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Vol. 41, No. 2, April 2012
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A Dialogue in December: Building a Canadian-Indian Partnership

Emily Tector and Jobin Mathew; A report on the "Sciences and Narratives of Nature: East and West" workshop in Manipal, India December 12 to 14, 2011

Participants at the "Sciences and Narratives of Nature: East and West" workshop
Participants at the "Sciences and Narratives of Nature: East and West" workshop

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A Dialogue in December: Building a Canadian-Indian Partnership
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It takes a while for Canadians to get used to the mid-December heat when they step off the plane in southwest India, but it's easy to acclimatize to the beautiful country, rich culture, and warm people.

In December 2011, leading Canadian scholars in Science and Technology Studies joined those from India, Singapore, and Australia for a three-day workshop, "Sciences and Narratives of Nature: East and West." The workshop took place at Manipal University's Centre for Philosophy and Humanities in the small but bustling town of Manipal, near the west coast of India. The workshop marked the second stage in a series of collaborations between Canadian, Indian, and Southeast-Asian scholars in the fields of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and History and Philosophy of Science (HPS). It followed the "Circulating Knowledge, East and West" international workshop held at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia in July 2010, and the "Intersections: New Approaches to Science and Technology in 20th-Century China and India" workshop at York University in Spring 2011. The Manipal event adopted a comparative approach, examining the place of science and concepts of nature in the "East" and the "West." This approach was fostered by representatives of the various lead institutions, including the Vice Chancellor of Manipal University, K. Ramnarayan, the Director of the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Sundar Sarukkai, and the Director of the Situating Science Strategic Knowledge Cluster in Canada, Gordon McOuat.

Several years ago, Drs. Sundar Sarukkai and Gordon McOuat began discussing the need to build an alliance between Canadian and Indian researchers in STS and HPS. "Given the fact that there is a great diversity in the views about nature in different cultural and intellectual traditions," explained Dr. Sarukkai, "and because science, as an enterprise, is aimed at studying nature, it is important to have an international network that studies science and technology."

The workshop program was ambitious and wide-ranging. With Western presenters either hot (literally) off the tarmac or bravely fighting through jet lag, the first day of sessions explored ancient Western theories of generation, the history of Eastern and Western mathematics, Victorian materialism, Indian traditions of astronomy and language, early modern mapping, and the exchange of knowledge between the East and the West. After a rejuvenating dinner in the backwaters of Kadekar, participants returned on the second day to compare their perspectives on gender and science, environmentalism, thought experiments, and medical and religious traditions. Presenters rounded off the last day with comparisons between philosophies of modern science, trends in contemporary STS, and relations between sciences and nationhood. The papers from the Manipal workshop will be brought together for publication, as was done with the proceedings of the "Circulating Knowledge" workshop in Halifax. (B. Lightman, G. McOuat, and L. Stewart, eds., Circulating Knowledge: East and West. Brill, 2012.)

While experiencing their own East/West cultural encounter, newcomers were a little anxious. Any concern about the coordination of the workshop, however, was quickly dispelled; the helpful army of volunteer students from the Manipal Centre—staying on during their December break—moved things right along and made participants feel welcome. Updates on the quirky student blog, Barefoot Philosophers, kept readers abreast of the phenomenology of workshop activities.

The energy and excitement were palpable in conversations between presenters and attendees who mingled and exchanged ideas during breaks and discussions. A young faculty member from St. Stephen's College in Delhi remarked on the effect of the event: "The [workshop] helped me channel my otherwise distracted gut feelings, initiated me into newer fields of inquiry and introduced me to some fine minds in the field."

Lingering apprehensions were addressed during an open strategy session on the final day. The session opened the floor to students, presenters and attendees. From this session, the event's organizers and participants took away several suggestions and plans for further collaboration. "Canada has some of the best scholars in the field of Science and Technology Studies," noted Dr. Sarukkai. "The new generation of Indian scholars in humanities and social sciences who are interested in science and technology will benefit a lot from such a collaborative effort."

What of fundamental concerns about possible incommensurabilities and insurmountable cultural divides? This question informed Dr. McOuat's evening lecture, "Orientalism in Science Studies: Should We Worry?" In the lecture, Dr. McOuat addressed those concerns: "We have often spoken of dichotomies, of centre and peripheries, and incommensurabilities. Our own field has seen its many solitudes. It's time to get over that...As we have discovered in our dialogues here and our previous collaborations, the 'sciences' and pre- and post-colonial narratives of nature have always been in a mode of exchange, translation and circulation. It's time for STS and HPS scholars to follow."

With partners keen to explore more ways to build long-term collaborations on these foundations, this relationship has a promising future. The sponsoring parties in Canada, India and South East Asia are now working to establish a more permanent partnership between the regions, benefiting teaching, research and the culture of STS and HPS in both communities and globally.

More information on the workshop, including program and abstracts, is available at the Situating Science Strategic Knowledge Cluster website: www.situsci.ca. This event was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)'s Aid to Research Workshops and Conferences grant and Manipal University as well as the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore, the University of New South Wales, the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute Scholar Travel Subsidy Grant and the Situating Science Strategic Knowledge Cluster. Dr. Stephen Bocking (Trent University) kept a blog on the event, which may be read here: http://niche-canada.org/node/10267.

Jobin Mathew is a doctoral candidate at the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal University in Manipal, India. Emily Tector is Project Coordinator for the Situating Science Strategic Knowledge Cluster in Canada, which is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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