Science and Empire

The CEMRA (Research Centre on Representations of the English Speaking
World), within the framework of Cluster 14
(regional research programme on Imaginary
Representations of Science and Technology),
invites proposals for the forthcoming
international conference on Science and Empire.
The conference will take place at Université
Stendhal – Grenoble 3, France, on 13, 14 and 15
November 2008.

Papers and discussions will be on the role of
science in the XIX^th and early XX^th centuries,
in the context of British imperialism and the
rise of the American empire, as a way to fulfil a
quest for knowledge, a tool in the exploration of
foreign lands, discourse on and representations
of otherness, as well as a source of anguish and
questioning. Papers may also focus on the way
science itself is represented in works of
fiction, travelogues (at the crossroads of
science and literature), autobiographies, essays,
press articles or scientific papers and in
museums.

The following fields of research will be
considered: human and social sciences
(anthropology, ethnography, cartography,
phrenology), which thrived during the period of
imperial expansion, racial theories couched in
pseudo-scientific discourse, hard sciences
(discoveries in astronomy, thermodynamics),
natural sciences, as they are presented in
specialised or popularised works, in the press,
in travel narratives or at world fairs but also
in literary texts. Such approaches allow for the
analysis of the link between knowledge and power
as well as of the paradox of a scientific
discourse which claims to seek the truth while at
the same time both masking and revealing the
political and economic stakes of Anglo-saxon
imperialism. The analysis of various types of
discourse and representation will serve to
highlight the tension between science and
ideology, between “objectivity” and propaganda,
and stress the limits of an imperialist
epistemology which has sometimes been questioned
in more ambiguous or subversive texts.

The scientific discoveries of the XIX^th century
and the epistemological crisis at the turn of the
century also often triggered existential disquiet
and anguish, metaphysical questioning, which
found a convenient outlet in a quest for origins
and myths, a fantasised return to a
pre-industrial state and an idealisation of
nature as well as the conquest or imaginary
representation of newly explored countries.
Science can thus engender or reveal two opposed
visions of the world: a reassuring one which
presents a well-ordered world with clear limits
and a frightening one which features a complex
and boundless universe which escapes the control
of science and imperialism.

Participants are invited to examine such issues
as the plurality of scientific discourses, the
alienating dangers of reduction, fragmentation
and reification, the interaction between
scientific discourse and literary discourse, the
way certain texts use scientific discourse to
serve their imperialist views or, conversely,
deconstruct and question them.

The papers will be either in English or in French
and short abstracts (300 to 400 words) are to be
sent, together with a short biographical and
bibliographical note, by 25 June 2008 to:

Donna Andreolle(North
America)

Catherine Delmas et
Christine Vandamme@u-grenoble3.fr
(Great-Britain and Commonwealth)

With a copy to Agnes Vere (research
centre secretary)