Society for the Promotion of S&T Studies

Promoters of the International Journal - Science, Technology and Society

C/O Room No 232

Centre for studies in Science Policy

School of Social Sciences Building I

Jawaharlal Nehru University

New Delhi -110067 India

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Science, Technology & Society Studies (STSS) Research Workshop

 

Report by: V.V. Krishna and Rohan D’Souza

 

Workshop Dates: 25-27 March 2004

 

Organized by:

 

·            Centre for Studies in Science Policy(CSSP), Jawaharlal Nehru University, India

·            Society for the Promotion of S&T Studies

·            National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS), India

 

Science, Technology and Society Studies (STSS) is emerging as an important interdisciplinary field of studies. Broadly, the field of STSS would cover historical and sociological studies on science and technology; economics of technical  A cursory look into the numbers indicate that there are about 45 to 48 PhD scholars engaged in one of the STSS sub-fields pursuing research in various institutions in social sciences and management schools. Two main aims in organizing such a workshop was to create an academic or professional forum for interaction and discussion for scholars who often find themselves in relative isolation in their respective institutions and create a sense of ‘professional community’; and aid these scholars to strengthen and sharpen their themes of research, theoretical and empirical frameworks, research design and methodologies etc., The STSS workshop, therefore, was intended to be a timely attempt to give coherence and synergy to this evolving group with a view to make it an annual event similar to ‘summer’ or ‘winter’ schools in other disciplines organized around the world. What follows is the brief over view of the work-in-progress reports of PhD synopses presented for discussion at the workshop. Before we present this, it is pertinent to reflect upon the important points that came up during the inaugural session. Professor G.K. Chadha, Vice Chancellor, JNU, in his inaugural remarks drew attention to the importance of technology diffusion from the perspective of economics of technical change. He underlined the importance of institutional and organizational factors for technological learning in the enterprises and firms and at the same time drew attention as to how these factors are also responsible for technology absorption and assimilation that play a crucial part in technology diffusion. Professor R.K. Saxena, Rector, JNU, particularly drew attention, in his remarks; about the declining rates as well as aggregate numbers of India’s scientific productivity in terms of papers measured through science citation analyses and urged STSS scholars to examine this issue in the wider international and comparative perspective. Dr Ashok Jain, Scientist Emeritus, CSIR, touched upon the neglected domain of indigenous innovators and small technical changes which have a crucial role to play in the Indian rural and semi-urban context. Professor V.V. Krishna, Chairperson, CSSP, gave a brief account of the activities of the Centre, which is currently running its fourth batch of M.Phil /PhD programme. About 10 scholars are selected for this programme every year out of 130-140 students go through JNU entrance and interview evaluation processes.

 

A total of 14 PhD synopses were short listed for presentation and discussion from almost 35 applications. These synopses were accepted  from a number of University departments  which included JNU, IIT (Mumbai), IIT (Kanpur), IIT (Madras), University of Hyderabad,  Aligarh Muslim University, Delhi University and the University of Madras.  14 faculty members [iv] and senior researchers various institutions constituted the Workshop Faculty to interact and discuss over the various presentations.

 

The presentations were structured in a manner to provide insights and opinion to the presenters in order to strengthen their arguments and provide them with feedback to further develop and complete their PhD thesis’.  Each presenter was given an hour’s time to make her/his presentation and elicit comments from the various members of the audience. The intention was to also generate networks that could then create and sustain dialogues on STSS issues.  The workshop also sought to emphasize as much on formal interactions such as during the period of the presentation as also on informal exchanges during the various lunches, dinners and tea breaks. In fact, the workshop appears to have very successfully created a working group of sorts on the subject of STS.

 

The sessions were broadly grouped into four main groups, based on the specific focus of the synopsis’. These  respective frameworks were grouped under : a) Sociology of Science and Technology, b) Science and Technology Policy Studies c) Social History of Science , d) Historical and Sociological Studies of Science. The fact that the workshop had to distribute the presentations across these sub-themes, in fact, also reflects how much the field has acquired sophistication and broad ranging concerns in its ambit, especially in the recent past.

 

In the first session three presentations were made by Indira Chakravarthi (CSMCH, JNU), Parvathi K. Iyer (Univ. Hyderabad) and Debasmita Patra (Univ. Hyderabad).  Indira’s synopsis looked at the diffusion of medical technology in India and its attendant impacts for public health. She intended to argue by plotting how the rapid growth in medical equipment technologies in India had ironically led to a rapid erosion of popular access to both medicine and healthcare amongst the people at large. Parvathi Iyer synopsis presentation dealt with the issue of mapping drug quality within what she termed as a constructivist framework. Her attempt was essentially aimed at developing a sociological approach towards understanding how drug quality was established through a multiplicity of preferences and inevitably constructed as a standard for use. Debasmitra Patra outlined her PhD project as involving a case study of the ‘ Solid State and Structural Chemistry Unit (SSCU) in I.I.SC., Bangalore. She intends to root her study by gaining from the substantial insights that have been explored within the sociology of science frameworks such as Thomas Kuhn et al.

 

In the second session the presentations were made by Mahesh Sharma (CSSP, JNU), Nimesh Chandra (CSSP, JNU) and Rajkumar Hirwani (IIT, Mumbai). Mahesh Kumar presentation was on looking at the idea of national system of innovation with regard to the public sector and R&D in India. In particular, he intends to explore the manner in which NSI looks at the role of education, a hospitable cultural environment and economic policies in fostering regimes for innovation. Nimesh Chandra intended to study the academia and industry interface with regard to technology commercialization in India. Central to his enquiry would be exploring the manner and mechanics of technology transfers between academia and industry. Rajkumar Ram’s presentation was in fact a broad summary of his PhD thesis which was near to being submitted. He set out in a substantial manner how globalisation could actually spur the growth for industrial R&D in India.

 

In the third session, presentations were to be made by Srinivasa Rao (IIT, Madras) and Biswanath Dash (CSSP, JNU). Srinivasa Rao’s synopsis was broadly framed as a project in the history of science and technology in India. He intends to study and outline the various phases in the emergence and development of the electricity system in the erstwhile Madras Presidency. He divided the emergence of electricity generation in the region into three phases which, according to him, straddle three distinct though overlapping time periods : a) the infant phase (1900-270; b) phase of intense exploration (1927-35) and c) development phase (1935-47).   Unfortunately, Biswanath Dash, due to some personal reasons, could not make his presentation.

 

In session four, three presentations were made by Mumtaz Alam (Aligarh Muslim University), V. Alin Suleja (Instt. of Correspondence Univ. of Madras) and B.K. Choudhury.  Mumtaz Alam aimed to look at the medical encounter between the European Medical Services and the tradition of Unani practices in the 18th and 19th centuries in colonial north India. V. Alin Suleja, in the same mood, wanted to explore the contributions of the Jesuits in both the teaching and study of science. She also intended to look at a slew of archival collections and records that the Jesuits continue to maintain in different missions in India. B.K. Choudhury’s synopsis sought to outline what he termed as the political ecology of Tuberculosis in India. Choudhury intends to reveal how aspects of both politics and issues of the environment have worked towards shaping particular types of responses to Tuberculosis in India.

 

The last,  fifth and final session comprised presentations by Sambit Mallick (Univ. of Hyderabad), Dhrub Kumar (CHS, JNU), Shoma Chakravorty (Delhi University) and Subhasis Sahoo. Sambit Mallick’s synopsis attempted to outline his interest in tracing the manner in which science and technology policies were shaped in India in the context of the rise and growth of nationalism in the early half of the twentieth century.  Subhasis Sahoo’s synopsis was concerned with looking at the popularization of science and scientists in Orissa. He was keen to argue that the specific manner in which science took root and created its adherents, especially in local contexts, has been little studied in India. Shoma Chakravorthy’s presentation looked at the role of the Kerala Sahitya Shastra Parsihad in Kerala in bringing about notions and influences of people’s sciences. She attempted to both deliberate on the achievements and the failings of what is a unique and ongoing movement to help constitute science as an important element of civil society.  Dhrub Kumar’s presentation was centred on how the emergence of science and scientists in late colonial India, ultimately began to influence and shape the project of nation building in India. In particular, he wanted to understand how the notion of self-reliance drove the idea of science in the period.

 

The workshop also deliberated, for a whole session, on the problems that student in science studies programme came up against. Besides the shortage of funds, there were also several views expressed about the lack of good and properly indexed science archives. In particular, many students felt that information, even though legally entitled to them, was often withheld by libraries and other institutions. It was also generally agreed by all present that an email networking group would be assembled and that there was greater need for interactions through avenues such as the STSS workshop. The student participants were also unanimous in insisting that the STSS workshop be made an annual feature.

 

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[i] M.N. Saha launched the journal Science and Culture in 1938 and till about 1960s it carried one of the most illuminating debates on science and technology policy issues in this country in the colonial and post-colonial context.

 

[ii] Without going into the details on the history of this centre, the CSSP could not function for 15 years after 1980 and was revived after 1995-96.

 

[iii] The workshop was supported by JNU, ICSSR, CSIR’s HRD group and the promoters of STS Journal, The Society for the Promotion of Science and Technology Studies. Colleagues from NISTADS and JNU constituted the main organizers of the workshop.

 

[iv] Prof. Amit Shovan Ray (CSDILE, JNU), Prof. Deepak Kumar (ZHCES, JNU),  Prof. V.V. Krishna (CSSP, JNU),  Prof. Ashok Parthasarathi (CSSP, JNU), Prof. Nasir Tyabji (CSSP, JNU), Dr. Pranav Desai (CSSP, JNU), Dr. Rohan  D’Souza (CSSP, JNU), Dr. Saradindu Bhaduri (CSSP, JNU), Dr. Dhruv Raina (ZHCES, JNU), Dr. Dinesh Abrol (Senior Scientist, NISTADS, CSIR), Dr. Pradosh Nath (Senior Scientist, NISTADS, CSIR), Dr. Irfan Habib (Senior Scientist, NISTADS, CSIR),  Dr. Ashok Jain (Emeritus Scientist, CSIR), Prof. E. Hari Babu (University of Hyderabad), Prof. Binay Kumar Patnaik (IIT, Kanpur)