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Abstracts for Twentieth Century Think Tank

The Twentieth Century Think Tank offers broad coverage of 20th- and 21st-century topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of science, technology and medicine. The regular programme of papers and discussions takes place on Thursdays over lunch.

Think Tank meetings are held on Thursdays, 1–2pm in Seminar Room 2. All welcome!

Organised by Richard Staley, Mary Brazelton, Joseph Martin and Jesse Olszynko-Gryn.

Michaelmas Term 2017

Show overview

5 October Jahnavi Phalkey (King's College London)
German émigré scientists and engineers and aeronautics in India
I wish to explore the stories of German émigré scientists and engineers in India through the history of India's first jetfighter, Marut – HF 24. For this, I selectively study three separate waves of German emigration to India from the 1930s to the 1950s and trace their links to the development of facilities for advanced research and education in aeronautics and aerodynamics, and eventually to manufacturing of aircraft. Two aspects of this story are significant: the transnational networks of German speaking aeronautical engineers and scientists, including that of Indian students trained in Germany, and the constraints of Cold War geopolitics as they shaped the conditions under which the aircraft could be manufactured. I make two arguments: the first concerns the nature of state power in India after independence; and the second is about the specific configuration of the military-industrial-academic complex in India, an idea that is yet to receive substantial attention.
19 October Eglė Rindzevičiūtė (Kingston University)
A struggle for the Soviet future: the birth of scientific forecasting in the Soviet Union
This paper argues for the importance of Soviet forecasting and scientific future studies in shaping Soviet governmentalities in the post-Stalinist period. The de-Stalinization of Soviet governance not only involved the abolition of Iosif Stalin's personality cult but also led to wider intellectual changes in conceptions of the nature, possibilities, and tasks of governance. Some of these changes, such as the impact of cybernetics after its rehabilitation in 1956, have been explored by historians of science and technology. However, although cybernetic control is based on prediction and therefore principally oriented toward the future, a new branch of scientific governance, scientific forecasting, has been overlooked, despite its transformative role as an applied policy science. Scientific forecasting sought to generate knowledge about the future states of the Soviet economy and society, becoming a field of reform, innovation, and power struggle, one that needs to be rediscovered by scholars. This paper (recently published in Slavic Review) lays the groundwork for such rediscovery, outlining a brief history of Soviet scientific forecasting and drawing out its relation to east-west intellectual and governmental interaction.
9 November Bernhard Leitner (University of Vienna)
Neuro-empire: rise of a medical-scientific discipline in modern Japan
The foundation of the Institute for Anatomy and Physiology of the Central Nervous System in Vienna in the year 1882 marks without a doubt the birth of neurology as a science based medical discipline. This paper attempts to answer the question why already after a short period of time a significant number of Japanese scholars visited the renowned Viennese laboratory. I argue that the appropriation of cutting-edge scientific knowledge by Japanese medical professionals not only altered the trajectories of adjacent medical disciplines like psychiatry, but at the same time promised solutions to a range of problems of the young modern Japanese nation on a national as well as international scale. Historians of science have extensively studied German influences on the formation of academia in Meiji-Japan (1868–1912), but have consistently overlooked an Austrian institution and the vital role it played in this process, a role possibly concealed in a tacit dimension.
16 November Paul A. Roth (University of California, Santa Cruz)
The structure of structure: how Kuhn establishes that science requires historical explanation
As is well known, Kuhn restricts a designation of 'normal science' to those disciplines with accepted research practices. What makes for normal science, of course, shifts with changes in paradigms on Kuhn's account. Now this way of specificying normal science has a whiff of circularity inasmuch as it defines normal science by reference to 'scientific research', but that can be overlooked. Sufficient for my purpose will be to take as a 'science' whatever comes to pass as such. In this respect, given the century old controversy regarding history's status as a science, I propose focusing rather on the question of how whatever passes as 'normal science' comes to achieve that status. My argument will be that any answer to a question about how normal science comes to be, i.e., one that develops a non-a priori causal/explanatory account, will have to utilize what I term an 'essentially narrative explanation'. In other words, my account shows how in SSR Kuhn crafts a narrativized account of normal science. This will count as naturalistic in a minimalist sense inasmuch as it does not begin with any philosophical definition of what is or is not a science, and utilizes in its explanation nothing more than facts narratively ordered so as to explain (in the sense of revealing how a later point time results from earlier ones) how what comes to be called science achieves that status. Understanding Kuhn's work in this way helps naturalize narrative explanation through a form of mutual containment — since narrative helps constitute any understanding of what counts as normal science, that narrative becomes a part of any account that comes to be viewed as science. It would be highly ironic then to reject an explanation form that in fact proves unavoidable for purposes of revealing why what passes as science at a particular time does so.