Science and the State

Ben Felten

Theme for 2020 - 2021

Seminar Texts and Schedule

Seminar Notes

Modern science and the modern state are inextricable and co-emergent. Indeed, the rise of the state form has been accomplished through the ways of knowing and extracting that scientific analysis makes possible—including classification, hierarchization, quantification, and reductionism. But while the production of science and the formation of the state are relatively well studied, much remains to be understood about the relationships between the two—how states support, use, and regulate sciences, and how the sciences support the structure, function, and legitimacy of states.

What have been the historical processes involved in the intertwined development of states and sciences, and how much have they varied across national contexts? While the state remains the driver of both private and public sector technoscience in certain societies, what has its role become in many others, where scientific innovation is increasingly seen as the purview of the private sector? As we today face issues and crises, from human gene-editing to climate change, that supersede provincial boundaries—even as forms of violence and social control enabled by science continue to be operationalized by nation-states—what forms of transnational oversight may be required? How might state engagement with the natural and social sciences, such as the use of “nudge units” and “evidence-based” claims in legislation and governance, necessitate new understandings of the relationship between states and sciences? How does the corporate world respond to increasing demands from both the state and citizens for social responsibility and ethical practice with regard to science and technology? These are some of the questions that will be addressed by the various disciplines of the social sciences and humanities.

The program will be led by Alondra Nelson, Harold F. Linder Professor and Charis Thompson, Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, in collaboration with Didier Fassin, James D. Wolfensohn Professor.