Whose Knowledge?

The Objectivity of My Affection: Part 11

Why did “modern” science arise in Europe? And if other sciences were once so powerful, what happened to them?

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(1)  Examples of this include rice cultivation technology from Africa that leading to the proliferation of rice as a South Carolina plantation crop (Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas, Judith A. Carney), or the borrowing and further research into quinine as a malaria treatment which allowed Europeans to gain a stronger foothold in Africa and therefore the ability to better exploit and enslave African peoples (A People’s History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and ‘Low Mechanicks,’ Clifford D. Conner 2005)

As such, many of the scientific projects intended and resulted in more death and less freedom – not something we usually associate with “successful” science.

(2) Examples of de-development include:

  • Extraction of raw materials like metals and agriculture that served as currency/sustenance/cash crop/raw material as well as resources for scientific enterprise.
  • Extraction of labor, either moving raw materials to labor or labor to raw materials, but either way taking labor away from further development of local scientific and technological projects.
  • Extraction of local scientific knowledge that was used by the colonizers to support European projects, many that were intended to decrease the economic/political/cultural power of the people who the knowledge came from (plantation agriculture, anyone?)
  • Devaluation of indigenous cultural traditions and destruction of local industries and trades, whether actively to create room in the market for European replacements or passively as a result of the colonial process. Industry and trade are generally universal drivers of scientific progress, so their absence impedes scientific progress.
  • Decimation of populations, both actively and passively through enslavement, conquest, and introduction of disease. No people = no scientists. (Is Science Multicultural?: Postcolonialisms, Feminisms, and Epistemologies (Race, Gender, and Science), Sandra Harding 1998)

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Questions or comments? Email Sophie at freeradicalsblog@gmail.com with ‘Science Under the Scope’ in the subject line.

Sophie Wang (aka shuf) is a big nerd and small zine gremlin who challenges our taken-for-granted assumptions about western science through comics and zines. She draws (heh) from her background in Science and Technology Studies and her many years making art of widely varying quality. You can follow her at @wangshuf.