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'Science, technology and medicine in India, 1930-2000: The problem of poverty.'

Poverty in India

Workshops Convened by Dr Sarah Hodges

IAS Seminar Room, Millburn House, University of Warwick


This three-year programme, held jointly by Warwick and Jawaharlal Nehru University, consists of of research, workshops and teaching. It connects established faculty, post-doctoral scholars and postgraduates in India and the UK to examine how far and how effectively projects of science, technology and medicine have addressed questions of poverty in India or instead contributed to their intensification (or concealment) between 1930 and 2000. Poverty was the predominant economic/political/social paradigm within which late colonial, nationalist and post-independence era policy was constructed. This project assesses what happened to articulate or supplant this optic by the close of the twentieth century. It explores the significance, for the earlier paradigm of poverty eradication, of India’s recent economic successes for the research, policy, and practice of science, technology and medicine in India. Has the problem of poverty in India been solved, or has the study of poverty become inconvenient alongside the rise of new narratives that frame India as a site of inspirational economic growth?

NOVEMBER 2010 WORKSHOP DETAILS - 11th and 12th November 2010

During the twentieth century, science, technology, and medicine (STM) were seen by many politicians, policy-makers and practitioners to hold the keys to eradicating or ameliorating Indian poverty. Two linked paradigms structured this belief: first a language of ‘improvement’, and then the project of ‘development’. Yet the period also saw a significant change in the ‘usefulness’ of STM in India. Whereas in the earlier part of the period under consideration, the role of STM was to eradicate poverty at home, by the close of the period under consideration, the role of STM was to promote economic growth on a global stage. Fundamentally, this project assesses whether later twentieth-century ‘liberalisation’ undid an earlier era of science, technology and medicine as a driver of development in India. It asks whether we can we account for India’s recent economic successes as the outcome of the cumulative achievements of science, technology and medicine? If so, what differences have these achievements made to the everyday worlds of India’s poor?

To address these questions, the project adopts a two-fold methodology. One strand is empirical: to map out key interventions of science, technology and medicine into the problem of poverty in India, 1930-2000. The second strand is discursive. We use the framework of science, technology and medicine as an analytic lens to ask how and why poverty emerged (or receded) as the dominant mode for understanding Indian society, polity and economy during the period under consideration. In other words, through an historical investigation into these phenomena, we seek to reverse the dominant trajectory of the question of poverty. Instead of asking, as historical actors tended to do: what accounts for poverty in India? (and the corollary of how to solve it) we ask: what was the problem that 'poverty' (i.e., the proliferation of ways of understanding it, quantifying it, etc) solved? For whom, how, and when?

For further details or queries please contact the Project Convenor Dr Sarah Hodges or CHM Administrator (Tracy Horton)