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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘From Machinofacture to Manufacture: Changing contours of the Science and Technology discourse in the 1970s and 1980s’ , 12th August, 2014.


The 1970s and 1980s saw interesting shifts in the discourse around science and technology. The easy equation of ‘advanced’ technologies with ‘development’ was contested in myriad ways, possibly prompted by the multiple voices of dissent and resistance articulated by labourers, cultivators and adivasis. Within the scientific establishment and without, an acknowledgement of the ‘failure’ of science to address crucial questions was thus accompanied by an attempted rethinking and reshaping of science and technology. This paper essentially seeks to map the changing contours of the debate around science and technology. It revisits the debates of the 1970s and the 1980s to trace the emergence of new concepts such as scarcity and conservation within the scientific discourse. It notes the somewhat muted appeals for a fresh engagement and reordering of ‘science’ and concomitant interrogation of not just the methodologies and content but also of the very intent of existing technological regimes. The varied responses to the ‘Statement on Scientific Temper’ released in 1982, the growth and expansion of the ‘People Science Movements’ and the establishment of ‘alternative’ departments such as ‘Application of Science and Technology for Rural Areas’ (ASTRA) and ‘Rural Development and Technology’ (RDAT) within the premier institutions of science and technology in this era are also studied in this effort to understand these attempted shifts in focus from ‘machinofacture to manufacture’, as the scientist Amulya Reddy put it.


In this lecture I will address these questions against the background of the intense debates on global equity and sustainability issues spurred in recent years by the concept of Anthropocene -- the current era when human societies impact nature on the planetary level. My ambition is to arrive at identifying some possible ways forward for the necessary undertaking to locate climate change more centrally in our historical understanding of human societies and the human enterprise.

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