CfP: Sciences of Colonial Life (19-20th c.). Congress of the Société d’histoire et d’épistémologie des sciences de la vie (Event : 03/2010, Strassbourg); DL : 20.01.2010

SHESVIE (Société d’histoire et d’épistémologie des sciences de la vie) in partnership with the University of Strasbourg (IRIST/DHVS) (Web)

Zeit: 24.-25.03.2010
Ort: Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Pathological Anatomy

In recent decades, the remarkable expansion of postcolonial studies has triggered new approaches in the field of colonial history. Instigated by Edward Saïd’s Orientalism (1978), these studies have challenged the idea that knowledge produced in colonial settings did not follow linear diffusion from imperial powers to local systems of norms, beliefs and discourses. Rather, the production of scientific knowledge could be described in terms of accommodation and relational processes transpiring with the circulation of scientific tools, concepts and scientists. Regarding Saïd’s book as a milestone, authors such as Homi K. Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak and David Arnold have contributed to the postcolonial project by respectively developing a colonial theory, balancing colonial biases with subaltern discourses, and relocating the conflictual economy of knowledge production and its circulation.

If the proponents of the postcolonial project have emphasized the role of colonial discourse, historians, sociologists and anthropologists of science, for their part, have stressed the need to take into consideration not only discourses but also practices. For example, Warwick Anderson, by using the concept of „ecology of knowledge“, insisted on the fact that postcolonial studies of science could reintroduce the materiality of scientific practices.

One might wonder whether the merging of science and postcolonial studies approaches could be fruitful to document scientific exchanges and the production of identities (both individual and collective) along hierarchized networks and thereby distributed on local/global scales. Convergence of science and postcolonial studies may be helpful to understand the ways in which knowledge is co-constructed beyond asymmetrical relationships. What can be learned from current studies of colonial history and colonial sciences? How are they influenced by the contributions of postcolonial and science studies? How does this research discuss links between knowledge and power, while rejecting imperial accounts or nationalistic visions?

This workshop aims at discussing the relevance of such approaches in the field of colonial studies and describing its influence on current research of the life sciences in the colonial context. We would be delighted to receive proposals documenting the non-exhaustive list following below.

Acclimatization, Nature Conservation and Experiments
One can wonder whether through botanic, animal (including zootechnical aspects), and human models, research on acclimatization went beyond scientific concerns and played a pivotal role in the legitimization of the colonial project. As a consequence, life sciences were embroiled into asymmetrical relationships. One can also investigate the kinship between the notions of „race“ and „environment“ and the ambiguity of the concept of „tropicality“ insofar as it refers to wilderness and pervades the idea that nature has to be preserved (through conservation) or domesticated (through agriculture). Last, but not least, one can question the idea that colonization has been considered open-field experiment often supported by agriculture and industrial mise en valeur schemes.

Circulating Knowledge under Scrutiny
Different concepts, tools, models and metaphors contributed to publicizing colonial knowledge (metaphors of war and invasion, island model, but also narratives on the pacified relationships between humans and their environment) and some of these concepts and tools became prominent in medical and biological thought. One can document the ways in which the production of knowledge can be both contested and legitimized in specific context such as „contact zones“ or „trading zones“ and „cultural borderlands“.

Representing the Tropics
Acclimatization gardens, colonial expositions, human zoos, museographic collections, or health education films are multiple sites and objects whose description could contribute to questions of the manufacture of representations about the colonial world.

Professionalization of Life Sciences and Medicine
Often held as objects of scientific enquiry, colonized communities have also become subjects of the ongoing process of science production. Speakers are encouraged to retrace case studies on the institutionalization and professionalization of life and medical sciences following the creation of faculties and research institutes, journals and the participation of scientists in transnational networks.

Abstracts of 250 words should be sent to Marion Thomas ( or to Matthieu Fintz ( by 20 January 2010.

The congress is organized by the SHESVIE (Société d’histoire et d’épistémologie des sciences de la vie) in partnership with the University of Strasbourg (IRIST/DHVS). It will take place on 24-25 March 2010, at the Hospices civils of Strasbourg, at the Institute of Pathological Anatomy (Room 19). Conference languages are French and English.

Scientific and organization committee: Christian Bonah (University of Strasbourg), Matthieu Fintz (IRIST Associate Researcher), Laurent Loison (University of Nantes), Marion Thomas (University of Strasbourg).

Marion Thomas
DHVS, Faculté de Médecine
4 rue Kirschleger,
F-67000 Strasbourg

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