Science, Capitalism, and Knowledge Commodities

This working group invites scholars to think about knowledge creation through the analytical lens of capitalist extraction. Why capitalist extraction in particular? Because scientific extraction often occurs on account of the logic of the market and then yields materials refined according to that same logic. This market can be economic, in the case of bio-piratedpharmaceuticals, or intellectual, in the case of the search for dark matter. Historians and sociologists of science have in recent decades insisted on the materiality of scientific knowledge. An emphasis on practices, places, and material cultures have brought knowledge out of theaether and into the hands of laborers, technicians, scientists, and lay practitioners carrying out their actions in concrete settings. Thinking of knowledge in terms of resources or raw materials refined into commodities takes a further step in this direction. Resource extraction opens up questions about the means and social conditions, sometimes in a colonial context, of knowledge production. Refinement sheds light on continuums between the land and the lab, and on the technological systems required to process observations into a final product.

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Consortium Respectful Behavior Policy

Participants at Consortium activities will treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to conduct@chstm.org.

Upcoming Meetings

  • Tuesday, January 24, 2023 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm EST

    TBA


  • Tuesday, February 28, 2023 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm EST

    TBA


  • Tuesday, March 28, 2023 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm EDT

    TBA


  • Tuesday, April 25, 2023 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm EDT

    TBA


  • Tuesday, May 23, 2023 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm EDT

    TBA



Past Meetings

  • November 22, 2022

    Anthony Greco (Doctoral Candidate - University of California, Santa Barbara) will lead our November discussion. His talk is titled "Engineering on Trial: The 1920 Nile Projects Controversy and the Flow and Friction of Scientific Data."
     
    Abstract: A question of circulation has long structured approaches to the history of science across diverse world regions. Scientific knowledge production facilitated both exchange and opposition between cultural barriers. In 1920, the Nile Valley was the scene of a debate between Egyptian and British engineers over competing systems of hydraulic measurement. The controversy offers a fresh perspective on flows and frictions of scientific knowledge. Experts on all sides proffered evidence from a variety of sources, from current meters, gauge-flow charts, and sluice gate readings to interviews with peasants and even medieval Arabic chronicles. This paper explores the controversy though technical reports, political speeches, journalistic articles, public lectures, correspondence, and exhibitions in Arabic and English. By putting hydraulic engineering on trial, the controversy offers a view of “science in action” revealing how the flow of hydraulic measurements from the river bank to the Public Works Ministry encountered the friction labor, language, and the limitations of British imperialism.  

     

    You can learn more about Anthony's research here: https://www.history.ucsb.edu/graduate-student/anthonygreco/
     


  • September 27, 2022

    Christopher Jones (Arizona State Unversity) will lead the group in a discussion of the introduction to his upcoming work. The chapter, titled "The Invention of Infinite Growth," considers how the concept of infinite economic growth has shaped political thinking in the US and how it has exacerbated some of the most daunting ecological challenges associated with the anthropocene. We look forward to a lively conversation on this timely matter!
     
    For more of Christopher's research, you can check out his webpage: http://www.christopherfjones.com/
    or his page at ASU's Global Institute of Sustainablity and Innovation: https://sustainability-innovation.asu.edu/person/christopher-jones/
     
    Please direct any questions about the meeting to:
    Joshua McGuffie: jmcguffi@ucla.edu
    Eun-Joo Ahn: eahn@ucsb.edu
    Lee Vinsel: lee.vinsel@gmail.com
     


  • May 24, 2022

    24 May 2022
    2pm to 3:30pm Eastern
    Robin Scheffler, MIT, will present an exciting essay titled "Biotechnology and the Urban Geography of Knowledge Production." This piece grows out of research for Robin's forthcoming book, Genetown: The Greater Boston Area and the Rise of American Biotechnology.
    You can check out Robin's work here: http://robinscheffler.mit.edu/
     


  • April 26, 2022

    Hello all!
    Due to circumstances outside of their control, our April presenter will not be able to share a paper. Since we still have the meeting time alotted, we conveners are hoping to have a group discussion with everyone who's interested in the future direction of the reading group.
    We might talk future directions, interesting topics, and what's next. Are there any speakers who it would be good to invite to the group? Any focused historiographi conversations that could be fruitful? Any timely topics?
    We'll meet over zoom at 2pm EDT on Tuesday 26 April.
    All the best,
    Eun-Joo Ahn, Josh McGuffie, and Lee Vinsel


  • March 22, 2022

    Cyrus Mody, Maastricht University, will share his paper "Oil Spillovers and the Ambiguities of Scarcity in the Long 1970s"on Tuesday 22 March at 2pm Eastern. Here is the abstract:

    "The 1970s saw an intense global debate about resource scarcity and related issues: consumption, conservation, pollution, overpopulation. This debate was propelled by events such as publication of the Limits to Growth report and the UN Stockholm Conference of 1972, and especially the OAPEC oil embargo of 1973. From 1973 to 1979, the experience of car-free Sundays and long lines for petrol (temporarily) persuaded global publics that oil was a finite and scarce resource.
    There are many conspiracy theories - some of them plausible - about the oil industry's role in the embargo and in the scarcity debate more generally. What is certain is that people associated with the oil industry fostered that debate - from both the "cornucopian" and "neo-Malthusian" camps. Oil actors and oil firms were also surprisingly active in alternative energy in this period: most of the major companies and many of the minors had in-house programs and/or partnerships in nuclear energy (both fission and fusion), solar, geothermal, the hydrogen economy (batteries, fuel cells, and electric cars), biomass, etc. The windfall profits and political pressures arising from the oil crises of '73 and '79 also led oil firms to invest massively in non-oil technologies: biotech, artificial intelligence, semiconductor manufacturing, and even advanced golf club technology! Yet when the price of oil declined in the 1970s oil companies retreated from those investments and slowly turned to climate denialism as an alternative strategy.
    This talk surveys the oil industry's complex role in all kinds of technological activities (or "oil spillovers") throughout the 20th century, and the intensification of those spillovers in connection with the scarcity debate of the 1970s. I will further attempt to draw out some insights relevant to sustainability transition and innovation studies and to current debates about the oil industry's culpability for climate change."

     
     

     
     

     

    You can find Mody's webpage here: https://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/c.mody
    ...and more on his oil research here: http://www.maastrichtsts.nl/managing-scarcity-and-sustainability


  • February 22, 2022

    Taylor Moore, Academy Scholar, The Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, will share a chapter that "reconstructs the rich constellation of occult workers, occult objects, and their customers in late 19th and early 20th century Egypt. It uses Arabic sources and archival materials from ethnographic amulet collections to highlight the political and spiritual economy of women magico-medical practitioners at the center of this robust economy."
    You can find her website at: https://wcfia.harvard.edu/taylor-m-moore
     
    22 Febuary 2022, 2pm - 3:30pm EST


  • January 25, 2022

    Erika Milam, Charles C. and Emily R. Gillispie Professor in the History of Science at Princeton University, will share a work in progress titled "Making Place in the Field: Science, Capitalism, and Knowledge" that looks at long-term research projects in animal behavior during the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. You can find the abstract below and the paper attached.
     
    Abstract: By conceptualizing place-making as a dynamic process, this essay explores the history of two field sites that house long-term research projects in animal behavior: the Amboseli Baboon Project, cofounded by Jeanne Altmann in 1971, and Kay Holekamp’s Mara Hyena Project, which began in 1988. It highlights scientific place-making as crucial to the production of knowledge within behavioral ecology and invests our historical understanding of field sites with an appreciation for the intellectual processes that have transformed land into places for the generation of scientific data.


  • November 23, 2021

    The Science, Capitalism, and Knowledge Commodities reading group will meet next Tuesday, 23 November from 2 to 3:30 PM Eastern.
    Gustave Lester, PhD. Candidate, Harvard University and Beckman Dissertation Fellow at the Science History Institute will present a draft of his dissertation chapter: "Mineral Resources and Economic Nationalism in the Early Republic, 1780-1815."
    The Zoom link will be available on the reading group webpage. We look forward to an exciting and productive discussion!


  • October 26, 2021

    Evan Hepler-Smith, Duke University, "Handbook chemistry" from his ms. Compound Words: Chemical Information and the Molecular World, on the 19th century emergence of the chemical handbook and the chemical abstract journal.


  • September 28, 2021

    Liat Spiro, College of the Holy Cross, "Patentability and Experience: Work, Class, and Risk in the Political Economy of Intellectual Property in Imperial Germany," on patenting as a domain of social politics and workplace political economy in Imperial Germany.


Group Conveners

  • eunjooahn's picture

    Eun-Joo Ahn

    Eun-Joo Ahn is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at University of California Santa Barbara. She researches on how astronomers in Southern California interacted with their physical and socio-economic environment at the turn of the twentieth century. Previously, she received her PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the University of Chicago.

     

  • joshnickmc's picture

    Joshua McGuffie

    Joshua McGuffie is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of History at UC Los Angeles. He researches the doctors and biologists of the Manhattan Projects’s Medical Section. In this project, he focuses especially on the values and practices they developed to count and quantify radiation and its biological effects. His project analyzes how techniques and judgments worked out in the field unfolded socially, politically, and environmentally.For his MA at Oregon State University, he studied ecologists at Hanford. This research has taken him to nuclear installations across the western United States. He was once questioned by sheriff's deputies who were concerned that he had trespassed while taking photographs on the edge of the Nevada Test Site.

     

  • leevinsel's picture

    Lee Vinsel

    Lee Vinsel studies human life with technology, with particular focus on the relationship between government, business, and technological change. His first book, Moving Violations: Automobiles, Experts, and Regulations in the United States, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in July 2019. Since 2015, with his collaborator Andy Russell, Vinsel has organized and led The Maintainers, a global interdisciplinary research network that examines maintenance, repair, and mundane work with technology. Vinsel’s work has been published in several major history journals and has appeared in or been covered by Aeon, the New York Times, The Atlantic, Guardian, Le Monde, and other popular outlets.

     

     

  • Claire Votava

     

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