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Charu Singh, Lecturer, Department of History, Stanford University

Thu February 3rd 2022, 4:30 - 6:00pm

Disposition, merit, and morality: Figurations of the scientist in India, 1915-1920

Even as the first Indian scientists rose to global fame at the turn of the twentieth century, the life of science remained novel to most colonial subjects in British India. Who a scientist was, what they did, and what kind of disposition and skills they had, was far from self-evident. How then did the scientist emerge as an exemplar of moral conduct and a figure of sociocultural authority amongst vernacular publics in South Asia?

In this talk, I analyze the rise of the scientist as a new persona among the readers, authors and editors of the Hindi-language science monthly Vigyan. The serialized ‘life of science’ emerged as an instructive print-artifact for these readers in discursive experiments such as biography, fiction, and reportage. Each of these genres staged particular visions of the talents and dispositions deemed appropriate for a life of science, and each divided the labours and rewards of this life according to existing social hierarchies. Drawing attention to the caste-limits of the Vigyan collective and of its authors’ critique of Indian society, this talk engages with the recent anthropological critique of the culture of merit in contemporary Indian technoscience. Figurations of the exemplary scientist in Vigyan I argue, partook of this caste privilege and renewed commitments to the Hindu social order. The evaluations of ability, interest, disposition, and merit embedded in these figurations also help us rethink the polity of twentieth-century Indian science.