Author: changabula

Are Western Historians Biased? [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2007-2-26 04:50:44 |Display all floors
Beyond Science and Civilization: A Post-Needham Critique[1]
Roger Hart, Stanford University
Program in History and Philosophy of Science
rhart@stanford.edu

The contention that science is uniquely Western has never been presented as a thesis to be demonstrated historically--that is, stated explicitly, formulated rigorously, evaluated critically, and documented comprehensively. Instead, throughout much of the twentieth century, variants on this theme frequently appeared in panegyrics for Western civilization ("Science . . . is the glory of Western culture"),[2] in the forgings of exalted origins for the West in Greek antiquity ("science originated only once in history, in Greece"),[3] and in accounts that confidently offered purported explanations for the absence of science in other civilizations--accounts thus unencumbered by any requirement to examine sciences already known to be absent.[4] As presented, these were hardly simple assertions of differential developments of specific sciences in particular geographic areas during particular historical periods. Instead they asserted a Great Divide between the imagined community the West and its Other.[5] One particularly dramatic formulation was Ernest Gellner's "Big Ditch" symbolizing the enormous differences separating "traditional" societies from the scientific "Single World or Unique Truth" produced by "one kind of man."[6] Such assertions--although apparently about the West--should have depended for their validity on investigations of other cultures. However, the historical evidence accompanying such claims related only to the uncontroversial half of the assertion--the existence of sciences in the West. The substantive half--the assertion of the absence of science in every other culture--rested on little more than the ignorance of the sciences of other cultures, mistaken for the ignorance of other cultures of science. The most important historical counterexample was China--research beginning in the 1940s increasingly provided considerable evidence that there were in China many forms of knowledges and practices similar to those that have been labelled "science" in the West.[7] This, then, is the reason that "Chinese science" became a problem.

Despite this evidence, claims that science is uniquely Western have continued to appear even in the most respected scholarly literature in the history of science;[8] on the other hand, major research projects on Chinese science have often--up to the present--been framed within these disputes. But rather than returning to take sides within these debates, this article will take the framework that has preconditioned these controversies as itself the object of historical analysis. That is, this article will analyze what these accounts share: the assumption that the imagined communities China and the West are to be fundamental starting points in analyses of the history of science; that to the West and China we can then rigorously assign antithetical pairs of attributes (e.g., scientific versus intuitive, theoretical versus practical, causal versus correlative thinking, adversarial versus irenic, or geometric versus algebraic) that remain valid across historical periods, geographic locales, social strata, gender identifications, economic and technological differentials, and domains of scientific research along with their subdomains and competing schools; and that ultimately, studies of science can contribute to the further assignment of normative attributes in praise-and-blame historiographies of civilizations (e.g., the uniqueness of the West in producing universal science, the xenophobia of China, or the equality of all civilizations).

  1. http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/RethinkingSciCiv/
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Post time 2007-2-26 04:56:58 |Display all floors
Conclusions

The history of science is ostensibly a discipline united by the investigation of the single subject of science irrespective of geopolitical boundaries that construct cultures and civilizations. Yet much of the research literature on Chinese science has taken as its starting point a credulity toward the imagined communities China and the West, and the Great Divide that constitutes them. No satisfactory answer has ever been posed.

This article has analyzed debates about Chinese science which were framed within this broader context. In the first half of the twentieth century, authors asserted an absolute divide between the scientific West and an exoticized, intuitive East. In opposition, Needham proposed to redistribute credit for scientific discoveries among civilizations by a "grand titration"; against the assertions of a radical civilizational divide between China and the West, he revived claims of a radical temporal break between primitive science (which included that of China and equally ancient Greece) and modern science, which for Needham remained culturally universal yet uniquely Western in origin. Sivin criticized many of the excesses in Needham's rehabilitation, and further questioned the uniqueness of the West by proposing that China had had its own, albeit limited, scientific revolution. Yet the scientific revolution Sivin discovered for China was the conversion to modern science from the West, incomplete because of Jesuit distortions; the Scientific Revolution Sivin compared it to in the West was itself only an emblem of the purported radical break between the ancient and modern. Other studies of this period, framed within the legacy of assertions of the Great Divide between China and the West, offered explanations--social, political, philosophical, or linguistic--for the assumed absence of science in a China which then became the anthropomorphized subject of a praise-and-blame historiography of civilizations. Most recently, the cultural turn in the history of science has further identified the culture of the West with science; the cross-disciplinary credulity toward the concept of the West--equated with science, reason, and rationality but now critiqued as hegemonic--which provided many poststructuralist and postcolonial critiques with their inflated urgency only further reinforced this identification of science and the West.

Moving beyond "science and civilizations" as a framework for analysis raises the important question of possible directions for future research. How is the study of sciences and cultures to proceed without civilizations as the central actors animating world history, and without a universal, teleological science to gauge the progress of those civilizations toward modernity? If nations and civilizations are imagined communities, if the sciences are disunified practices, how does one analyze their relationship? There is of course no formulaic solution. But it may be helpful to suggest ways that emerging research--by calling into question particular assumptions associated with the science and civilizations framework--is opening up new areas of study.

First, the rejection of China and the West as analytic categories itself entails several important implications. If essentialized, suprahistorical civilizations are not assumed at the outset, the first question becomes how to determine the appropriate units of analysis. The problem of cultures becomes a general one, requiring the historical analysis of changing cultures, sub-cultures, and sub-sub-cultures that often do not conform neatly to political or linguistic boundaries; political and linguistic identifications become but elements among others in the fashioning of these groupings. And if the performative act of attributing scientific discoveries to civilizations is not naturalized as a given fact, one must then analyze the ideological contests through which artifacts become identified with particular cultures, claimed for civilizations, and the consequences of those claims--including the role those claims themselves play in the formations of cultures. In other words, what role do products of the sciences--knowledges, technologies, and ideologies--play in the constitution of cultures, and how do cultures contribute to the constitution of sciences and their dissemination?

A second important direction for research proceeds from the rejection of the notion of a Great Divide that separates cultures. The traditional historiography often assumed an insuperable barrier between civilizations (whether imagined through claims of linguistic or conceptual incommensurability or accounts of xenophobic traditionalism) and--through mythologies of its unique origins in the West--placed science on one side of that divide. Translation was then conceptualized as the unidirectional flow of scientific truth from the West across that barrier and its imperfect reception or outright rejection by the non-West; the alternative was the wholesale adoption of this scheme now romanticized as local resistance to the global hegemony of the normalizing West. Studies of translation began with the assumption of the self-same identity of scientific facts (an assumption reinforced by stories of origins) supposed to remain constant in displacements across space and time; the question posed of translation was then one of fidelity--had truth been distorted by mistranslation, incomprehension, or cultural barriers? The alternative was the radical dissolution of truth and the impossibility of translation posited by some recent works in science studies that assert a radical locality of scientific practice. One possible approach that avoids the false dilemmas posed by these sets of alternatives is to analyze the circulations of cultural artifacts through material, discursive, scientific, technological, and ideological fields and cultural ensembles, tracing the proliferation and dissemination of copies and their further copies, transfigurations, and appropriations.

A third direction for research begins by recognizing the enormous historical efficacy of imagined communities and the claims made about science and civilizations, studying them as the ideologies of the historical protagonists and thus the object of analysis rather than as explanatory categories in which history itself is to be framed. That is, if cross-cultural study is no longer a project of forging the radical differences and transhistorical continuities of science used to represent the non-West as the antithesis of the West, the historical question remains of how claims of difference and continuity made by the actors themselves contribute to contests over the formation and legitimation of sciences and communities. A fourth direction is the historical contextualization and self-reflexive critique of this historiography itself--subjecting the project of comparison to analysis. For example, what was the role of narratives about science and civilization in the construction of the academic disciplines, ideologies of nations, and the rhetorics through which world history was narrated?

These directions are but a small sampling of the possible directions of future research, directions made possible by rejecting frameworks with trajectories for science and civilizations in which historical details too often contributed little more than producing a reality effect. Instead, this new research seeks to find within historical documents answers to the questions of constitutes science, culture, and their relationship. The prospect is then for histories that contribute not to grand narratives of the rise and fall of civilizations but rather to a historical understanding of the processes of the mutual constitution of knowledge and community.

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  1. http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/RethinkingSciCiv/
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[ Last edited by changabula at 2007-2-26 05:00 AM ]
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Post time 2007-2-26 10:16:06 |Display all floors
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Post time 2007-2-26 12:12:16 |Display all floors

Odd

Changabula, I don't understand

Your point is that western historians are biased, or is it that there is a conspiracy by western governments?

You said:

"Do you think that the reason people in the west have to lie and cheat to cover up their misdeeds is because of a lack of upbringing? They don't care if they trample on other peoples' history or culture."

but this thread begins with quotes from/on the books of Jack Goody - he is a mainstream, well acepted and popular writer in the UK - he IS a UK historian,

"Jack Goody is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology in the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St John's College. Recently knighted by Her Majesty The Queen for services to anthropology, Professor Goody has researched and taught all over the world, is a Fellow of the British Academy and in 1980 was made a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences." His book blurb.

I guess the Queen read his books before she knighted him, so the Queen of England does care about you Changabula!

Ziauddin Sardar is also a "Londoner", well he works there and again his books are very popular among Anglos who don't care.

The Anna and the King film is an old one (no one's latest) and the DVD sold very very well in Thailand (illegal copies of course, as the film was banned). The film was banned not because it distorted history (most Thai people saw it as fiction) but because it included an actor playing a Thai king - even Thai movies have a problem about this and people said that certainly a Thai man should have played the Thai king not a Chinese man. As always much of the protests in Thailand were organised by teachers from the USA winding up their otherwise peaceful students to protest against something.

Most of the ideas for this thread come from the West (e.g. New Statesman magazine, Goody's books etc), I find that ironic.

I also note that if Goody's books are popular in China he will make far more money than if they are number one in the UK

There is profit in self-criticism

but only in the West it seems :)
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Post time 2007-2-26 17:14:05 |Display all floors
I also note that if Goody's books are popular in China he will make far more money than if they are number one in the UK


Where is the figures to support this claim?

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Post time 2007-2-26 17:16:27 |Display all floors

Don't need figures

Originally posted by zuraffo1981 at 2007-2-26 17:14


Where is the figures to support this claim?


The Chinese population is so much bigger than the UK's

So better to be popular in China!
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Post time 2007-2-26 19:07:34 |Display all floors
Western historians are biased because:

1. Most have never been outside the U.S. to a non-European country to the extent of really getting their feet on the ground. The elite in the U.S., the academics and the rich, tend to spread their wings only in Europe, and the paths over there for the American elite are all pretty well marked.

2. They cannot read outside the box. Have they read outside their  field in some areas where they spend enough time to really understand how the natives think so that when they appropriate a cool quote they understand why the people in that field might understand that it signifies something very different to people outside the field? Another way of putting it, when you seek to add some local color from another field to your writing is your way of doing so smash and grab or do you develop a certain expertise in the other field?

3. Have they ever helped build an alternative form of communication by setting up a website or starting a journal?

4. Have they written essays or books that could lead them to be accused of being a dilettante?

5. Do they consider science and technology to be the opposite of whatever it is they pursue most fervently?

6. Do they think they are, for better or for worse, implicated in the same set of structures of feeling that their fellow citizens--of whatever unity of governance they vote in--are caught up in?

[ Last edited by changabula at 2007-2-26 07:09 PM ]
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