Phalkey, Jahnavi. “Science, State Formation and Development: the Organization of Nuclear Research in India, 1938-1959.” Ph. D. diss., Georgia Tech University, 2007. Winner of the Sardar Patel Award (UCLA, 2008) for best dissertation on modern India.
Winner of the Sardar Patel Award (UCLA, 2008) for best dissertation on modern India.
This recent dissertation, completed at Georgia Tech under the auspices of the STS program, with Dr. John Krige as the primary advisor, brings together the story of India’s transformation from colony to modern post-colonial nation-state, and the corresponding story of a formative nuclear research network assembled by small groups of elites based at India’s nascent scientific institutions: specifically, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (Department of Physics); University Science College, Calcutta; and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bombay. With its challenging periodization, the dissertation wonderfully complicates standard narratives of technology transfer, with new knowledge transforming and being reconstituted as it moves across national borders, and more importantly, grants priority to the ambitions of Indian actors such as Dr. Homi Bhabha, documenting their research activity as concurrent with a more familiar literature on early nuclear research in Germany, and also within the Anglo-American collaborative relationship.
In terms of nation-building, the argument locates the significance of this nascent research tradition not simply in its pragmatics—as it origins were extremely modest in “table-top” form, before subsequently assuming the form of large-scale projects conducted at the state level—but also in its symbolic terms, allowing the fulfillment of a modernist vision on the part of a new state seeking to achieve self-realization and recognition on the world stage. In this respect, nuclear research was about the realization of future possibilities, and equally, highly performative in scope, with scientists having to cultivate their relationships with state bureaucrats in order to receive the necessary funding. Along with the Indian national story, this carries obvious importance for the possibility of doing comparative work with other nations possessing similar sets of nuclear ambitions, as well as implications for complicating existing Cold War narratives.
The author is now based at King’s College London, where she is turning this project into a book manuscript, along with related work on state science in India, as well as future collaborative work examining the role of state science in both India and China.
– John DiMoia, NUS