ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Socially Embedded History

Dispersed Radiance: Caste, Gender, and Modern Science in India by Abha Sur (New Delhi: Navayana Publishing), 2011; pp 286, Rs 495.

Over the last century the transition from the unity of sciences to disunity changed our understanding of science (Galison and Stump 1996). Following the various epistemological turns, the age-old scientific “virtues” such as objectivity, rationality, ­reality and universality have become bad words in academia, especially in the social sciences. We have also witnessed a concomitant transition of philosophy of science to the so-called science studies. While critiquing science as a deta­ched, distant and disengaged praxis, a large body of literature developed in the last three decades, which, paradoxically, did not have a sincere engagement with science itself. We are therefore observing a sense of unease and disbelief among the participants of the “Science Wars” (Labinger and Collins 2001). In this epistemological war, the divide has been accentuated by the sharpening of theoretical weapons on both sides.

Interestingly, one of the first turns – the historical turn – introduced by Thomas Kuhn (1996) in the 1960s came out of a thorough and deep engagement with science. His concepts of “paradigm shift”, “incommensurability” and “underdetermination of scientific theory” brought novel understandings to the development of scientific theory, particularly in physics. Knowing that history is always fragmented, incomplete and discontinuous, a close reading of the history of science could indeed open up new pathways for analysis and exhume new ­information buried under the dirty mud of time.

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