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Science, Technology, Medicine – and the State: The Science-State Nexus in Scandinavia, 1850–1980 — A special issue of Science in Context

The journal Science in Context currently has a special issue, entitled “Science, Technology, Medicine – and the State: The Science-State Nexus in Scandinavia, 1850–1980.” The abstracts for the introduction and articles are listed below:

Introduction: Science, Technology, Medicine – and the State: The Science-State Nexus in Scandinavia, 1850–1980
Kristin Asdal and Christoph Gradmann

One of the common characteristics of science, technology, and medicine is their ambition to epistemologically and organizationally move beyond the confines of nation states. In practice, however, they develop differently in countries or regions. Scientists, engineers, and physicians are constrained as well as enabled by national boundaries and specific cultures. The cultural status of such practices in reverse is influenced by a country’s history, politics, and the view of the role of science, technology, and medicine in society. It is the relation between a specific region, Scandinavia, and the history of science, technology, and medicine within this region that this issue of Science in Context sets out to explore. But what is this “Scandinavia”? To many, Scandinavia besides being a specific geographical region of three countries (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) with entwined histories and closely related languages is a way of denoting a specific style or movement. “Scandinavian design” is renowned for three interrelated features; minimalism or simplicity, functionalism, and “design to the people” i.e. functional products for the average citizen (Beer 1975; Glambek 1997; Fallan 2012).

From Administrative Infrastructure to Biomedical Resource: Danish Population Registries, the “Scandinavian Laboratory,” and the “Epidemiologist’s Dream”
Susanne Bauer

Since the 1970s, Danish population registries were increasingly used for research purposes, in particular in the health sciences. Linked with a large number of disease registries, these data infrastructures became laboratories for the development of both information technology and epidemiological studies. Denmark’s system of population registries had been centralized in 1924 and was further automated in the 1960s, with individual identification numbers (CPR-numbers) introduced in 1968. The ubiquitous presence of CPR-numbers in administrative routines and everyday lives created a continually growing data archive of the entire population. The resulting national-level database made possible unprecedented record linkage, a feature epidemiologists and biomedical scientists used as a resource for population health research. The specific assemblages that emerged with their practices of data mining were constitutive of registry-based epidemiology as a style of thought and of a distinct relationship between science, citizens, and the state that emerged as “Scandinavian.”

Producing Standards, Producing the Nordic Region: Antibiotic Susceptibility Testing, from 1950–1970
Anne Kveim Lie

During the 1950s it became apparent that antibiotics could not conquer all microbes, and a series of tests were developed to assess the susceptibility of microbes to antibiotics. This article explores the development and standardization of one such testing procedure which became dominant in the Nordic region, and how the project eventually failed in the late 1970s. The standardization procedures amounted to a comprehensive scheme, standardizing not only the materials used, but also the methods and the interpretation of the results. Focusing on Sweden and Norway in particular, the article shows how this comprehensive standardization procedure accounted for several co-dependent factors and demanded collaboration within and across laboratories. Whereas literature on standardization has focused mostly on how facts and artefacts move within and across laboratories, I argue for the importance of also attending to regions and territories. More particularly, while arguing that the practices, ideals, and politics related to what have been called the “Nordic welfare state” were contributing to the design of the standardized procedure in the laboratory, I also argue that Scandinavia was drawn together as a unified region with and by these very same practices.

United in Separation: The Inventions of Gel Filtration and the Moral Economy of Research in Swedish Biochemistry, ca. 1950–1970
Sven Widmalm

The Uppsala school in separation science, under the leadership of Nobel laureates, The (Theodor) Svedberg and Arne Tiselius, was by all counts a half-century-long success story. Chemists at the departments for physical chemistry and biochemistry produced a number of separation techniques that were widely adopted by the scientific community and in various technological applications. Success was also commercial and separation techniques, such as gel filtration, were an important factor behind the meteoric rise of the drug company Pharmacia from the 1950s. The paper focuses on the story behind the invention of gel filtration and the product Sephadex in the 1950s and the emergence of streamlined commercially oriented separation science as a main activity at the department of biochemistry in the 1960s. The dynamics of this development is analyzed from the perspectives of moral economy and storytelling framed by the larger question of the social construction of innovation. The latter point is addressed in a brief discussion about the uses of stories like the one about Sephadex in current research policy.

Circumpolar Science: Scandinavian Approaches to the Arctic and the North Atlantic, ca. 1920 to 1960
Sverker Sörlin

The Scandinavian countries share a solid reputation as longstanding contributors to top level Arctic research. This received view, however, veils some deep-seated contrasts in the ways that Sweden, Norway, and Denmark have conducted research in the Arctic and the North Atlantic. In this paper it is argued that instead of focusing on the geographical determinism of science – the fact that the Arctic is close to, indeed part of, Scandinavian territories – we should look more closely at the geopolitics of science to understand the differences and similarities between these three Nordic countries. Through case studies of, mainly, Swedish Arctic and North Atlantic glaciology in the 1920s through to the 1940s, and of Norwegian preparations in the 1950s for the International Geophysical Year 1957/58, the paper demonstrates how different styles of research – research agendas, methodological choices, collaborative patterns, international networks, availability of infrastructure, relations to politics and power – are conditioned on economic interests and strategic and geopolitical trajectories, either these are explicitly put in the forefront of scientific priorities as in the case of Norway in the 1950s, or when they are manifestly disregarded in the name of scientific internationalism, as in the case of Swedish glaciology. The case of Danish colonial science in Greenland is only cursorily drawn into this analysis but corroborates the overall thesis. The analysis of this wider science politics of Scandinavian circumpolar science is exercised against a brief introductory backdrop of Arctic science historiography. Its chief message is that the analysis of polar science applying modern theory and method of the social studies of science is comparatively recent and that the full potential of merging the literature of Arctic science and exploration with those of security, geopolitics, indigenous voices, and the politics of nationalism is yet to be realized.

Versions of Milk and Versions of Care: The Emergence of Mother’s Milk as an Interested Object and Medicine as a Form of Dispassionate Care
Kristin Asdal

At the turn of the twentieth century the Norwegian market flourished with milk products intended for infants. But medical doctors argued in favor of “going back to nature”: Women ought to breastfeed their children. This paper explores how a re-naturalization of mother’s milk emerged within experimental medicine. The prescribed “natural way” did not develop within medicine alone. The paper demonstrates how the natural developed within a relational space of different versions of milk: the free-market milk, the dirty and decaying milk, and the non-nutritional milk. But why did Norwegian mothers, in contrast to the development in for instance the US, continue to breastfeed their infants? Drawing on the work of the leading pediatrician Theodor Frølich, the paper suggests that this may in part be explained by the development of a distinct version of care: A matter-of-fact, pragmatic and flexible version of care that nevertheless came to enact mother’s milk as the supreme form of nutrition to which there was hardly a competing or healthy alternative. “The natural way” became a thought style and was made integral to everyday culture.

Building Transnational Bodies: Norway and the International Development of Laboratory Animal Science, ca. 1956–1980
Tone Druglitrø and Robert G. W. Kirk

This article adopts a historical perspective to examine the development of Laboratory Animal Science and Medicine, an auxiliary field which formed to facilitate the work of the biomedical sciences by systematically improving laboratory animal production, provision, and maintenance in the post Second World War period. We investigate how Laboratory Animal Science and Medicine co-developed at the local level (responding to national needs and concerns) yet was simultaneously transnational in orientation (responding to the scientific need that knowledge, practices, objects and animals circulate freely). Adapting the work of Tsing (2004), we argue that national differences provided the creative “friction” that helped drive the formation of Laboratory Animal Science and Medicine as a transnational endeavor. Our analysis engages with the themes of this special issue by focusing on the development of Laboratory Animal Science and Medicine in Norway, which both informed wider transnational developments and was formed by them. We show that Laboratory Animal Science and Medicine can only be properly understood from a spatial perspective; whilst it developed and was structured through national “centers,” its orientation was transnational necessitating international networks through which knowledge, practice, technologies, and animals circulated.

Inventing Homo gardarensis: Prestige, Pressure, and Human Evolution in Interwar Scandinavia
Peter C. Kjærgaard

In the 1920s there were still very few fossil human remains to support an evolutionary explanation of human origins. Nonetheless, evolution as an explanatory framework was widely accepted. This led to a search for ancestors in several continents with fierce international competition. With so little fossil evidence available and the idea of a Missing Link as a crucial piece of evidence in human evolution still intact, many actors participated in the scientific race to identify the human ancestor. The curious case of Homo gardarensis serves as an example of how personal ambitions and national pride were deeply interconnected as scientific concerns were sometimes slighted in interwar palaeoanthropology.


One Response to Science, Technology, Medicine – and the State: The Science-State Nexus in Scandinavia, 1850–1980 — A special issue of Science in Context

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