Political Concepts at Brown: The Science Edition (Video 2)

Political Concepts at Brown: The Science Edition (Video 2)


SHARON KRAUSE:
I’m Sharon Krause, from the political
science department. And I’m delighted to be
moderating this session. I’m going to introduce
our two speakers. They’ll each go for
about 30 minutes, then we’ll have time
for conversation. Rebecca Nedostup is a colleague
of mine here at Brown, in the history department. She’s going to speak on the
topic of practice, or praxis. She works on politics, culture,
and society in 20th-century China and Taiwan. Author of a book called
Superstitious Regimes– Religion and the Politics
of Chinese Modernity. Barbara Herrnstein Smith is
going to speak about scientism. She’s the Braxton
Craven Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature
and English at Duke. The author of many books
and articles, among them– just to name a couple– Contingencies of Value–
Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory,
Scandalous Knowledge– Science, Truth, and the Human. And most recently, a book with
a very promising and exciting title, Practicing Relativism
in the Anthropocene– On Science, Belief,
and the Humanities. So welcome to both our speakers. Rebecca? REBECCA NEDOSTUP: Thank you
so much for the introduction, and thank you for the
invitation to be here. So in thinking
about the concept, or keyword, I’ve since
been playing around with the different
aspects of it. But I think where
I’m going to end up is taking it in the
direction of kind of practice, practical,
productive, efficacious. And the presentation
I want to make today has multiple inspirations. And one of them
comes out of the work that I’m doing
currently, which has to do with displacement
and wartime community building in China in Taiwan,
from the 1930s to the 1950s. But the other sort of
has to do with discourse, with which we’re
all too intimately familiar, about the fate
of liberal-arts education. And things that
I’ve been involved with as a director of
graduate studies in history, thinking about the
fate of the PhD– skills training in
history, and so on– in which the language of
practicality and praxis has been intimately involved. So I’ll start with
that framework– the sort of everyday
material underpinning and the public display
of higher education. So this challenge
to the liberal arts with which we’re very
familiar, and I imagine was part of the framing of
the topic of this iteration of political concepts,
has become particularly emphasized since 2008. And one can cherry
pick many examples, but I’ll just pick
the latest salvo which has shaken historians,
especially, which is a piece in the
newsletter of the American Historical Association
just a couple of weeks ago. Which reported that,
according to the National Center for Education Statistics,
“Of all the major disciplines, history has seen the
steepest declines in the number of bachelor
degrees awarded since 2008.” The author, Benjamin
Schmidt of Northeastern, argues that this
represents “a long-term low for the discipline
since the 1960s.” So there’s a lot to
unpack in that piece. If you haven’t read it, you
can find it on historians.org. And both colleagues in the
field and recipients of history bachelor’s degrees themselves
have set upon that work with alacrity– both Chronicle
of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed,
but also on Reddit– where on the history
subreddit there’s a very active discussion. But I’ll note just
Schmidt’s takeaway. He writes, “Ultimately, through
majors of course enrollments, the long-term state
of the discipline will rest on how it adapts
to a cohort of students and their parents who are much
less receptive to arguments for the liberal arts
than previous generations have been.” This, again, is
a common argument that I think we’ve all heard
from one source or another. “One strategy, he notes,
“might be to highlight the post-graduation earnings
averages for history majors, which”– according to a survey he
cites of University of Texas system grads– “outpace those not only
of English majors”– sorry– “but of neurobiology,
zoology, and ecology students.” So in this company,
I hardly need to go about unpacking the
kind of empirical basis of this sort of analysis. There’s all kinds of holes here. And I think we could also
engage with the premise, that economic pragmatism and
educational choices is sort of a place where educators
need to move forward, and sort of meet on a common
ground, with pre-set ideas that families are producing
this narrative, only. What kind of catches my
attention in these debates, though, is sort of the
familiar historian’s plaint– we have been here before. Not just in the sense that
American higher education has gone through
periods of leaning towards valuing pragmatism
and practical outcomes in education– albeit at times where
the material underpinning to both the American workforce
and the economics of colleges and universities has
been starkly different. But in fact, questions
about and debates about the “practical
application of learning” are ever-present
elemental underpinnings in intellectual history. And moreover, familiar
to scholars who work on contexts where access
to educational resources is a matter of
scarcity and urgency. And that’s kind of the context
in which I’m thinking here about urgency and emergency. So it’s a familiar trope
in modern Chinese history– my area– that, for example, the
anti-imperialist national unity movements of the
1910s were accompanied by calls for a
scientifically-based broadened education. It turns out, though,
that many of those who are issuing the call
quickly became gatekeepers to new educational
institutions– debating whether access
to those institutions should rest on the display
of literary prowess in essay writing– even if it was essay
writing on new topics– or on credentialing according
to a new testing regime which was based on the
transnational dialogue about standards
displayed according to IQ tests, multiple-choice
tests, or vocational testing. And this research is done by– I credit a graduate
student here at Brown, [? Shawn ?] Chu,
whose researched this, and scholars elsewhere as well. Prospective students
chafed under this apparent contradiction–
all the more after Japan invaded first the
Northeast of China, in 1931, gradually encroaching
on other parts of the country, until outright war
broke out in 1937. At this point, it’s interesting
to note that practical pursuits– and this term appears
in various ways in Chinese discourse– [CHINESE],, practical;
[CHINESE],, experimental; [CHINESE], yielding results. Practical pursuits in
education enterprise became a near universal
goal at the moment that war appeared
in the forefront. Nursing, nutrition,
agriculture, in particular– these are all areas of
national development earlier in the 1930s,
but they become subjects of deep and strategic
government investment, and popular interest alike. So of particular
interest to me– and where a number of
the strategic element and the popular
interest coincide– is the idea of refugee
management during wartime in postwar China. So in addition to
counting and certifying displaced persons,
which were estimated to reach as high as one quarter
of the Chinese population– around 90 to 100
million people during the second Sino-Japanese War. So through these methods with
which we’re all accustomed– survey, certification,
documentation, and so on– the nationalist government of
Chiang Kai-Shek carried out standard relief measures,
such as food and clothing distribution, in urban areas– i.e., the underpinnings of what
we have come to call the modern refugee regime– the philanthropic underpinning. But the element that suggests to
me the exploration of practice is the widespread
land-reclamation schemes, called [CHINESE] in Chinese– for the rural resettlement
of displaced persons. It should be emphasized that
these were proposed and used not only for rural refugees
who were originally farmers– despite the most
notorious case of this, which was in the aid of rural
victims of the 1942 Henan famine– something written about
by Micah Muscolino– which was caused by
Chiang Kai-Shek’s dike-breaching
military strategy, and the subsequent depredations
of the Yellow River basin. But for state-m building
entities during wartime, such as the nationalist
government in Chongqing, the Sino-Japanese
occupation regimes, as well as the communist-based
area governments, the broadest notion
of displacement stretched well beyond
groups of scattered persons who were seeking refuge from
the depredations of warfare. Each side sought
to retain and move economic,
governmental, cultural, and personnel resources, for
immediate tactical survival and long-term strategic victory. Viewed in this light,
it’s hardly surprising that they similarly viewed
emergently-displaced persons as potential resources in
political-military strategy. So for instance, in 1938,
the nationalist government started revising
its so-called plan for executing refugee
settlements that had emerged some
decades earlier, in order to take care
of disaster victims in Northeast China. Now, in the view of the
members of the government, this scheme show promise
for placing wartime refugees in previously politically
and military unstable inland areas, in which
it was now moving. Some areas where it did not have
previous government control– Hubei, Hunan,
Sichuan, and so on. They admitted that
there were problems in the early experiments,
that had to be overcome. For instance, the accurate
determination of available land. So this included things like
census survey, land survey, and so on. And so the government continued
to pursue this [INAUDIBLE] over the first years of the war. And at the same
time, we see a number of sympathetic
intellectuals undertaking the idea of turning
refugees into cultivators, and what we might
actually call settlers– as a way of expanding their own
practical knowledge– that is, of the intellectuals– and engagement
“with the people,” as well as bringing education
to the wide Chinese population. So there’s several
different layers of the idea of practice and
practicality happening here. And so we see charitable leaders
as well as rural reformers taken by the notion that
refugee re-settlements could simultaneously address
urgent problems of sustenance and the housing
of the displaced, but also contribute to
productivity in the wartime economy– by feeding the
nation, and by as some suggested, by replenishing
China’s population, who were being killed off. So two authors of two handbooks
[INAUDIBLE] and [? Jo ?] [? Yung ?] [? Shu, ?] who
were in Jiangxi province in the east, noted
this– that, for example, in their own area there were
cultivation projects carried out by the central government,
by [INAUDIBLE] University– a large, prominent university– by local-charitable groups,
local-aid organizations, and also the
Shanghai [CHINESE]—- which was a literary society. So the literary society had
also gotten in the spirit to join in. But [INAUDIBLE] commented,
“Their unfamiliarity with rural living led them to
a rapid return to the city, to pursue their old dreams.” So there were moments when the
intellectual dream of merging the displaced intellectuals
with the displaced farmers fell apart quite early. But there was a sort
of Utopian ideal that persisted in these
plans nonetheless. So the same [INAUDIBLE] wrote
of the rural settlements, “Those who have lost their
families will find a family. The unemployed will have work. Those without education
will be in school. No matter their place
of origin, no matter whether their level of
culture is high or low, the important thing
is that they will become productive persons.” The assumption, of course,
being that they were not before. “Their contentment will
return with responsibility, and their faces will demonstrate
the value of collective life. And not only that, but
soldiers and farmers would unite for the
patriotic revival of the national economy.” So this is sort of, I think,
a very accurate summation of the principle
behind these plans, which came from a number
of different levels. The interesting thing
behind these plans as well is that the idea was
not a kind of temporary solution to the economic problems
of displacement, but actually discouraging
displaced persons from returning to
their homelands. So the author Jo remarked
that “it was better to pick refugees who
were living on the front, because they would
have really felt the coercion of death and war– and therefore would
make receptive targets for propaganda.” He also discussed how
practical incentives could be given “in order
to give farmers the courage to leave their land”– meaning, leave their
homelands and resettle in these new areas. While [? Tung ?]
suggested a combination of rhetorical and
punitive devices, to keep settlers at their
new destinations. “Not only should
planners encourage farmers to resist
nostalgia by thinking of the settlements as their
second home place,” he said, “but they needed to
warn them that they would have to refund
the cost outlays if they chose to return home.” And actually there
were measures that were passed by the
government as well, in order to enact similar strategies. So without getting
further into the weeds of modern Chinese
history, I’ll just say that these schemes
are not unique. They have some precedent
earlier in Chinese history, and also resonate in most
interesting ways with what the Japanese colonial government
was doing in places like northern Korea, in
border settlements, in establishing strategic
hamlets in [? Manchupo ?] and [? Sowan. ?] And certainly
there are other examples around the world, where we can
make comparisons to this. But I think that
it’s useful to take a note of this
particular example as a corresponding model to the
idea of a philanthropic refugee aid. And then, also, as a new
step and an expanded step in the idea of practical
education and scientific education during wartime. It was noted that
settlements were also needed to establish order
in areas that were sparsely populated, in places where
there had been resistance by secret societies,
tax revolts, but also places that
had sizable populations of non-Han Chinese peoples. So a number of the
areas that were set up by the government in Sichuan
had sizable populations of the [INAUDIBLE]
cities, for example. Land reclamation was a
for-profit practice, as well as a state intervention. And that had been true
before the wartime, and that was continued with
these refugee programs as well. At least 10 limited-liability
corporations were created during wartime
for the purposes of land cultivation by
displaced persons. These were funded by bank loans. And party and government
officials sat on their boards, and were among their investors. So these were interesting
public-private organizations. And the most ambitious of these
was the so-called China Wartime Construction
Cultivation Society, which established several farms
in these areas that had a high degree of non-Han population,
and received some 60 million yen in loans– that as far as I can
tell were never repaid– from the government,
to run an enterprise with a few-thousand refugees. Moreover, the
presence of the farms was usually accompanied by a
shift in government and police power. Sometimes military
anti-opium operations were covers for the
extension of state power. This became a pattern that
was carried out extensively. We can see it carried out
in the civil war period, and also in the post-war
period, in China. So it was carried
out in the 1940s, as a way of attempting to
accommodate both returnees from the interior
and those who were escaping the newly insurgent
civil war during the 1940s. And this created
a lot of problems for both the communists
and the nationalists, because the publicizing
of recommit reclamation schemes in newspapers
brought many disputes about abandoned property,
demands from the public, and so on. The state’s obligations
were called into question when refugees’ access to
land came into conflict with promises that were made
for veterans, and payments to veterans, for example. But this idea of setting
up rural settlements for both veterans,
refugees, and also for strategically displacing
and resettling people was maintained. So we see it carried
out in Taiwan– after the nationalist
government relocates to Taiwan in the 1940s– in the creation of communities
for military dependents, and also the creation of
farming settlements from people evacuated from offshore
islands in the 1950s– and later in the
Cold War period. But also, in the People’s
Republic of China, in the Third Front
campaign in the 1960s, to create rural settlements
and resettlements for the industrialization
of the countryside. So there’s sort of a
continuation of this pattern. So why this sort of
excursion into this pattern of China’s wartime, and
the creation of this idea of what I’m in some
of the places calling a strategic-secondary
resettlement– a strategic-secondary
displacement. One is that I just want to point
out that the idea of practical education, or
practice-based education, and practical philanthropy– the idea that philanthropy
always comes with conditions. And the conditions are
usually productivity. [INAUDIBLE] the products
of neoliberalism, that flourish in emergency,
in the state of exception. I don’t need to belabor
this in this company, but I will just recap the
phenomenon taking place here. That we have a narrative of
productivity in education, and making people into producers
and productive citizens, with an attended
class narrative. Combined with that is this idea
of redirecting intellectuals into more productive pursuits,
or practical pursuits as well. And I think that it’s
interesting to see the historical shift. In China at this time, I think
productivity and practicality are used often interchangeably. And that has everything to do
with the economic underpinning at the time. And as the industrial economy
and the agricultural economy fade away, we see the retreat
of the language of productivity, and replacement
with practicality. But intellectuals are redirected
into productive pursuits, but they always
maintain a distinction. They always maintain control. And then we see
the productivity, or practice narrative
actualized as a mode of secondary displacement. And that itself has an
historical legacy in the kind of philanthropic narrative. We see it continued,
for example, in Xinjiang now, in China,
where the re-education schools and re-education camps
carry with them a language of training and education–
that people who are being placed in them are being
taught practical skills, and being taught to engage
with the modern economy. But the interesting sort
of flip side of this is that there is a kind
of power of productivity and practicality in
another register for those who are caught up in emergency,
and projects of liberation that are connected to emergency. And there are various ways
of thinking about this. I think when some colleges
and social scientists, like James Scott, thought
returning to [INAUDIBLE] perhaps was a local society– might be a way out of this. I’m not sure that that’s
entirely possible, especially in the 20th or 21st century. But in my study, I’m
finding another register, which is thinking about the
language of efficaciousness and virtual action– and the language of
reuniting community, and the action that
underpins reunited community, and cosmological
action, actually. So to give you an example of
this, I’ll go back to a work by [INAUDIBLE] on
Taoism and modernity. And in this, he focuses
on a Shanghai Taoist, who’s also involved in
the scientific community [INAUDIBLE]. And [? Suh ?] is very
involved in the practice of inner alchemy in
Shanghai in the 1930s, and then had to
rethink his practice at the Japanese invasion. And he commented thus. “When a self cultivator
can harmonize the forces within the body, then the
body will be without any ills. When the forces of a
region can be harmonized, then that region will
be free of any calamity. When a whole country can
harmonize its forces, the country will enjoy
peace and happiness. When the forces in the
world are harmonized, peace will prevail.” This was his reaction
to the wartime, is creating for himself
a very serious program of self cultivation. And he actually said, this
is my wartime service. That by cultivating
and protecting my inner-alchemy practice–
he actually said, “I think that in order
to stop the catastrophe, you must first rectify
the human heart.” And he thought that that was
his own particular service. He is one among many– and there is a very broad
range of this kind of action. But I find it’s
extremely wealthy set of materials existing in
China during this time period, if we sort of open
up this idea of what practice and
practicality can mean to this other area of human
action and human expression. And so for example, I’ll
take the city of Wuxi, which is not far from Shanghai. And it’s a place that I’ve
been looking at what happens in the months after the war. So just looking at
the classified ads of some of the main
Wuxi newspapers then, we see a lot of things that
we might otherwise expect– missing persons ads, ads
about the reclamation of lost property, and so on. But we also see a number of
ads on a different register as well. So we see ads from
about five or six different what we call
redemptive societies– these eclectic
religious organizations, that often honor the
world’s sages all at once. So sometimes they make offerings
to Confucius, and Buddha, and Jesus, and
Muhammad all together. So there’s about
five that are all putting in ads announcing
their formation, or reformation in the county. These kind of
redemptive societies would also often
engage in carrying out rituals for pacifying wandering
ghosts, pacifying the dead. They carried out burial services
as well, both during the war and after. We see a resurgence in the
activity of these societies even before the end of
the war, at the time when the Japanese declare
a sort of decisive action in 1944, around the time
of the Ichi-Go campaign. And so there’s a
very interesting sort of connection between the
expansion of these groups and the war itself. But we also see dozens of
ads of lineage organizations announcing either they’re
repairing, their lineage halls, or they’re getting together
to rewrite their genealogies. And so what does this mean? Some of it is just like
family reunification. But some of it is
reclaiming property. All these things are actually
accompanied by a wide range of ritual actions as well. If you issue a new genealogy,
that means getting together, that means feasting So
feasting in a time of famine, often literally. It means, also, making a kind
of statement of reunification, and a kind of
cosmological closure after a time of dissolution
and displacement. So we see this reflected
quite a lot in the prefaces of these reissued genealogies. And I found about 200 of
them appear in the 1940s, just for this region
in these years– in this time period– in the Shanghai
Library collection, which is the largest collection. So a sample statement
would be from one that says, “After the
town fell to the Japanese, for the [? Shal ?]
family, there were no keepers of the
genealogy left in the town. And those in the country
had no means of withdrawal. Fear and hate in people’s minds
spurred the disorderly drift to the interior, and the
links to family and ritual were almost severed for good.” So this was the act
that was being remedied by the recreation of the
family and the editing of the genealogy. And then finally, there were
ads for the Wuxi and Chongqing Native Police Association,
that announced that there were at
least seven trips being made carrying the coffins of
the dead back from the interior, from Chongqing. And the trip of about 1,000
miles– an arduous trip. And just this one association
carried several-hundred coffins of people who had some kind of
connection to the association, as an act of philanthropy. And these acts– I would just conclude
by saying that they are multiply efficacious. [INAUDIBLE] Quan,
in his analysis of death during the
American War in Vietnam, notes that those kind of acts
resolve the displacement that’s created by an unknown person
who dies in your community, and then for the family
having the person who dies far away from home. So a pattern emerges, I
think, clearly in the past, but also in our present. Those who are pursuing so-called
ritual solutions to problems of emergency are also
themselves pursuing so-called practical ones. And so this may be a
fairly simple finding, but I think it’s one
worth remembering. [APPLAUSE] SHARON KRAUSE: Now,
Barbara Herrnstein Smith. BARBARA HERRNSTEIN
SMITH: Thanks very much. Nice to be here. Nice to see old friends. So my word is scientism. The term scientism is
commonly used today to describe, and
usually to condemn, what are seen as displays
of epistemic impertinence. That is, appeals to, or claims
about the natural sciences that are seen as improper,
irrelevant, or overreaching. Familiar examples of
scientism so understood are invocations of
scientific evidence to discredit
religious teachings, or statements to the effect
that science is the only source of genuine knowledge. But the field of the
term’s references is actually quite
large, and its history is richer and more complex,
politically and otherwise, than might be expected. So I’m going to trace some
strands of that history. And I’ll draw some
morals from it, and then I’ll reflect briefly
on some contemporary invocations of the term. So the term itself, initially
the French scientisma, dates from the mid-19th century,
when it was used to describe– and not always condemn– the ascendant
positivism of the era. That is, the rejection
of metaphysics, the embrace of a
thoroughgoing empiricism, calls for the extension
of the methods of the physical sciences to the
solution of social problems, and an eager optimism about
the future of humanity and all else. As Ernest Renan is
often cited as writing, “The organization of humanity,
that is the last word. [INAUDIBLE] science, it’s
daring and legitimate ambition.” One of the earliest
and most extensively theorized uses of
the term in English is an essay titled “Scientism
and the Study of Society,” by the Austrian economist and
political theorist Friedrich Hayek, originally
published in 1942. Hayek comments on the term,
and on the sharp contrast that it indicates. And this is what he says. “It needs scarcely be
emphasized that nothing we shall have to say is aimed
against the methods of science in their proper sphere, or is
intended to throw the slightest doubt on their value. Wherever we are concerned
not with the general spirit of disinterested inquiry”– I’ll get back to that– “but with the slavish imitation
of the method and language of science, we shall
speak of scientism or the scientistic prejudice. In the sense of which we
shall use these terms, they describe an attitude
which is decidedly unscientific in the
true sense of the word, since it involves a mechanical
and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields
different from those in which they have been formed.” Hayek’s immediate target,
and the focus of the essay– which is very long, and
very dense, very rich– is what he casts as “a foolish
and dangerous overconfidence in plans and predictions
about economic behavior based on what are said to
be scientific principles and calculations.” His own view, as
many of you know, elaborated in that
essay, other writings, and in a long and immensely
influential career, was that the common
good is best secured through the unfettered
workings of the market– which he maintained
spontaneously coordinates crucial
information otherwise dispersed and unknowable. The development of that
view, by Hayek and others, is what we now call
neoliberalism– a politically
fraught overreaction, it might be said, to the
perceived overreaching of scientific socialism. Hayek’s sense of the dangers of
what he called the pretension to knowledge was shared by his
friend and fellow emigre Karl Popper, who saw psychoanalysis,
along with Marxism, as signal examples
of those dangers, and who sought
accordingly to establish a criterion for scientificity
that clearly excluded both. Although that criterion–
falsifiability– has been seen for some
time as conceptually dubious and
practically unworkable, it was hailed by Hayek
as just the test needed. And it’s still widely invoked
to exclude non-STEM inquiries from claims to epistemic
value, and sometimes from claims to any
value whatsoever. Hayek argued that the aims and
methods of the social sciences are distinctly different from
those of the physical sciences. That distinction, of course, had
been made over and over again in the late-19th century. He had a particular way
of making that division. “Whereas physicists,”
he wrote, “in seeking to explain the workings
of the physical world replace the categories
that we form on the basis of our
personally interested dealings with the world with
classifications that reflect its objective
spatial temporal regularities. We social scientists”–
he’s an economist– “seeking to understand the
conscious actions of humans, rely not on the knowledge
given by the natural sciences but on our self-knowledge,
with the assumption, usually correct,” he said,
“that other people experience the world the way we do.” Now, this may sound as
if Hayek was maintaining that the social [INAUDIBLE]
or as we also say, the human sciences, are
inherently interpretive. And that’s a view with which
many postwar academics would have agreed, at
the time defending their practices from the
encroachments of positivism. But Hayek’s purposes
here were different. And in later works, he
made the distinction between the natural sciences
and the social sciences on a different basis– namely, complexity versus
simplicity of the phenomenon that they dealt with. So human societies are complex,
whereas motions of objects are simple– therefore requiring
totally different methods. So Hayek’s conviction that the
aims of the natural sciences are specific and the scope
of their methods limited was shared by his cousin
Ludwig Wittgenstein. This is a wonderful little
network of people here– all of the Viennese– whose views on the matters– Wittgenstein’s– are currently
invoked by philosophers who are dismayed by the
increasing attention, and in their view improper
deference given to the natural sciences by many of
their colleagues. The introduction, for
example, to a recent volume which is titled
Wittgenstein and Scientism features a pointed passage from
Wittgenstein late writings. “Philosophers constantly
see the method of science before their eyes, and are
irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in
the way science does. This tendency leads
the philosopher into complete darkness. It can never be our job to
reduce anything to anything.” Now, that passages is
echoed, with a twist, by the philosopher
and sociologist of science Bruno Latour,
in his 1987 mini, or mock treatise called
Irreductions, which begins, “Nothing is by itself either
reducible or irreducible to anything else.” The twist being the,
or irreducible– an important twist. Reduction, or reductionism
from the macro phenomenal to the micro physical,
or from the experienced to the presumably explanatory,
is a recurring point of contention in these
disputes, with defenders of the practice of reductionism
observing its centrality and effectiveness in
the natural sciences– and critics insisting on
its impropriety elsewhere, and sometimes anywhere. Though Latour doesn’t
use the word scientism, his entire opus can be seen
as an extended argument against the views
commonly so named. His early critiques of
rationalist and triumphalist views of science, like
those of other theorists in the field that became
science and technology studies, drew on constructivist
traditions in the history and
philosophy of science– from Ludwik Fleck to Michel
Foucault. In other words, I’m saying Latour’s
early works drew on the same sort of
set of ideas that you see in people in the sociology
and history of science from the ’80s and early ’90s. But Latour’s sustained
quarrels with conventional ways of framing the relations
between science and religion have also drawn on
the work of a number of 20th-century theologians
and political theorists deeply critical of both
scientism and a modernity that they associate with
the scientific revolution. Among them, a
relatively late interest of Latour’s, is the Austrian
American political theorist Eric Voegelin. That’s spelled, for those of
you it’s not a household name, V-O-E-G-E-L-I-N. Voegelin’s voluminous
output includes a long essay, originally
published in 1948, titled “The Origins
of Scientism.” Though its central argument is
historically and technically dense, it involves an analysis
of the move from scholastic to mathematical understandings
of absolute and relative space, with Newton being a key figure. Its opening paragraph
of the essay is a clear statement of the
scientism that concerned him, and a preview of why. As I say, it’s a
long, dense essay. So he writes– it’s a
somewhat long quote, but it’s quite wonderful– “By scientism, we
shall understand an intellectual movement of
which the beginnings could be discerned as early
as the second half of the 16th century. The splendid advance
of the new science became the cause of an elation,
with far-reaching consequences. They began in a fascination
with the new science, to the point of underrating
and neglecting the concern for experiences of the spirit. They developed
into the assumption that the new
science could create a worldview that
would substitute for the religious
order of the soul. And they culminated
in the 19th century, in the dictatorial
prohibition on the part of scientistic thinkers
against asking questions of a metaphysical nature. The results of this
development lie before us today in the form of the scientistic
creed, which is characterized by three principal dogmas. One, the assumption that
the mathematized science of natural phenomena
is a model of science to which all other
sciences ought to conform. Two, that all
realms of being are accessible to the methods of
the sciences of phenomena. And three, that all
reality which is not accessible to the sciences of
phenomena is either irrelevant, or, in the more radical form
of the dogma, illusionary.” So this is a creed to
which word for word a number of contemporary
scientists, philosophers, and other academics
would readily subscribe. One is philosopher
Alex Rosenberg, whose 2011 book, The
Atheist’s Guide to Reality– How to Enjoy Life
Without Illusions, teaches a full time,
non-stop naturalism, that he’s happy
to name scientism. Another is psychologist
Steven Pinker, who affirms a comparable
set of views in a number– quite a large number– of public venues, and in a new
book titled Enlightenment Now– The Case for Reason,
Science, Humanism– meaning, as the
book makes clear, a new atheism– and Progress. They– that is Pinker,
Rosenberg, and others– would also subscribe to
what Voegelin saw as– Voegelin’s term– the two great
denials implied by that creed. First, the denial of epistemic
status to the products of humanistic inquiry. And second, implied in the
rejection of metaphysics and religion, the denial of what
Voegelin called the substance of transcendental reality. Though some of Voegelin’s
concerns in the essay are remote, his elaboration
of the social, political, and cultural consequences
of that creed are interesting here,
along a number of lines. He continues, “We can now
turn to the social relevance of scientism as an intellectual
attitude, which first draws, for its social effectiveness,
on the prestige of the mathematized sciences. And second, uses
this effectiveness in the service of an
anti-spiritual revolt, and for the purpose of
civilizational destruction. The importance of scientism
in this light,” he goes on, “has not gone unnoticed.” And he remarks at this point,
citing the essay on scientism by his old friend from
Vienna, Friedrich Hayek. The citation is
somewhat surprising. To be sure, Hayek is concerned
with the social relevance of the scientistic
attitude, but he doesn’t appear concerned
with his consequences for souls, spirituality, or the
fate of human civilization– at least not in this essay
on scientism, or at least not explicitly there. So I’m going to return
to Hayek in a minute, but I want to continue
for a bit here with Voegelin’s elaborations– some of which are
simply wonderful. Voegelin’s objections to
science as scientism– its imminentist
ontology, its denial of religious tradition,
its spiritual hollowness, can be found– that is, his objections– in the work of theologians
and conservative defenders of religion throughout
the century. But his analysis of the
broad social consequences of a certain intellectual
attitude that appears altogether
recognizable today would also be resonant
for secular critics of that attitude across
the political spectrum. Especially notable
in this regard is Voegelin’s description
of the increasing extension of the utilitarian
ethos of science– or we would say techno science– into every other domain
of human existence. He writes, “The
usefulness of science for the increase of power
and wealth was quickly seen, and became a strong incentive
for putting the means of power and wealth at the
disposition of scientists, for their further
pursuit of knowledge. The advancement of science and
the rationality of politics are interwoven in a
social process, that in the perspective of
a more distant future will probably appear as
the greatest power orgy in the history of mankind.” So liberals and
progressives, along with traditional
humanists, would be inclined to applaud this. And the details of Voegelin’s
observations and predictions are often brilliant
and insightful. But they are attended
throughout the essay by a more ambiguous
set of sentiments. And he continues. And I’ll quote again. “The idea that the structure
and problems of human existence can be superseded in
historical society by the utilitarian
segment of existence is certainly plain nonsense. Any attempt at its
realization can lead only to the self-destruction
of a society. Nevertheless, the fact that
the idea is nonsensical has in no way prevented
it from becoming the inspiration of the strongest
political movement of our age. This humanly
destructive obsession is found not only in the
totalitarian movements in the narrower sense. It occurs, too, in
the so-called liberal or progressive movements,
where it assumes the form of the belief that the
rather obvious calamities which accompany the age of science
must be cured by more science. Scientists of more social
prestige than human wisdom stand up before large
audiences and tell them, in all seriousness, that
social scientists will have to emulate the
natural scientists, and do their share in order to
realize the perfect society.” So this is the late 1940s. Voegelin is not thinking of Sam
Harris promoting a moral theory based on neuroscience,
or EO Wilson drawing out the political implications
of ant colonies. Voegelin may be
thinking of number crunching political scientists
claiming scientific status for their pursuits. But as other passages
of the essay make clear, he is most likely
thinking of economists. And specifically,
of the efforts by political and economic
advisors in the United States and England to create a welfare
state after World War II. It’s an interesting– which
returns us directly to Hayek. As I noted before,
Voegelin’s citation of his essay on scientism
is somewhat surprising. Hayek expresses no interest
there in anything spiritual, and he celebrates the
aims and achievements of the natural sciences in terms
that must have given Voegelin some pause at certain points. Hayek writes, for example,
“What men know or think about the external world,
or about themselves are to science never ultimate
reality, data to be accepted. Its concern is not what
men think about the world and how they constantly behave,
but what they ought to think.” So for Voegelin that aim
and achievement of science– that is, to persuade us
that a mathematical account of the phenomenal
world is an account of the ultimate reality– is what makes science so
spiritually destructive. Nevertheless,
Hayek, like Voegelin and other conservative
thinkers then and now, was concerned with what he and
they called “the preservation of civilization.” And like them, he– Hayek– saw trends associated
with what he and they sometimes called scientism as leading
to what he and they often called barbarism. In Hayek’s later extended
treatment of these themes, he writes of the
crucial significance of religion and
traditional institutions in preserving civilization,
and with emphasis of the limits of conscious
reason to that end compared with the efficacy of the market. “The rationalist
whose reason is not sufficient to teach
him those limitations of the powers of
conscious reason, and who despises all the
institutions and customs which have been consciously
designed, would thus become the destroyer of the
civilization built on them. This may well prove a hurdle
which man will repeatedly reach only to be thrown
back into barbarism.” OK, so the rationalist
who doesn’t understand the limits of human
reason is going to lead to the destruction
of civilization. Here, again, one
might be reminded of the bumptious rationalism of
Alex Rosenberg, Daniel Dennett, and other full-time
eliminative naturalists. But the passage
becomes a bit chilling when read in connection with
a political landscape, that under the market supremacism
that Hayek is also preaching here, appears
increasingly barbarous. The language– Hayek’s–
is more explicit. And its implications are even
chillier in his 1974 Nobel Prize speech, titled “The
Pretense of Knowledge,” where the contrast between
the putative knowability of the physical
world and putative unknowability of
the social field is put in the service of a
plainly reactionary stance. He writes, with a certain
libertarian paranoia, “To act on the belief
that we possess the knowledge and
the power which enable us to shape the
processes of society entirely to our liking– knowledge which in fact
we do not possess– is likely to make
us do much harm. In the physical
sciences there may be little objection to
trying to do the impossible. But in the social field,
the erroneous belief that the exercise
of some power would have beneficial consequences is
likely to lead to a new power to coerce other men being
conferred on some authority.” So here one might recall past
and ongoing characterizations of every progressive
move– from female suffrage and the desegregation of schools
to civil rights for gays– as dangerous social experiments. “A recommended deep respect
for traditional institutions and customs combined with
an anxious insistence on the severely limited
knowledge and rationality of those who would
shape the world more,” Hayek says, of course, “entirely
to our, or some of our liking is a program, as
far as I can see, while holding the line
on everything, forever.” So the morals of the story
I’ve been telling here are, of course, multiple. One moral, clearly, is that
the term scientism does not have a stable political
or intellectual valence– either progressive
or reactionary, naive or sophisticated,
as commonly measured. Nor, I would say,
does the critique of whatever views and practices
are assembled under that term– from 19th-century positivism,
to 20th-century socialism, to 21st-century naturalism. The ironies here
are also multiple. One irony of this
history, or at least of the strand that
I’ve highlighted here, is that the assortment
of conservative values– tradition, civilization,
culture, and humanity– in the name of which a
number of rather patrician middle-European emigre theorists
denounced scientism and warned against the post-war
welfare state– led them to promote
a set of policies that by the end of the century
contributed to the devaluation or corruption of many of the
institutions they associated with just those
conservative values– law, community, religion,
spiritual austerity, and what they might have
called arts and letters. In the United States,
a partly Hayek-inspired and often Hayek-invoking
market fundamentalism has been joined with a sometimes
manifestly cynical endorsement of religiosity, while
an unabashed enthusiasm for worldly goods is
joined with utter disregard for the destructive consequences
of purely market valuations for, among other
things, the liberality of a liberal-arts education. Which brings me to
the present scene. Those leveling the
charges of scientism today are largely
representatives of groups seeking to protect existing
claims to epistemic dignity, and usually to some
quarters in the presumably finite epistemic, or at
least academic space. The most conspicuous of these
are religious apologists– mostly theologians. Also, some philosophers
and scientists responding to new atheist
arguments and assaults. I think I’ll skip here. I can’t do justice to all
of the arguments presented by all of the people who
are invoking the term. I do have a list. If you’re interested,
I’ll go back. Some of the arguments
are better than others. And they are quite
variously motivated, and quite variously situated. Only to speak of a few which
I’ve had some investment, the charge is
misplaced, in my view, when leveled by
academic philosophers against naturalized approaches
to classic questions– especially questions involving
the nature of human cognition, and thus of what
we call knowledge. In other words, I like
naturalized epistemology– the more naturalized the better. It’s also misplaced,
I think, when leveled by defenders of
standard operating procedures in the humanities invoke
it against any and all science-informed approaches. Obviously, there are some,
many that it’s worth invoking. The label is earned, in my
view, by the obsolete model of intellectual history and
exceedingly confined conception of knowledge that
underwrite EO Wilson’s program of pan-disciplinary
consilience, and related calls for
integrating the humanities with the sciences. And it’s also earned,
I think, by claims to explain religion
scientifically on the basis of accounts of
human culture and cognition, that are themselves conceptually
and empirically dubious. And again, each of these I have
elaborated in other places. A word about the context
of these disputes leads to a final reflection. My final reflection is
that the forms of scientism that are sort of heralded in
an interesting way by Voegelin are quite damaging right now. I’ll just remind– among
those affected by the campaign are scientists themselves. A current issue of
the journal Science, called “Research on Research,”
opens with the statement, “Given the billions of
dollars the world invests in science each
year, it’s surprising how few researchers
study science itself.” So they’d never
heard of the field. And they go on to discuss
bias and replicability as if there weren’t thousands
of studies in the field. And then, I say, if
scientists, journalists, and members of the
educated public are unaware of the existence
of this body of research, it’s a testament to the
effectiveness of the campaign and current rehearsal of
the gaudy themes and means of the science wars past. And I quote, but I’m
happy not to quote, from an article titled “The
Intellectual War on Science,” from a book called
Enlightenment Now. And final word, “It may be time
to retire the label scientism. 19th-century positivism
was one thing. It’s exhumation and quasi
animation in the 21st century is another. The zombie positivism of those
who currently embrace the label and affirm the classic creed
is intellectually hollow– the product of a
determined snubbing of more than a century’s worth
of empirical investigations of the history and
workings of science, and important
theoretical examinations of, among other things,
reason, humanism, and progress. The posturings of
zombie positivism would be easy to dismiss if they
had no serious consequences. But as I’ve suggested, the
consequences are serious– the obliteration, in many
quarters of the academy and more broadly, of
highly-developed existing knowledge about science,
and the perpetuation of a complacent ignorance
about everything else. We don’t need to call it
scientism to call it out.” [APPLAUSE] SHARON KRAUSE: One hates to have
to be the timekeeper for papers like these. OK, so the floor is open. I’ll keep the queue,
and I’ll keep my eye wandering around the room. So if you have a question
and want to get on the queue, just catch my eye. Yes? BARBARA HERRNSTEIN SMITH: So I
have to see your face clearly. [INAUDIBLE] spoke yet. AUDIENCE: OK. Can you hear me now? SHARON KRAUSE: And also,
in order for everybody to get on the videotape,
we need to use the mics. So please use one [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: So I really
enjoyed the genealogy that you laid out. And I especially
appreciate your situation of economics at the center. And I was thinking
the entire time of a kind of the inverse
parallel– what Popper would have been upset about
was the Frankfurt School, and the dialectic of
enlightenment– which seems to be implicated
in your story as well, in a response to a certain kind
of National Socialist economics happening at the time. BARBARA HERRNSTEIN
SMITH: Absolutely. AUDIENCE: So I wanted to just
ask you to elaborate on that, because I think it even helps
broaden your point even more. But I guess I wanted
to maybe take advantage of the unique configuration
of people here, to take up your
point that there are many, many scholars and
many decades of scholarship of asking precisely
these kinds of questions, yet the scientific community
proper continues apace, as though it doesn’t exist. And that seems to me to be a
fundamental political problem, that maybe can be
reckoned with– or should be reckoned with more
explicitly by practitioners. And while some people are
wading into that domain, they’re doing so in
the terms set by people like Pinker and Rosenberg. And so I just
wanted to invite you to speculate about some
thoughts on what kinds of different strategies
does your approach imply for practitioners, and people
who are teaching practitioners of science studies– for maybe getting
out of this sort of trap of the stylized
fact of scientism itself? BARBARA HERRNSTEIN
SMITH: Well, I wish I could produce some
winning strategies to that end. To my amazement,
the resuscitation of the science wars in the
terms that we are now seeing is pretty surprising. We understand what the reasons
are for why this happens. And that is the
continued segregation of the two cultures– with responsibility on
both sides, I would say. It’s only recently that
the humanities have discovered science at all– with some, as I say,
head-spinning reversals. And scientists are generally
busy doing other things. It’s not that they would
subscribe to these creeds. But when somebody comes in
and says, science is wonderful and this is the
reason why, scientists are willing to accept it. And if they are also being told
there are terrible people who are saying awful
things about science, they are also willing
to listen to it. So I think we have
just the usual question of different discourses. The lessons of
one are not easily absorbed by people
who are operating with different problems,
different interests. And so the more popular
way of putting this sticks. I am, again, just amazed at the
uptake of Steven Pinker’s work, by including people one would
think would know better. AUDIENCE: If I can
continue on this line– it seems that some
critics of science that you have described– in the 1970s, since then– have taken for granted
the legitimacy of science. BARBARA HERRNSTEIN SMITH:
The critics have taken– AUDIENCE: The critics. And therefore, could
afford to be critics. I think what I’d like you to
talk a little more about is that currently that issue is
being put into question where it wasn’t before. It is that science itself
is being deligitimated, as opposed to certain
practices, certain funding issues, certain corruption
elements, certain power relations. That’s what the
sociologists of science were concerned with at the time. BARBARA HERRNSTEIN
SMITH: Yes, this is quite a complex question. You know, you could
be referencing a number of different kinds
of critiques of science. There were critiques
of science– there have been
critiques of science with a theological spin,
basically, forever. And they often feed into other
kinds of humanistic critiques of science. And you’re right. They are granting, certainly,
the power of science. And they’re also granting a
monolithic status to science. What has happened
along the way– to me, a very positive move– is a better
understanding of science, so that the very term itself
no longer can come out of one’s mouth as if it was
a single thing. So one understands
many enterprises with different histories. And EO Wilson’s notion,
for example, of science– I mean he’s a scientist. I have relatives
who are biologists. Apparently, he’s a
very good entomologist. But the theorization of science
that goes along with that is very dubious, and yet it
has a still tremendous uptake. The critique of that view– the monolithic view–
and also, more basically, in a certain sense, the whole
epistemological critique of factuality, objectivity– of every term on which
a previous form of you might say positive
scientism was based– has been [INAUDIBLE]. And now we are having reactions
to that reaction as well, where the critique of science
is being held responsible for the absence of any
scientific responsibility– any attention to that which
the relevant sciences, to the extent that
they can do anything, are telling us things about. For example, the environment. For example, climate change. So as I say it’s a
complex set of cycles, where you have an acceptance,
which should be questioned, and then a critique,
which itself can be appropriated in ways
that are broadly destructive. AUDIENCE: Thank you so much. My question is for Rebecca. And it’s about a
different dimension of the politics of pedagogy. So you were sort of
focused on the production of productive citizens
in a certain kind of practical and
utilitarian work. At least as I’ve seen debates
about teaching play out in the history of
mathematics education, often these
conversations are also about the cultivation of a
certain character of person, or the sort of investment
in the development of certain faculties at
the expense of others. So the way it looks in
history of math education, there are sort of synthetic,
geometric tradition of the 19th century
is all about, you should learn
math so that you learn how to reason
right– so that you develop a sophisticated
intuition, so you become a certain kind of person. And this was meant
as a criticism of people who
wanted to emphasize algebra for its problem
solving capacities, or its generalizability,
or whatever. So I just wondered whether,
for your people in China, in addition to
prioritizing productivity, they were also having a
conversation about a desired type of citizen,
or kind of thinker. And it seems like such
a fascinating contrast to a Taoist, alchemical
understanding of self cultivation through
alchemical practice, which is a very particular
view of a kind of person you’re trying to become. It seems like there’s
a profound politics, both to the kind of
person you’re making, in addition to what their
skills would be– that might be. I’d love to hear [INAUDIBLE] REBECCA NEDOSTUP: Thank
you for that question. It’s really helpful to help
me articulate what’s going on. Because I think in a way this
is the essence of thinking about the problem
of displacement, and categorizing
displaced persons and refugees in
this time period, is the whole question of,
what kind of persons are they? And what kind of personhood
are they accorded? Because there is a debate
in education in China going on, from the 1920s
through the 1930s and ’40s, precisely about this transition
from an idea of education as cultivation and
self cultivation to the idea of education as
skills acquisition and skills production. And there’s still a lot
of people on both sides, and a lot of people behind
the idea of both and. So that’s why, for example,
in the credentials debate, you still see people
who are not wedded to the idea of
producing essay writing in the sense of the
old civil service exam. They want to write new-style
essays using the vernacular. But they are still
debating using essays along with IQ testing, for
example, as a way of trying to balance both those sides. But when you get to
the wartime, that’s really when ideals
of mass education are sort of pressed
into service– because now governmental
forces on all sides are actually called
upon to not only manage large-scale populations in ways
that they hadn’t been before, but then also think about
what that management meant. And so beyond just
controlling and moderating the social forces of
displaced persons, are we going to provide
education as well? And then, what does
that education mean? Usually, patriotic
education was part of that. So the idea of
adding recognition of national symbols,
teaching people to sing the national
anthem, and so on. But particularly, cultivating
a sense of national service in men, so that they would
not resist being conscripted. So these kinds of
very basic things. But then there was a
debate about, precisely, are people in that
situation worth additional education on
the self-cultivation level? And I think that was
really remained unresolved for several decades. And so I think that that’s
why the question of education for and management
of displaced persons is so critical, actually,
because it kind of brings those contradictions
to the fore– of who’s deserving of a
kind of cultivation, or self cultivation. And we see acts of self
cultivation happening among the displaced populations. They carry them out
themselves, as part of the self organization of
native place associations, or religious groups, or even
ad-hoc refugee organizations that are created on the road. So it’s this kind of
counter narrative, in a way. AUDIENCE: Thank you so much. Barbara, I want to
ask you about a term that you’re not talking
about, but some future version of the Political
Concepts conference called the Religion Edition
would ask you to talk about, which is religion. I know that you’ve
written a lot about it. And it appears in
your paper many times, but not as a positive term–
as a kind of incidental term. And I wonder whether– I mean, how you would– I mean, you’re not
talking about this. So I’m asking you to do
something that is not part of your presentation here. But how would you begin to map
out an approach to religion that would proceed under
the same kind of set of discursive methods– a kind of discursive analysis? I mean, what would
you do with it? How would you begin to map
out an approach to the term religion? Is religion in the
same way that you say it may be time to
retire the label scientism? BARBARA HERRNSTEIN
SMITH: Absolutely. No question. AUDIENCE: Because I mean– BARBARA HERRNSTEIN SMITH:
The term religion is– well, it has its own
limited history, all right? Certainly, I have written
about this at some length. And the first thing
to do is simply to recognize that what
is assembled under a term is itself a historical
act of assembling. And so part of what the critique
of the critique of religion has to be is disassembling
those assemblages, which are improper. And to understand the different
cultural and historical situations of the various
practices, that are either gathered together
under that name, or ignored, because
the term is preserved for a certain selection of them. AUDIENCE: And so,
obviously, Latour would be one figure
who is undertaking precisely that kind of
insistent complication of that. BARBARA HERRNSTEIN SMITH:
Are you saying Latour has? He has not, on the contrary. AUDIENCE: OK. BARBARA HERRNSTEIN SMITH:
Latour has done a great deal to question some taken
for granted oppositions between science and religion,
each understood monolithically. And that must be applauded. At the same time, he
has his own commitments. And the result of that
is a rather scandalized– to me, scandalizing–
ignoring of anything outside of Christianity. AUDIENCE: Thank you. I’m also waiting for Latour’s,
you know, direct engagement. SHARON KRAUSE: So I’ve
got Tamara, Leela, you– say your name again. AUDIENCE: Laura. SHARON KRAUSE: And [INAUDIBLE]. So, Tamara? AUDIENCE: Thank you very
much for both your talks. I have a question
for Rebecca about– I thank you very much. Could you say something
about the place of translation for you? I was wondering about
the conceptualization of practice, praxis– because you had a geneology that
I suppose went to the present. I was wondering where
the Cultural Revolution was in that. And I suppose, in a
conference like this, if you’re working with
a concept in Chinese, is that where it’s
staying, I suppose– in China? That, I guess, is my question. REBECCA NEDOSTUP:
So it’s not staying. It’s floating all
around, I would say. I have to think more about the
Cultural Revolution end of it. But certainly in terms
of the educational– the lineage of the
ideas about education– one can see that debate
about the practical utility of education continue
into the 1950s, in the Red versus
Expert debates, and into the
Cultural Revolution. In terms of other places that
the genealogy might lead, I was thinking for quite
a bit– and then ended up not including it– about how
there’s an odd genealogy that has led to so-called
practice theory, ending up in being used
in organizational theory. So that the adoption,
for example, of Bourdieu and Giddens
by B-school people– by business school,
organizational theorists, and sociologists– as sort of another interesting
development of the idea of, who is looking at
social practice and adopting it in a very
instrumentalized way? And so the idea that– I guess, particularly
thinking about how to link up the two
sides of analyzing social practice on
a governmental side and social practice
on a ritual side. And this has been a sort of odd
developments in the academy, where this has led to a
particular kind of instrumental use of organizational theory. That’s not a particularly
satisfying answer to that question, because I’m
still thinking through that. But that’s one. AUDIENCE: Thank you, Rebecca. My question is also for you. I found very engaging, really,
the way in which you showed, in the certain context,
the convergence of political and
aesthetic practices– or rather, the convergence of
the political and the aesthetic in this particular
context, in the idea of practice and productivity. And so my question is
whether in this context, as in comparable contexts,
there is a divergence between political and
aesthetic practices? And if there is a
divergence, then what might the opposite of praxis be? Not theory or contemplation,
but could it be a form of rest? I’m thinking here
particularly of the status of negative virtues– non action, non possession,
and most of all nonviolence– where there is an
embargo on action itself. REBECCA NEDOSTUP: That’s
an interesting question. Because I actually admit
that I hadn’t considered the mode of rest and retreat
in the Chinese context so much, until I went back
to the Taoists– which are sort of the
more obvious model. Although the interesting thing
about this group of people practicing inner alchemy in
Shanghai in the 1930s is that– and maybe we can play out
the mode of nonviolence here. It’s an engaged rest. They do consider
themselves, in a way, in dialogue and competition with
Buddhists– who are themselves developing in the
mode of what comes to be called humanistic
Buddhism, engaged Buddhism during this time. Who are doing things– carrying out more
public ritual action, and then more public
physical action, such as the burial details. They consider
themselves to be in direct cosmological competition
with those Buddhists, by carrying out their
alchemical practices. And they write quite
explicitly about this. So it’s a rest. But it’s also, I would say,
very directed in that way. The other modes of
this, though, is I have been spending a lot of
time thinking about movement, and being moved, the ideas
about burial and reburial. And reburial happens in many
different modes, and some of it is ranging from an economic
claim to a claim over land. Because especially if
you’re reburying someone– and this emerges
in genealogies– this is sometimes part of the
rewriting of physical property. But it is also sometimes just
a much more passive and quiet occurrence. And particularly in times
when such a large scale of population is
displaced, I think that these kinds of movements of
people on a number of levels– they’re not just the
movements of the living who are displaced, but the
movements of people who die away from home and then
have to be moved back. And sometimes it’s just a ritual
action, of calling people back, that happen on a sort
of quieter register, also have to be considered. AUDIENCE: Thank you. I’d like to take the
opportunity of Barbara’s talk to sort of address
what you were saying, but actually ask a question
for our organizers. So Adi and Lucas– and Lucas, I invite you
to rephrase my question, because this is stemming out
of a semester-long conversation in part with Lucas and the
political concepts group. But I’m interested in
how what comes through partly in your talk is just
an observation that so far– and I think most
strongly in your paper– that the mode of analysis
that we’re using here is historicism. And so it’s the idea that
a political concept– so my question is about the
concept of the political concept– how we think that they work. Because it seems to me
that maybe everyone here– but perhaps with the
exception of you, Audie thinks that
every concept is inherently historicizable,
and therefore necessarily unstable– and that there can be no
trans-historical universal concept. And so when we think about
part of the call for this group here to think about how we
use this in our own work, first, the issue is why it is
that there are no people here who think that there– if that is indeed the case. I’m simply revealing
my own struggles. Why it is that perhaps
there aren’t any people here who think about
concepts through logic– so think that
there are concepts, that there are things
that are not necessarily– REBECCA NEDOSTUP: You
mean, philosophers. AUDIENCE: Yes, perhaps–
who think about things like injustice, and value, beauty– these sorts of things–
as perhaps universals, which of course makes
me very uncomfortable. At the same time when
the call is perhaps here to be normative, what then
happens to our claims– when it is simply
the case that, oh, just for the here and now
with this group of people, this is how we are
invoking a concept. But as soon as we stop talking
about it in this here and now, then it goes away,
or it changes. When, under global
capitalism, perhaps it is the case that it
would be nice to have some ahistorical concepts. So Adi, could I ask you? ADI OPHIR: Many we
have some discussion. So I do think that every
concept is historical, and should be historicized. So I am not an exception to
this [INAUDIBLE],, in this sense. And historicizing a concept
is a way to politicize it. It’s not the only way. But it is a way
to politicize it. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
other ways? ADI OPHIR: Yeah, yeah. [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGHS] But when I
am asking you, or anyone here, OK, what is a science? And you’re telling me,
science is this and this. And you’re telling me
the history of science, or the sociology of science. But you make the claim
about what science is. So you’re not only
historicizing. Your claim has an implicit
claim for universality. When you tell me
this, you expect me to accept your description,
or your reconstruction of what science is. And you expect others
beyond this circle. So I think that in
the very performance of the answer to the
question, what is x, there is something which
potentially transcends the limits of historicization. There is more there. And this more is not based on
some contact with the ideas– some special relation with
eternal ideas, or something of this sort. It’s, I think, an effect
of the fact that we use– one of us who answers
the question in this way is willing to take a position– and say, this is how I
understand how things are. And I am willing to risk
some speculations about it. And I’m willing to be
called for my mistakes. But I’m not only
telling the story of how this concept came to be. I’m saying something about how
the concept should be used– how it should be
understood at this moment– this political moment. I would add to this that
when we conceptualize– some of us do it more
often than others. But you know, people
do conceptualize. When you are asked by
your students, what is x, you give an answer. When we do it, we
perform the concept. This is how I understand it. We perform the concept. And the answer
exists, or is valid, or carries weight in
the performance itself. Tomorrow I may have
another answer. I’ll have clearer mind. I know something new. I learn something new,
et cetera, et cetera. So in this sense, we
can think back about it. Not only the historicity,
but the particular location in time and space of the
performance of the concept. And I think that
concept exists as being. A concept is a kind
of entity, that exists only in the discursive
performance of the concept. SHARON KRAUSE: So AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] ADI OPHIR: Only. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] ADI OPHIR: Yes. SHARON KRAUSE: So this
has opened up, obviously, a very rich and interesting line
of conversation and inquiry, but we do have three
more people on the queue. So what I want to suggest is
that we keep this on the table as part of the
conversation going forward, including over lunch,
and dinner, and so on, but that we let the people
who have questions for our two speakers get their voices
in before we run out of time– which is going
to happen in 15 minutes. So I’ve got [INAUDIBLE]. AUDIENCE: So this
is for Barbara. Thank you for your paper,
which was so provocative at so many levels. And I want to think aloud in
response to one of the strands that you opened up. And I’m not sure this
is fully formed yet, so I hope it makes sense. So I’m very interested in how
one of the axes along which scientism became
politically critical was along the axis of
religiosity and atheism. But I want to think about
another binary alongside. So not religiosity and atheism,
but religiosity and secularism. Because the question of belief– when one thinks of secularism,
the question of belief is not necessarily in
opposition to that of truth– though it could
be in some cases. But it’s also an expression
of state attitudes towards cultural practice. So the politics of
[INAUDIBLE],, for instance, is not necessarily about
trueness or falseness. So I’m starting to
think about what would happen if we thought
about scientism in terms of the
religiosity-secularism axis, knowing that secularism
itself is very situated, and means different things
in different places at times. And it might seem like this
is a completely different trajectory, and it has nothing
to do with scientism at all. But I’m thinking of
the first generation of critiques coming
out of India, of what might be called scientism. People like Ashish
[INAUDIBLE] who were making their
critiques of science as critiques of modernity
and of political modernity. With Andi especially, for
him, his critiques of science were intimately entwined with
his critiques of secularism. And so what’s being
part of their links to traditions of praxis– potentially Gandhian,
but one also sees this in relation to
work on Islam, and the fatwa, and so on. But the question of
science is not just a question of truth
versus belief, but a question of a relation
to ethics and good life. In other words, the question
not of a relation to fact, but value. And one of the things that was
so interesting about your paper is the way in which
there seemed to be an emerging link between
the religiosity and atheism connection. And a political debate,
where the presumption is that the political problem
is one of economic management, especially Hayek. But what would it
mean to extrapolate this debate beyond that– to think about things also
having to do with, if you like, culture, ethics, as the concept
of politics as [INAUDIBLE] BARBARA HERRNSTEIN SMITH: Hmm. [INAUDIBLE] question. I think [INAUDIBLE] some reason
[INAUDIBLE] There are a number of axes along which you can put
the [INAUDIBLE] which is one reason why I my models, is
that I haven’t given a specific political or intellectual
[INAUDIBLE] In other words, scientism and the critique– that which has been halted. And the critique of scientism
[INAUDIBLE] full spectrum, both politically
and intellectually. So it is a term which
is highly unstable. And the fact that
it is now embraced that which has been condemned
as scientism [INAUDIBLE] of science is now–
that’s exactly what we should be doing. And that which is opposed
to that is [INAUDIBLE] Yes. So I would just answer
this by going one by one through
[INAUDIBLE] all positions in which scientism
has played a part. [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: My question has
been answered, actually. SHARON KRAUSE: Sorry? AUDIENCE: My question
has been answered. SHARON KRAUSE: OK. Yes? AUDIENCE: This question
is for Rebecca. Thank you for your paper. I mean, I think it really
brought together for me, in this sort of improbable
way, the forums and discourses of self cultivation, that are
kind of more part of Taoism and Confucianism, with
kind of the productivity politics of the modern state. So this question is specifically
about the way in which– so within these relocation
camps, what kinds of labor are recognized as being the
type of labor and productivity that is productive
of moral subjects? And in particular,
how is that gendered? I mean, I know that in the
context of the communists in Yan’an that it was a
breakthrough for textile production, and women working in
kind of like cottage textiles, to become part of this
consolidation of a communal subject. And also, that was very
much linked in fact, also, to this effort to get idle
people and idle women– so to speak, like that
was the discourse– onto their feet. So I mean, there
seems to be here a very distinct way in which
modern states use labor as a way of redeploying ethical
grounding within citizens. And I’d like to
hear just a bit more about how that becomes
differentiated. REBECCA NEDOSTUP: Well,
to kind of just sum up, I would say that there’s
two trajectories. And one is the trajectory
of state-directed and the state-supported
scientific and agricultural experimentation, in which
the displaced persons, disabled veterans,
and other people were scooped up in these
farms are used as labor force. So that includes forestation,
reforestation experiments, agronomy– sort of agronomy experiments. Very prominently, farms to grow
herbs for Chinese medicine– so-called traditional
Chinese medicine, as was researched and then sort of
canonized in the 20th century. And became an effort, a sort
of focus of government support and politicization, as
part of the refugee effort during the Chinese
war effort– and sort of the Chinese national
character during the war years. So that was one area of labor– getting people away from
their regular agricultural production, and toward
state-directed agricultural production. But then there were
a number of farms where it was much more
dispersed, and much more haphazard. And so it went both ways. But in terms of the
gendering, I think that what I see most prominently
is also the gendering of behavioral elements. And the idea of, I mentioned
earlier, the gendering of education– from
men promoting an idea of not resisting conscription. There was a
corresponding element for education for women,
that taught strategies for how to engage
with the enemy, if one encountered the enemy. And the politics of
resistance to sexual violence, or non resistance
to sexual violence, which is itself worthy
of much more analysis. And so that’s what
I would say to that. SHARON KRAUSE: We’ve also
got time for one more. I’m going to ask my question. And it’s for Rebecca. And it’s about religion being
practiced as you’re seeing it in your study, and power. And I was very
struck by the kind of initial formulation
of the practice as being about strings attached. Which, you know, are
strings to the powerful– that those strings enable
the objects or recipients of this practice to be useful
to the powerful in some way. And then what I
thought was a shift, toward the end of
the talk, when you’re thinking about projects
of liberation and practice in this context– where you use the
word efficaciousness. And the “strings attached”
thing seems to drop out. The power doesn’t
drop out, maybe. But the efficaciousness is
maybe more about empowerment– that power is now oriented
more to the group rather than– so is that right? How strongly do these do you
see these connections being part of your understanding
of practice in this context? REBECCA NEDOSTUP:
Thanks for that. That’s a really useful question. I think in a way this
gets back to an aspect of Leela’s question too, about
people’s conceived relationship to state power as well– whether they’re
engaging or disengaging. Because one of the reasons why
I sort of mentioned in passing about whether in conceiving
of practice whether the sort of falling back on non-state
mentees is an option for us in conceiving of 20th-century
configurations, is because– at least in historical
situations like one– the reach of the
state is so pervasive, in this particular
historical configuration. And especially in moments
of emergency and exception, the promise of the
national formulation– or the promise of the nation as
a mode of political expression and political organization as
a potential route to liberation is so promising to people. That even those who
do not want to engage with the government’s mode– who don’t want to engage
with those strings, and don’t want to engage
with the route to power– still often want
to engage with that mode of national formulation
and national liberation. So a lot of the actors that I
look at who are thinking about the efficaciousness–
for example, the access to a power that
is not national power, that is cosmological power,
or family reunification, for example– a kind of moral power, or
an other worldly power. They’re often still
thinking about engaging with national power. They’re often still talking in
the same register about wanting to reunify the family,
but also in engaging with the mode of
Chinese nationalism. But the interesting
thing is that they think of that as a negotiation,
not necessarily capitulation. So they want to negotiate terms. And oftentimes, I
see it as sort of set of overlapping claims
to sovereignty, rather than a capitulation
to a formulation of state sovereignty– but a set of overlapping
claims of local sovereignty, and family sovereignty,
cosmological sovereignty, and the nation-state
sovereignty all overlapping. SHARON KRAUSE:
Well, please join me in thanking our two speakers. [APPLAUSE]

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