Teaching Resources

Science in Dark Times: a syllabus on science, technology, and medicine under illiberal political regimes

Modi, Trump, Bolsonaro: three avatars of a moment marked by the rise of a far-right populism, what many commentators have even described as a revitalized fascism. As I watched the courage of protestors who rallied against the racist Citizenship Amendment Act in India, and the sycophancy of elected officials in the United States who failed to remove a racist president from office, I tried to figure out what I could do as a teacher. I put out a call on Twitter, asking for recommendations for a syllabus that I wanted to assemble on the relationship between fascist or authoritarian political regimes and science, technology & medicine. The response was tremendous, and the suggestions were capacious. The question I asked was much broader than I had realized. I was gently reminded that a syllabus on fascist science would have to grapple with the legacies of colonialism, apartheid and liberalism. I was pushed to consider the long history of eugenics in relation to race, gender, sexuality and disability. I was also nudged to consider the differences and connections between contemporary political orders and the regimes of Mussolini and Hitler: for example, in the shift heralded by the global rise of digital surveillance. What became clear to me was that there is no one-size-fits-all fascist playbook for how to engage with science, technology & medicine. In responding to COVID-19, Modi’s imposition of a 21-day quarantine in India looks quite different to Trump’s promise that Americans will be in Church by Easter. Nevertheless, I think there is something to be learned by working across historically and geographically-disparate cases, drawing out resonances and empirical connections, and carefully scrutinizing contrasts, variations and exceptions.

The suggestions I received took this syllabus in many directions. I chose to keep the syllabus broad so that it could serve as a resource that people could draw from in a way that would be useful for their research, teaching, and thinking. Feel free to remix, augment and teach this as you like. And if you find it useful, please share what you’ve done with it (a new class? an article? an op-ed? something else entirely?).

Finally, my gratitude to the many people who helped me to assemble this syllabus. 

Style

  • Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, “The Futurist Manifesto”
  • Joseph Masco, “Nuclear Technoaesthetics: The Sensory Politics of the Bomb in Los Alamos.” In The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico
  • Banu Subramaniam, Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism
  • Christina Cogdell, Eugenic Design: Streamlining America in the 1930s

Knowledge

  • Heather Pringle,The Master Plan: Himmler’s Scholar and the Holocaust
  • Gyan Prakash, Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India

Classification

  • Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation
  • Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, “The Case of Race Classification and Reclassification under Apartheid.” In Sorting Things OutClassification and Its Consequences

Identification

  • Tarangini Sriraman, In Pursuit of ProofA History of Identification Documents in India
  • Vijayanka Nair, “An Eye for an I: Recording Biometrics and Reconsidering Identity in Postcolonial India”

Number

  • Matthew Handelman, The Mathematical Imagination: On the Origins and Promise of Critical Theory
  • Jean-Guy Prévost, A Total Science: Statistics in Liberal and Fascist Italy

Platform

  • Safiya Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism
  • Siva Vaidhyanathan, Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy.
  • Lawrence Cohen, “The ‘Social’ De-Duplicated: On the Aadhaar Platform and the Engineering of Service”

Surveillance

  • Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code
  • Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
  • J.D. Schnepf, “Racialized Surveillance and the US Census: Tabulating Labor.”
  • J.D. Schnepf, “Unsettling Aerial Surveillance: Surveillance Studies After Standing Rock.”

Therapeutics

  • Hoi-Eun Kim, “Cure for Empire: The ‘Conquer-Russia-Pill,’ Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, and the Making of Patriotic Japanese, 1904–45”
  • Marcel Reinold and John Hoberman, “The Myth of the Nazi Steroid”
  • Michael Hau, “Constitutional Therapy and Clinical Racial Hygiene in Weimar and Nazi Germany”
  • High Hitler, TV Movie 2004 (Dir. Andy Webb)
  • Dora Vargha, Polio Across the Iron Curtain: Hungary’s Cold War with an Epidemic

Experiment

  • Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present
  • Hannah Landecker, “Immortality, in Vitro: A History of the HeLa Cell Line”

Organism

  • Tiago Saraiva, Fascist Pigs: Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism

Eugenics

  • Francesco Cassata, Building the New Man: Eugenics, Racial Science and Genetics in Twentieth-Century Italy
  • Aaron Gillette, Racial Theories in Fascist Italy
  • Nancy Ordover, American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism

Reproduction

  • Matthew Connelly, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population
  • Sarah Marks, “The Romani Minority, Coercive Sterilization, and Languages of Denial in the Czech Lands”
  • Cecilia Van Hollen, “Moving Targets: Routine IUD Insertion in Public Maternity Wards.” In Birth on the Threshold: Childbirth and Modernity in South India
  • Emma Tarlo, Unsettling Memories: Narratives of the Emergency in Delhi
  • Susan Greenhalgh, Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng’s China

Disability

  • Jabir Puar, The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability
  • Zoe Wool, After War: The Weight of Life at Walter Reed
  • Salih Can Aciksoz, Sacrificial Limbs: Masculinity, Disability, and Political Violence in Turkey
  • Michele Friedner, “How the Disabled Body Unites the National Body: Disability as ‘Feel Good’ Diversity in Urban India”
  • Pamela Block, “Institutional Utopias, Eugenics, and Intellectual Disability in Brazil”

Body

  • Arafaat Valiani, Militant Publics in India: Physical Culture and Violence in the Making of a Modern Polity
  • Sander Gilman, The Jew’s Body
  • Frantz Fanon, “Colonial War and Mental Disorders.” In The Wretched of the Earth
  • Sherine Hamdy, “When the State and Your Kidneys Fail: Political Etiologies in an Egyptian Dialysis Ward”

Exposure

  • Adriana Petryna, Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl
  • Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters

Occupation

  • Saiba Varma, “Love in the Time of Occupation: Reveries, Longing, and Intoxication in Kashmir”
  • Saiba Varma, “From ‘Terrorist’ to ‘Terrorized’: How Trauma Became the Language of Suffering in Kashmir.” In Resisting Occupation in Kashmir
  • Livia Wick, “The Practice of Waiting under Closure in Palestine”

Market

  • Lilly Irani, Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India
  • Lilly Irani,Authoritarian Capitalisms”
  • Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life

Infrastructure

  • Anita von Schnitzler, Democracy’s Infrastructure: Techno-Politics and Protest after Apartheid
  • Eyal Weizmann, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation
  • Lewis Mumford, “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics”
  • Lino Camprubí, Engineers and the Making of the Francoist Regime
  • Monamie Bhadra, “Fighting Nuclear Energy, Fighting for India’s Democracy”
  • Gabrielle Hecht, “Negotiating Global Nuclearities: Apartheid, Decolonization, and the Cold War in the Making of the IAEA”

Legality

  • Rohit De, A People’s Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic
  • Elizabeth Kolsky, Colonial Justice in British India: White Violence and the Rule of Law

Protest

  • Alondra Nelson, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination
  • Jonathan Metzl,The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease
  • Salih Can Aciksoz, “Medical Humanitarianism Under Atmospheric Violence: Health Professionals in the 2013 Gezi Protests in Turkey”

 Bharat Jayram Venkat is an assistant professor at UCLA’s Institute for Society & Genetics. He has been conducting ethnographic and historical research in India since 2006 on issues related to science & medicine, temporality, ethics and design. His first book, At the Limits of Cure (under contract with Duke University Press), is the winner of the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences. This book asks about what it means to be cured by tracing ideas of the curable and incurable in tuberculosis treatment and research from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, specifically in India.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *