52 Issue No. 1 (March 2001) pp. 37–58 © 2001 London School of Economics and Political Science ISSN 0007-1315 print/1468-4446 online Published by Routledge Journals, Taylor & Francis Ltd o; n behalf of the LSE DOI: 10.1080/00071310020023028 38 Zaheer Baber riot, some science warriors have provided a new lease of life to the ‘political correctness’ debate. On their part, some sociologists of science have indeed promoted the manifestly idealist idea that scienti c knowledge is completely socially constructed. The roots of this argument lie in the attempt of some British sociologists to replace sociology of science with the sociology of scienti c knowledge. A mandatory rite of passage for these scholars was a critique of Merton (1973). The animus underlying this ‘new’ sociology of scienti c knowledge was the received view that Merton had exempted the content of science from sociological analysis (Mulkay 1979). The enthusiasm for this line of critique was highly infectious and contributed to the occasional hyperbole that nature had no role in the constitution of scienti c knowledge. Indeed Barry Barnes, one of the early revisionists, sought to inject a note of caution by observing that occasionally, existing work leaves the feeling that reality has nothing to do with what is socially constructed or negotiated to count as natural knowledge, but we may safely assume that this impression is an accidental by-product of over-enthusiastic sociological analysis, and that sociologists as a whole would acknowledge that the world in some way constrains what is believed to be. (Barnes, 1974: 7) Much later, Stephen Cole, a ‘traditional’ sociologist of science made an observation that was strikingly similar clearly social factors play an important role in the evaluation of new knowledge; but so does evidence obtained from the natural world . . . yes science is socially constructed, but yes how it is constructed is to various degrees and extent constrained by nature. (Cole 1992: 284) That sociologists representing diametrically opposed perspectives can indeed reach similar conclusions establishes the intellectual futility of the ‘science wars’. However, during the two decades that separate the observations of Barnes and Cole, some extremely extravagant claims have indeed been staked. Woolgar (1988: 53) for example, has castigated constructivist sociologists who remain ‘uncertain about taking issue with a further key assumption, that the world exists independently of, and prior to, knowledge produced about it’. Criticizing sociologists of science for being ‘epistemologically relativist and ontologically realist’, Woolgar urges them to take seriously consider the fact that the ‘thrust of postmodern critiques of science is to suggest the essential equivalence of ontology and epistemology: How we know is what exists’ (Woolgar 1988: 54). This unambiguous con ation of epistemology with ontology and the argument that representational practices literally constitute natural objects have not gone unchallenged (Bhaskar 1978, 1989; Murphy 1994; Hacking 1999; Baber 1992, 1994). Despite such hyper-constructivism, most sociologists of science are not committed to an ontologically relativist perspective. Contrar y to the view Colonizing nature 39 promoted by science warriors, not all sociologists of science inhabit the same ‘house built on sand’ (Koertge 1998: 3–4; Pinch 1998). There has been no dearth of critiques of ontological relativism (Gier yn 1982, 1999; Kim 1992; Winner 1993; Murphy 1994; Baber 1992, 1994, 1998, 2000; Cole 1992; Fuchs 1992). Perspectives such as the ‘institutional sociology of science’, ‘strong programme’, the ‘weak programme’, ‘social interests theory’, ‘Empirical Programme of Relativism’, ‘moderate constructionism’, ‘new literary forms’, ‘discourse analysis’, ‘actor network theor y’ etc. have all contributed to a heterogeneous eld of study. Proponents of ‘actor-network’ theory (Callon 1994; Latour 1987), visibly tired of hyperconstructivism have incorporated material objects as ‘actants’ in their attempt to dissolve dichotomies such as the social and the natural world. Pickering has resorted to the ‘mangle of practice’ (Pickering 1995) to bring socially constructed natural objects and nature back. Indeed there is ample evidence of an emergent perspective that incorporates the signi cant insights offered by social constructivists into a macro-structural framework. Represented by the work of Mukerji (1989, 1997) among others, this perspective heralds a post-constructivist turn that seeks to transcend dichotomies such as realist vs. relativist, or sociology of science vs. sociology of scienti c knowledge. It is a perspective that has been variously labeled as ‘moderate constructivism’ (Yearley 1988: 184; Hess 1997: 35), ‘realistic constructivism’ (Fuller 1993: 5), ‘critical realism’ (Bhaskar 1989: 35). In view of the fact that the ‘science wars’, fuelled as they are by political concerns, are fundamentally irresolvable, the emergent new institutionalism is a good heuristic strategy for getting on with the work of science and technology studies. The choice between whether science is purely nature or culture is a hardly a choice, because an enduring contribution of sociology of science is that surely it is both (Gieryn 1998). The desirability of bracketing the science wars to get on with the more mundane job of the sociological analysis of science and technology and of reviving a neglected perspective in the sociology of science constitute the objectives of this paper. The historical-comparative perspective deployed by an earlier generation of scholars such as Needham (1954), Nelson (1987), Zilsel (1942) have been all but forgotten. Abram’s (1982: 2) challenge – ‘tr y asking serious questions about the contemporar y world and see if you can do without historical answers’ or C. Wright Mills’ (1980: 162) contention that ‘all sociology worthy of the name is historical sociology’ ought to be taken seriously. In this paper, the insights of moderate social constructivism are articulated with a macro-structural, historical world-system perspective. The key contribution of sociology of science, the rejection of a teleological unfolding of predetermined scienti c knowledge that is universal, ahistorical and objective is articulated with the larger systemic structural transformations that simultaneously created the conditions for the constitution and transformation both science and social structures. 40 Zaheer Baber THE COLONIAL CONSTRUCTION OF MODERN SCIENCE In view of the detailed and theoretically sophisticated analyses of almost every imaginable aspect of colonial rule in India, the relative dearth of studies focusing on the co-construction of science, empire and culture in colonial India is indeed surprising. The few outstanding exceptions (Prakash 1999; Philip 1998; Kumar 1995) constitute the proverbial exceptions that highlight this scholarly gap. Scienti c knowledge and technology played a signi cant role in the expansion of colonial rule in India and the consequent incorporation of the Indian sub-continent into the capitalist world-system (Wallerstein 1990, 1974). While existing European science and technology were signi cant factors in the insertion of the fragmenting Mughal Empire into the modern world-system, colonization itself contributed to the constitution of modern science and technology. The colonization of nature, territory and people in British India led to a mutually constitutive interplay of structure and agency at a variety of levels (Giddens 1984). At a macro-level, confronted with the imperative of exploiting, ruling and rationally administering vast tracts of land and complex societies, the colonial authorities sought to deploy available expertise to acquire knowledge for the purposes of rendering visible, the subjects and objects of power. On a micro-level, a number of ‘amateur scientists’ associated with the colonial structures sought to capitalize on their usefulness to the expansion of empire by pursuing their own scienti c interests. The var ying degrees of overlap between colonial structures and the agency of amateur scientists led to a productive tension, the continual re-negotiation of which contributed to signi cant consequences for the making of scienti c knowledge, technology, colonial rule and the modern world-system. Of course, colonial rule in India did not go uncontested. The strategy and mode of resistance by Indians was not uniform, and varied according to the speci c position of actors and classes within the evolving colonial social structure which itself was conditioned by speci c structural ties to the evolving world capitalist economy. Members of some classes, whose interests were closely intertwined with the fortunes of colonial power sought to manouvre colonial structures and institutions for their own goals. Others, not quite yet strongly implicated in the new structures, rejected all aspects of colonialism. The coming of age of a new generation of Indian scientists, educated in colonial institutions sought to engage the diverse structures of colonialism in various ways, ranging from co-operation to resistance through the setting up of parallel institutions of science. These multifarious levels of play between structure and agency had consequences not just for science and society in India, but in Britain too. The dominant narrative of modern science continues to deploy what has come to be known as the Whig interpretation of histor y. The past is retroactively reconstructed to establish and demonstrate the inevitability of the present. A quasi-natural linkage between Western Europe and modern science and technology is assumed in order to trace the one way diffusion of the latter Colonizing nature 41 to the ‘people without history’ (Wolf 1982) who were presumably people without science too. This paper seeks to disrupt this narrative by restoring an historical, sociological and critical dimension necessary for making sense of the patterns of structuration (Giddens 1984) established during this relatively neglected phase in the constitution of modern science and technology. THE DEBATE OVER PRE-COLONIAL SCIENCE The dominant narrative on science and empire is provided by Basalla (1967). Adopting a three-stage model that is unambiguously Eurocentric, Basalla conceives of colonialism as the major agency for the inscription of modern science from Europe to non-European societies. A diametrically opposed view comes from Alvares (1980) and Goonatilake (1984) who contend that pre-colonial India was characterized by an uninterrupted legacy of scienti c tradition that was abruptly ‘aborted’ due to colonial intervention. These scholars focus on the un-answerable question of ‘what might have been’ while failing to grapple with real historical processes and contingencies. In the current upsurge of Hindutva, these arguments continue to feed into ongoing discourses and practices that connect with speci c modes of dominance in contemporar y India. These contemporar y narratives amplify themes from the colonial past. Basalla’s view reiterates a position articulated by the colonial administrator Charles Grant in 1792 Except a few Brahmins, who consider the concealment of their learning as part of their religion, the people are totally misled as to the system and phenomena of Nature . . . the communication of our light and knowledge to them, would prove the best remedy’s for their disorders . . . (Mahmood 1895) For James Mill the Surya Siddhanta is the great repository of the astronomical knowledge of the Hindus . . . This book itself is the most satisfactor y of all proofs of the low state of science among the Hindus, and the rudeness of the people from whom it proceeds . . . (Mill 1840) The oft-quoted minute of 1835 of Macaulay, about Indian ‘medical doctrines which would disgrace an English farrier, astronomy which would move laughter in girls at an English boarding school’ (Sharpe 1920) further consolidates this dominant discourse. A radically different view was championed by William Jones, founder of the Asiatic Society what their astronomical and mathematical writings contain, will not, I trust, remain long a secret: they are easily procured and their importance cannot be doubted. ( Jones 1799) 42 Zaheer Baber Indeed Jones felt con dent enough to invoke Archimedes to assert: ‘Give us time, we may say, for our investigations, and we will transfer to Europe all the sciences, arts and literature of Asia’ ( Jones 1799: 345). These narratives were obviously connected to larger issues of strategies of colonial rule, governance, resistance and contestation. They continue to resurface in contemporar y India, where debates over Vedic science and technology constitute the foil for larger struggles over whether the nation will continue to be multi-religious and diverse or will succumb to the homogenizing, Hindutva project of the current Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) regime. In their search for Vedic science current political imperatives are increasingly transforming the Rig Veda into the ‘Rigged Veda’ (Rajesh Kochhar, personal communication). The debates over scienti c knowledge and technology have always been as much about how society ought to be structured and organized as about technical issues. Struggles over the direction of science and technology in postcolonial India as elsewhere are invariably also struggles over the grammar of social and power relations. As such, the issue at the heart of the ‘science wars’ of whether science is only nature and not culture or only culture and not nature overstates idealized views of both science and society. SURPLUS AND SCIENCE Like other civilizations, ancient and medieval India constituted the site for a wide range of scienti c and technical innovations. However, historical evidence provides little support for either of the diametrically opposed perspectives discussed above. There were periods of intense scienti c and technological activity, punctuated by long fallow periods. According to Br yan Turner (1987) one of the general requirements of sustained scienti c and technological activity in traditional societies is the availability of economic surplus to patronize a scienti c stratum. The extension of patronage at various points of history did indeed provide the structural conditions for sustained intellectual activity in India. The case of the scholar-statesman Jai Singh in late medieval India is just one example that illustrates this general point. Scienti c activity in pre-colonial India ourished in situations where relatively strong states deployed surplus to patronize strata of scientists, scholars and technicians. The construction of an imminent indigenous scienti c revolution or the complete lack of any scienti c activity is inaccurate. Pre-colonial India’s share of contribution to the world tradition of science and technology includes: trigonometr y, the concepts of sines, the concept of zero, the modern numeral system, the cotton gin, the parallel worm rolling mill, the toe-stirrup, the noria (a device used in irrigation), the drill plough and crucible-cast steel. But there is little evidence to support the contention that an imminent Indian scienti c revolution was extinguished by colonialism. Colonizing nature 43 THE CONSOLIDATION OF THE EAST INDIA COMPANY By the time the East India Company managed to establish a foothold in Bengal in 1757, the relatively centralized Mughal empire was fragmenting, giving way to a series of regional formations that asserted independence from the centre. This fragmentation was set in motion as a consequence of the British incursions into India. The growth in maritime trade, commercialization and the emergence of new social classes and consequent political transformations posed challenges to the central authority of the Mughal empire (Bayly 1983, 1990). The transformation of the Mughal empire into a number of regional states, precipitated by a combination of internal and external structural changes, constituted part of a larger world historical transformation that led to similar fates for the Ottoman and Safavid empires in West Asia (Bayly 1989). The erosion of Mughal authority led to the contraction of the institutional bases for sustained scienti c and technological activity. There were of course exceptions such as the Mysore region that resisted British incursions until 1799 and continued to exhibit a high degree of scienti c and technological sophistication, particularly in the elds of mathematics, astronomy, ship-building, textiles and steel manufacturing. MAPPING, MEASURING, ADMINISTERING After the acquisition of the formal rights to collect revenues in the states of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, the issue of obtaining accurate information about the extent of the produce, the population and other social statistics assumed signi cance. The detailed scienti c surveys initiated in the second half of the eighteenth century were possible due to the large number of amateur scientists employed by the Company. Over time, these surveys played a major role in the transformation of a trading company into a colonial state, the conversion of a number of ‘amateurs’ into ‘scientists’ and the incorporation of India into the modern world-system. The measuring and mapping of the newly acquired territories rendered visible what was for the colonial authorities, terra incognita and helped consolidate administrative power. Re ecting on the dearth of scienti cally executed maps, Clements Markham a senior administrator, observed existing maps were very inaccurate . . . only of service while India was an unknown region . . . but these ceased to be tolerable when that vast country became a British imperial possession, requiring to be administered. (Markham 1878: 399) Considered the founder of British geography, James Rennell arrived in India in 1760 barely three years after the decisive battle of Plassey. Rennell’s cartographic skills caught the attention of the governor of Bengal presidency, who was ‘anxious to inaugurate some system for 44 Zaheer Baber correcting and revising the geography of Bengal’ (Markham 1895: 43). Overriding protests from the Board of Directors in London who did not approve of a trading company engaged in such pursuits, Rennell was appointed the Surveyor General of Bengal. Rennell’s mapping out in great detail the area under the Company was indispensable for the rationalization of the extraction of surplus, administrative strategies and techniques of control. Rennell took the opportunity afforded by his position to conduct a wide range of studies in the emerging eld of physical geography and geology. In addition to preparing a ver y detailed and accurate map of inland navigation routes, signi cant both for commercial and strategic reasons, Rennell made detailed observations of the sedimentation process and possible causes of the change in the courses of major rivers. By the mid 1770s, Rennell had collected enough data and compiled enough maps for the Company to devote full attention to his scienti c pursuits. In 1777 he left for England, and two years later he published the Bengal Atlas that led to his election to the Royal Society. With the support of the President of the Society, Rennell published the Map of Hindustan that was judged by the scienti c community of England to represent the best in cartographic achievement of the time. In addition to mapping and representing colonial India, Rennell’s cartographic labours contributed to the development of scienti c geography and geology in Britain. His 1781 paper discussing the sedimentation process and the factors involved in the change of courses of rivers also provided data for the formulation of general laws of the sedimentation process. Indeed Rennell’s data were deployed for the social construction of opposing scienti c arguments. In his Theory of the Earth (1795) James Hutton argued that the same operation is transacted ever ywhere; it is seen upon the plains of Indostan, in the Haughs of Scotland; the Ganges operates upon its banks and is employed in changing its bed continually as well as the Tweed. Refuting this view, Richard Kirwan used the same data to argue that rivers do not carr y into the sea the spoils which they bring from the land, but empty them in the formation of deltas of low alluvial land at their mouths according to what Major Rennell has proved. (Baker 1963: 143) Geologist John Playfair utilized the same data to defend Hutton against Kirwan’s criticisms the detail into which Mr. Rennell has entered in the passage referred to by Mr Kirwan does credit to the acuteness and accuracy of the excellent geographer. But it was not there asserted that rivers employ all the materials which they carry with them, in the formation of those deltas, and deliver none of them into the sea. On the contrary, they carry, from Colonizing nature 45 the delta itself mud and earth, which they deposit nowhere but the sea. (Playfair 1964: 428) With reference to the ‘science wars’, these controversies revolved not around either nature or culture, but encompassed both. ‘Nature’ constructed by Rennell’s interpretive framework was further constructed in dramatically different ways by other scientists armed with a variety of theoretical perspectives. Both nature and science as culture were co-produced in the process. In addition to this long ranging controversy that played a signi cant role in the development of geological knowledge, Rennell’s work was also incorporated in the key text of the time, C. Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830). Rennell’s reputation as a scientist extended beyond Britain and data from his Memoir of the Map of Hindoostan continued to be incorporated in the work of a wide circle of European geographers and geologists such as Humboldt and Carl Ritter. THE SCIENCE OF TAMING AN ’ORIENTAL DESPOT’ Rennell’s surveys contributed to the organized trignometrical, topographical, revenue and statistical surveys that followed after the defeat of Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1799. As indicated by the number of large watercolours devoted by J. W. Turner to the nal showdown in 1799, Tipu’s sustained resistance to British power had a major impact on the general consciousness in Britain. Covent Garden was the venue for many plays about Tipu Sultan who was represented as the archetypical ‘Oriental Despot’. Thomas de Quincey extolled the virtues of the ‘British bulldog’ against Tipu the tyrannical ‘Bengal tiger’ and decades later, while strolling down the streets of Bristol, the Indian reformer, Ram Mohun Roy was set upon by groups of school kids screaming ‘Tipu! Tipu!’ (Barrell 1991; Forrest 1970). The scienti c knowledge that emerged as a consequence of the surveys of Mysore contributed not just to the consolidation of administrative power, but also in the resolution of Governer-General Welleseley’s battles with the Court of Directors in London who resisted further territorial expansion in India. However, the colonial administrators in India persisted with their campaigns, convinced that they would be able to demonstrate the economic and strategic importance of Mysore state to the company. The scienti c reports the surveys of Mysore provided Welleseley with the data to wage his ideological battles with the Court of Directors. The key gures associated with the surveys, Colin Mackenzie, William Lambton and Francis Buchanan were also aspiring scientists who took advantage of the patronage afforded by the company for pursuing their own interests. Mackenzie’s ethnographic notes contributed to imperial perceptions of the caste-system and the grid of anthropological knowledge through which 46 Zaheer Baber administrative power was deployed. Francis Buchanan saw himself as a botanist, and made sure that he surveyed the least populated lands in order to collect as many botanical specimens as he could for his personal herbarium (Vicziany 1986). He applied the Linnean taxonomical schema to his extensive collection and his work was utilized by the botanist James Smith for his book Exotic Botany. Buchanan’s botanical writings led to his election to the Royal Society in 1805, and his scienti c pursuits took him back to India in 1807. His botanical work continues to be the subject of commentaries and investigation of contemporar y botanists (Vicziany 1986). Ultimately, the issue so hotly debated by the science warriors as to whether scienti c knowledge is a pure social construction or re ects nature is largely beside the point. The representation of nature as a consequence of the surveys in voluminous reports and tracts was the basis for reengineering the social and physical landscape as well as scienti c theories and knowledge. Nature, culture and colonial power were inextricably implicated in the production of scienti c knowledge and of colonial society. TAMING CHANCE AND CONSTITUTING MODERN INDIA Over the decades, scienti c knowledge produced from mapping and surveying played a major role in the constitution of the modern nation-state of India. The accumulated scienti c knowledge imparted concrete shape to a xed territorial entity, inhabited by people who with the help of the new scienti c discourses had been classi ed, categorized, ordered and invested with speci c characteristics. These scienti c discourses played a signi cant role in the discursive construction of the modern Indian nation-state. In a recent study, Hobsbawm refers to the ‘element of artefact, invention and social engineering which enters into the making of nations’ (1991: 10). The map-making and surveying activities of ‘scienti c-soldiers’ in colonial India played a signi cant role in engineering the formal characteristics of the state whose administrative reach was far more than ever in history. It may be argued that the work of Rennell and other surveyors was quite amateurish, and not really scienti c. However, the term ‘scientist’ itself is a nineteenth-century invention, coined by William Whewell and the work of the surveyors in India was informed by the existing scienti c paradigms of eighteenth-centur y Europe. This tradition evolved from a system of belief and value to the empirical documentation of known facts. The surveys of Scotland and the rise of social statistics aimed at ‘the taming of chance’ (Hacking 1990, 1991) were the models for the surveys in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century India. The Humboldtian paradigm for example, consisted of the attempt to discover quantitative mathematical inter-relationships and laws that could be represented on charts and graphs. The surveyors in India were contributing to the consolidation of colonial rule and the simultaneous development of modern scienti c knowledge. Colonizing nature 47 INSTITUTIONALIZING MODERN SCIENCE If the early surveyors managed to realize their scienti c goals through the surveys, a parallel impetus for the institutionalization of science came from the founding in 1784 of the Asiatic Society by William Jones. Jones expected the Asiatic Society to ‘advance to maturity as the Royal Society, which at rst was only a meeting of a few literar y friends at Oxford’, ( Jones 1799: x–xi). Jones instructed the members of the society to examine their improvements and methods in arithmetick, and geometr y, in trignometr y, mensuration, mechanicks, opticks, astronomy, and general physics; their skill in chiruger y, and medicine and their advancement in anatomy and chemistr y. ( Jones 1799: xiv) Asiatic Researches, the journal of the Society was the forum for the dissemination of scienti c research in India. Jones was an ardent botanist, and had in the past collaborated with the botanist Gerard Koenig, a student of Carl Linneaus. He was particularly interested in studying the local Indian taxonomical schemes, with the aim of reducing their diversity and variety into what he called the ‘natural order’ of the Linnean model. At the same time he wanted to modify the Linnean system because it focused on the reproductive system The allegory of sexes and nupitals, even if it were complete, ought, I think, to be discarded, as becoming the gravity of men, who while they search for truth, have no business to in ame their imaginations . . . nor can the Linnean description of many plants be read in English without exciting ideas which the occasion does not require. Hence it is that no well born and educated woman can be advised to amuse herself with botany, as it is now explained. ( Jones 1799: 348) Building on work of William Roxburgh, Jones published four papers that advanced a new classi cation scheme for plants from India. Over the years, the Asiatic Society was the institutional centre of organized scienti c research in colonial India. As Saha, one of the leading Indian scientists put it, ‘like the banyan tree, the Asiatic Society has thrown all around itself ariel roots, which have developed into self-contained institutions having little contact with the mother body’ (Saha 1946: xvi). By the late nineteenth-century, the Asiatic Society was an anachronism as far as scienti c research was concerned, but its role of introducing and institutionalizing modern ‘western’ science and stimulating new research in colonial India was signi cant. A TONIC FOR ORIENTAL INFIRMITIES In the Anglicist–Orientalist controversy of 1835, admininstrators associated with the Asiatic Society constituted the ‘Orientalist’ faction that clashed 48 Zaheer Baber with the Anglicists over the future of scienti c education. At issue was the appropriate scienti c education for legitimizing colonial rule through the agency of the Indian subjects. The Anglicists, led by Thomas Macaulay, and representing the utilitarian views of James Stuart Mill argued that Western science taught in English ought to replace indigenous scienti c education. Macaulay echoed views earlier articulated by James Stuart Mill, Henry Maine, Charles Grant etc. According to Maine The Indian intellect stood in need, beyond and everything else, of strict criteria of truth. It required a treatment to harden and brace it, and scienti c teaching was exactly the tonic which its in rmities called for. (Strachey 1911: 297) Another administrator, S. Goodfellow contended In prosecuting the study and in contemplating the structure of the universe, and in the consequences resulting from them, they can scarcely fail of relieving themselves from a load of prejudices and superstition; they will thus gradually, in proportion as their scienti c knowledge is spread, become better men and subjects, and less likely even to be made the tools of any ambitious man or fanatic. (cited in Dionne and Macleod 1979: 60) The oft-quoted speech of Thomas Macaulay added yet another twist to a dominant narrative. Disdainful of the ‘arti cial encouragement to absurd history, absurd metaphysics, absurd physics and absurd theology’, Macaulay urged the committee to their best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions who we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. (Sharpe 1920: 110–117) The ‘Orientalist’ faction, cautioned against a complete break from existing pedagogical practice Without wishing to enhance the value of Oriental studies beyond a fair just standard . . . the sciences as found in Sanscrit are fully as worthy of being studied. The arithmetic and algebra of the Hindus lead to the same principles as those of Europe and in the Madressa, the elements of mathematical science, which are taught are those of Euclid. (Sharpe 1920: 95–98) While agreeing with the Anglicists on signi cance of the deployment of scienti c discourses for the production of loyal subjects, they disagreed over the techniques of accomplishing this goal. In their view, ever yone in the habit of communicating with both the learned and unlearned classes here, must well be aware, that generally speaking they continue to hold European literature and science in very slight estimation. (Sharpe 1920: 95–98) Colonizing nature 49 They feared that dramatic changes might contribute to a legitimation crisis we shall avail ourselves of ever y favourable opportunity of introducing them to European sciences when it can be done without offending the feelings and forfeiting the con dence of those whose advantage the introduction of European sciences is designed. (Sharpe 1920: 97) The Anglicists’ perspective was adopted by the colonial establishment, both in India and Britain and led to the transformation of the educational system and the language of instruction. Charles Wood’s educational dispatch of 1854 exuded an air of nality the systems of science which form the learning of the East abound with grave errors . . . Asian learning, however widely diffused, would but little advance our object. (Richey 1922: 366) The dispatch went on to recommend the ‘diffusion of the improved arts, science, philosophy and literature of Europe’ because this knowledge will teach the natives of India the marvelous results of the employment of labour and capital, rouse them to emulate us in the development of the vast resources of their country . . . and at the same time secure to us a larger and more certain supply of many articles necessar y for our manufacture . . . as well as an almost inexhaustible demand for the produce of British labour. (Richey 1922: 365) THE INDIAN RESPONSE TO MODERN SCIENCE Depending on their speci c location in the rapidly evolving social structure, the changes were welcomed or rejected by Indians. The emergent elite in Bengal or the Bhadralok whose life-chances were inextricably intertwined with the fortunes of the colonial structure, welcomed the changes. English had replaced Persian as the language of the civil service and its acquisition ensured social mobility. The reformer Ram Mohun Roy articulated the views of this rising group we already offered our thanks to Providence for inspiring the most generous and enlightened nations of the West with the glorious ambition of planting in Asia the arts and sciences of modern Europe. (Sharpe 1920: 98–101) Condemning the Sanskrit college for instruction in indigenous sciences, Roy observed the sanskrit system of education would be best calculated to keep this country in darkness . . . the language is so dif cult that almost a lifetime is necessary for its acquisition, and it is well known to have been for ages a lamentable check on the diffusion of knowledge. (Sharpe, 1920: 98–101) 50 Zaheer Baber Roy’s views did not go unchallenged. At least 30,000 residents of Calcutta signed a petition in favour of the Sanskrit college and a new Madrassa. In the end however, the trajectory of the evolving colonial structures resonated with the aspirations of the new anglicized elite who were active agents in facilitating the consolidation of colonial structures and a particular kind of modernity and scienti c knowledge. Roy’s views were replicated a few decades later in northern India. Re ecting on the under-representation of Muslims in the colonial establishment, the reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan sought to amend the state of affairs. A colonial administrator, William Hunter, had earlier observed that the Muslims ‘have sunk so low that, even when quali ed for government employment, they are studiously kept out of it by Government noti cation’ (Reetz 1988: 208; Hunter 1872). On his part Sir Syed argued that in order to achieve a measure of social mobility under colonial rule, a Muslim needed to have ‘philosophy in his right hand and natural science in the left’. Like Roy, Sir Syed deployed the dominant colonial narrative in an attempt to carve out a space for Muslims. As he put it, ‘indigenous education of the countr y . . . gives rise to none of the practical results which have been the fruits of the study of positive science amongst European nations’ and to this end, he established the Aligarh Scienti c Society in 1864 with the objective of ‘causing the blessed morning of civilization to dawn on the night of ignorance and darkness which have for ages retarded the advance of this country’ (Habib 1991: 144). He was immediately denounced by co-religionists as an atheist, a ‘Hindustany Natury’ and a collaborator of colonial rule. Despite these protests, the Aligarh Scienti c Society was replicated in a number of places, and proved to be a signi cant vehicle for the transmission of modern science and sensibility into the Indian hinterland. Sir Syed’s project led to the establishment of the Mohammedan AngloOriental College in 1877, which was later to become the Aligarh Muslim University. Both Roy and Sir Syed represent dramatic examples of the signi cant role of Indian agency in the consolidation of colonial structures and the production of new forms of scienti c knowledge. ENGINEERING A COLONIAL SOCIAL STRUCTURE The establishment the Public Works Department in 1854 provided fresh impetus for the deployment of science and technology in grappling with problems precipitated by colonial rule. Declining revenues for the Company focused attention on gigantic irrigation and other public works projects. Prior to the establishment of the Public Works Department, a number of sporadic projects had already been executed. Of these, the Ganga Canal project required a large pool of trained engineers and the origins of the Thomason Civil Engineering College set up in Roorkee in 1845 lie in this particular project. This college was the precursor for similar institutions not only in India, but in Britain too. Up until that time, Colonizing nature 51 engineers in Britain were trained through a process of apprenticeship. The network of engineering schools at Roorkee, Calcutta, Poona and Madras were the models for formal technical education in Britain. The irrigation projects were expanded to include the railways (1849), the telegraph (1852), and the postal system (1850). Together, they represented the largest state-sponsored enterprise undertaken anywhere at that time. Lord Dalhousie, under whose tenure these projects were inaugurated, declared the railways, the telegraph and the postal system as the ‘three great engines of social improvement’. His predecessor William Bentinck had already termed the railways ‘the great engine of moral improvement’ in a countr y ‘cursed from one end to the other by the vice, the ignorance, the oppression, the despotism, the barbarous and cruel customs that have been the growth of ages under every description of Asian misrule’ (Adas 1989: 60). Later observers were to wax ever more eloquent on the role of the railways in the modernization of India. For W. A. Rogers of the Indian Civil Service, railways ‘are opening the eyes of the people . . . they teach them that speed attained is time, and therefore money, saved or made’ (Adas 1989: 226). The importance of a network of railways, connecting the cotton plantations of the Deccan region to the ports became signi cant especially during the ‘cotton famine’ of 1846 when the American supply of cotton staple was terminated. The railways provided a signi cant network of communication that led to the simultaneous incorporation and peripheralization of the Indian economy. Marx’s observation, till 1813, India had been chie y an exporting countr y, while it now became an importing one . . . the miser y hardly nds a parallel in the histor y of commerce . . . the bones of cotton weavers are bleaching the plains of India. (Marx 1977: 471) predates the railways but was further accelerated by it. Both Marx and Harriet Martineau were skeptical of the anticipated role of the railways as a technology for legitimating imperial power. As Martineau, put it, the great fundamental condition of goodness of ever y sort – the patient slowness – seems to the Hindoo to be overthrown by our inventions. Immutability, patience, indolence, stagnation have been the venerable things which the Hindoos hated the Mussulmans for invading with their superior energy; and now what is Mussulman energy in comparison with ours, judged by our methods of steaming by sea and land, and ashing our thoughts over 1000 miles a second. (Martineau 1857: 257) Likewise Marx observed ‘in India serious complications, if not a general outbreak, are in store for the British government’ (Marx and Engels 1976: 340). Almost immediately after Dalhousie left India, secure in the belief that the double engines of moral improvement and legitimacy were at work, the rebellion of 1857 put an end to such expectations. The rebellion was partly triggered in response to the wide-ranging transformations in the social 52 Zaheer Baber structure triggered off by the introduction of new technologies. In the end, the rebellion was violently suppressed by the ver y technologies that had precipitated it in the rst place. SCIENTIFIC SOLUTIONS FOR COLONIAL PROBLEMS The scienti c landscape after the imposition of direct crown control in 1858 was shaped by institutionalized faith in science and technology as solutions to problems generated by colonialism. Famines, precipitated by the xing of revenues to be extracted from the land regardless of variable productivity, were a recurring problem. Repeatedly ignoring the recommendations of its own Famine Commissions that emphasized the need to develop industries to provide employment for peasants uprooted from the land, the state authorities acted on peripheral recommendations such as the need for the diffusion and application of a scienti c knowledge of agriculture in India, and the provision of a class of of cers who shall possess such knowledge and be in a position to apply it effectively. (Report of the Famine Commission 1880: 139) One of the more intriguing recommendations was the need for systematic research in the area of solar physics. Some scientists had claimed that there was a correlation between sun-spot activities, frequency of rainfall and famines. Ignoring the fact that even their own administrators at the local level blamed the aggressive implementation of the Permanent Settlement Policy, the state funded a number of meteorological research stations for collecting elaborate data on rainfall and sunspot activities. The strategy of substituting science for changes in social policy led to the creation of a number of agricultural research stations. The problem of famines was not resolved. By the time the new Viceroy, George Curzon, took over in 1898, the country was still to recover from the famine of 1897. Predictably enough, Curzon referred to the ‘great experiment in the march of science’ in India, adding that ‘in proportion as we teach the masses science, so we shall make their lot happier, and in proportion as they are happier, so they will become useful members of the body-politic’ (Curzon Papers) The deployment of scienti c knowledge for tackling recurring famines became an article of faith under Curzon, and the Royal Commissions on Agriculture were expressly instructed to ‘exclude from the scope of recommendations all matters which might cause embarrassment, arouse apprehension or form subjects of public controversy, e.g. systems of land ownership and tenancy assessment, land revenue, and irrigation charges’. The famine situation worsened under Curzon and the administration was under pressure by the Indian elite and some colonial administrators who had witnessed the devastation and depopulation of Bengal. Curzon Colonizing nature 53 appealed to the intractability of nature ‘to ask any Government to prevent the occurrence of famine in a country, the meteorological conditions of which are what they are here, is to ask us to wrest the keys of the universe from the hands of the almighty’. Responding to the criticisms from England, Curzon admitted to being amazed ‘that that class of critic is, as a rule to be found among a small set of my own countr ymen. It seems to me so perverse – almost wicked’. Rejecting the recommendation of his own Industrial Commission, Curzon focused on scienti c research as the solution for dealing with the problem. In 1902 he sought to institute the Board of Scienti c Advice, a central organization for co-ordinating scienti c research. In England too, this was a period when the Royal Society had greatly expanded its role in advising the British state. The agenda of the BSA was speci ed by Curzon in the following terms In view of the fact that the Indian government owns the largest landed estate in the world, that the prosperity of the countr y is mainly dependent on agriculture . . . the importance of practical research is preeminent. A resolution passed by the government of British India in 1903, stressed without reason that ‘undue prominence has been given in the past to pure science, to the neglect of its economic application’. LEARNING FROM COLONIAL INDIA British scientists followed the activities of the BSA with keen interest. Three decades earlier, prominent scientists had urged the creation of the Scienti c Advisor y Council to advise the British government on scienti c matters. Their proposals were never implemented and for the rst time in British histor y, the ef cacy of a state sponsored organization possessing central authority to direct scienti c research was tested through this institutional experiment. Norman Lockeyer, the editor of Nature sought to revive the idea by arguing that ‘the importance of such a Board is many times greater at home with so many external interests to look after – problems common to peace and war, problems requiring the help of the economic as well as the physical sciences’. In Britain this was a period of the ‘national ef ciency movement’ led by J. B. S. Haldane and Sydney and Beatrice Webb. This movement advocated the central coordination of scienti c policy and the BSA was increasingly held out as a model for organizing scienti c research in Britain. The Advisory Council on Scientic and Industrial Research established in Britain in 1915, was similar in structure and function as the BSA in India. The principle of central coordination, pioneered in colonial India, gradually became part of the received wisdom in scienti c circles in Britain. In 1923 the BSA was dissolved and superseded by many specialized scienti c bodies but its legacy lived on in 54 Zaheer Baber Britain where a number of organizations drawing upon the lessons of the institutional experiments in colonial India were set up. These include: The Committee of Civil Research (1925); the Economic Advisory Council (1930); the Council for Scienti c Policy (1966–73) and the Central Advisory Committee on Science and Technology (Dionne and Macleod 1979). A NEW GENERATION OF INDIAN SCIENTISTS The transformation of the educational system and the creation of new institutions of science and technology contributed to the emergence of a new generation of Indian scientists eager to take advantage of the new conditions. Scientists like J. C. Bose, P. C. Ray etc. traveled to Britain for education, where they worked with eminent scientists like Rayleigh, Francis Darwin, Ramsay, Kelvin etc. Despite their accomplishments in Britain, they faced hostility, discrimination and were assigned lower level positions on their return to India. Their interest in basic research was continually devalued by the colonial authorities who preferred British scientists to grapple with theoretical issues. These Indian scientists were partly creations of colonial scienti c structures whose ef cacy as active agents was consistently circumscribed by the same structures. As Patrick Geddes, a pioneer of Sociology in India noted: ‘There was a strong doubt, not to say prejudice against the capacity of an Indian to take any important position in science. It was assumed that Indians had no aptitude for the exact methods of science’ (Visvanathan 1985: 28). The institutionalized hostility was partly responsible for the establishment of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) by Mahinder Lal Sircar in 1876. Convinced that there was no other alternative to the creation of parallel institutions of science that were ‘entirely under native management and control’, Sircar used every opportunity to contest the attempt of the colonial government to channel Indians into technical education. As such, the IACS represented a major challenge by Indian scientists to the dominant ideologies and institutions of British colonialism. The founding of the IACS was immediately mocked by the President of The Indian League no one could hail the day with greater favour than himself if that scheme could give rise to Indian Galileos, Indian Newtons, Indian Herschels. . . . [but] existing circumstances compel him and his friends think of utilizing the discoveries already made before aspiring after such discoveries. (Palit 1991: 157) Supporters of the new institution such as Rev. Eugene Lafont retorted The IACS was not intended to produce Newtons, Galileos, and Herschels, though even that was not impossible but its primary object was ver y different. The Indian League wanted to transform the Hindus into Colonizing nature 55 a number of mechanics requiring forever European supervision whereas Dr Sircar’s object was to emancipate in the long run his countr ymen from this humiliating bondage. (Palit 1991: 157–58) Undeterred by outright hostility, members of the IACS managed to raise enough funds to build sophisticated laboratories comprising instruments imported into India for the rst time. An entire generation of Indian scientists was able to pursue careers away from the atmosphere of British and Indian hostility. Sircar’s belief that Indian scientists would never excel in their chosen eld under conditions of institutional hostility was decisively vindicated when C. V. Raman, one of the students of the IACS was awarded the Nobel prize in 1930. The IACS was eventually transformed from a parallel to a mainstream institution and merged with Calcutta University. The determined attempt to create and foster this parallel institution represents a signi cant moment in the development of scienti c knowledge in India. It also represents an important institutional act by Indian scientists seeking to be active agents confronting the oppressive colonial structures that had constituted them as subjects. This complex interplay of structure and agency during the colonial period was indispensable for the speci c trajectory of science and technology in postcolonial India (Baber 1996). In the postcolonial period, institutions of science have been actively deployed as substitutes for social policy and as symbols of power for the Indian state that seeks to be a player on the world stage. The recent nuclear detonations seek to address domestic political concerns as well as the pervasive social insecurities of members of the rising middle-class experience vis-à-vis the rest of the world. SCIENCE, COLONIALISM, AND THE MODERN WORLD-SYSTEM The role of science and technology in facilitating the incorporation of Indian society into the emergent world-system has only recently become the focus of scholarly attention. This paper has elaborated on speci c elements of the incorporation of colonial imperatives and agendas into scienti c and technological projects that contributed to the dramatic restructuring of science and society in both India and Britain. To come back to the issue of ‘moderate constructivism’ largely ignored by critics of science studies engaged in the ‘science wars’, there is no doubt that certain structural and ideological features of colonialism left their imprint on scienti c knowledge and institutions. Scienti c knowledge, technology, colonialism and the modern world-system co-produced each other in speci c ways that were in uenced both by the long-term structural changes and by the agency of amateur scientists in India and Britain. To talk past each other about the determinate role of nature or culture as some science warriors do, is to ignore the fact that both are intimately implicated in the production of knowledge of nature. The multiple nodes of contestation, 56 Zaheer Baber resistance and co-optation at various levels constitute an important, but largely untold stor y of colonial construction of and the co-production of science, technology, colonialism and modernity. Modern India was literally engineered into existence as much by the panoply of scienti c discourses, the surveys, the censuses and technological projects as by the transformations of social structures and ideologies. Re ections on nature and the recon guration of the social and physical landscape possible by the technological interventions of various kinds made possible the inscription and constitution of new classes, hierarchies and regions, even as these processes contributed to the emergence of new scienti c knowledge, technologies and the consolidation of the modern world-system. The argument, still frequently encountered, that ‘Western’ science and technology were forcibly imposed on a society devoid of any scienti c tradition is as misleading as the reverse argument that India was en route to a scienti c revolution that was prematurely terminated by colonialism. The related idea, promoted simultaneously by ‘science warriors’ on both sides of the fence (Gross and Levitt 1994; Harding 1998) that modern science and technology represent a constitutive feature of a peculiarly ‘Western’ reason and logic is highly debatable. As this paper has sought to establish, modes of scienti c thinking and institutions in India played a signi cant role in the constitution and consolidation of what is now regarded as modern science and technology. The comforting and self-serving dichotomy between a presumably domineering and inherently exploitative ‘Western’ science versus an alleged kindler and gentler non-Western or Indian science does not stand up to sociological or historical scrutiny. (Date accepted: October 2000) Zaheer Baber Department of Sociology National University of Singapore ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Different versions of this paper were presented at the School of History, Technology and Society, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta; Fernand Braudel Centre at SUNY-Binghamton, the 12th International Conference of Europeanists, Chicago. I thank Barbara Abou-El-Haj, Michal Bodemann, Paul E. Brodwin, Joe M. Bryant, Despina Iliopoulou, Anthony D. 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