Science, Scientism and the Ideological Production of the Social Subject: Re-considering Interdisciplinarity

Subhro Saha

Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, India

Volume VII, Number 3, 2015 I Download PDF Version


The paper attempts to reach at an understanding of the concepts of ‘science’ and ‘scientism’ as constructed and ideological concepts and how they contribute in shaping our commonsensical understanding of the body in terms of its relation to social identity and role. While attempting to expose modern science as a “constructed” discipline and ideology operating in tandem with the dominant hegemonic structures, the paper also attempts to briefly throw light on the limits of the current trend of interdisciplinary approach(es) and the concepts of “agency” and “critique” as well. Using a post-structuralist approach the paper therefore attempts not only to open-up the closed structures of both “science” and “scientism” but also to reach at an understanding how it goes on to affect questions of representation, reality, social and the body itself.

Keywords: science, scientism, ideology, body, subject, representation, interdisciplinarity, intra-action, agency, critique.

Early America, American Theosophy, Modernity—and India

Mark L. Kamrath, University of Central Florida, USA


The history of East-west relations in general and between America and India in particular is one of cultural, literary, and philosophical encounter. Using a post-colonial and postmodern theoretical lens, this essay charts American intellectual constructions of India from the colonial period to the present, with an eye on how American transcendentalists, theosophists, and Hindu spiritual leaders negotiated Hindu and Christian belief systems. It argues that over time, as individuals and cultures came into contact with one another, the historical assimilation of their religions testifies to the dialectical, syncretic nature of modern belief.

[Key words: Philosophy, religion, East-West, theology, modernity, transcendentalism, post-colonial approach, postmodernism]

“For we have seen his Star in the East, and are come to worship him”

–Matthew II. 2, Bible

Early American contact with India

India has long been a source of fascination to the West, dating back to 1492 and Christopher Columbus’s plan to reach the East Indies and its riches by sailing westward over the Atlantic Ocean and establishing trade. Similar to how the “New World” was imagined by Europeans, over the centuries American travelers, missionaries, and writers have each looked to India with different motives and represented its history, people, and culture in a variety of ways.

During the colonial era, observes Susan S. Bean, “American merchants and their customers were familiar with Indian products,” including various spices, teas, and cotton and silk goods (Bean 31). As early as 1711, for instance, newspapers such as the Boston News-Letter regularly advertised “Hollands for Shirtings and Sheetings, fine Cambricks, Musings, India Chints” (1711: [2]) and “Garlix, Sugar, Cotton, India Counterpanes, & c” (1716: [2]).Booksabout India were published in Londonand also part of the commercial exchange.

In terms of non-commercial interest in India though, Cotton Mather’s pamphlet India Christiana. A Discourse Delivered unto the Commissioners for the Propagation of the Gospel among the American Indians which is accompanied with Several Instruments relating to the Glorious Design of Propagating our Holy Religion in the Easter as well as the Western Indies. An Entertainment which they that are Waiting for the Kingdom of God will receive as Good News from a far country(1721) was among the first to represent India or the East, like the wilds of America, as a territory needing the word of God and spiritual salvation.

Several decades later, after the American Revolution, India was largely viewed through the eyes of missionaries, British travelers or military personnel, and other figures and depicted as an object of cultural marvel, appropriation, or conquest. To be sure, newspapers provided accounts of the East India Company, and oriental tales increasingly appeared in periodicals in the 1780s and 1790s. Publications such as Donald Campbell’s A Journey Overland to India, partly by a Route never gone before by any European (1797) intrigued American readers with accounts of shipwreck and imprisonment with Hyder Alli, along with other adventures.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, India became a major focus of missionaries. A sermon on February 26, 1809, by the Reverend Claudius Buchanan (1766-1815) of India at the Parish Church of St. James in Bristol,England, for the benefit of the “Society for Missions to Africa and the East” ran into no less than twelveAmerican editions. Entitled “The Star in the East,” it explained how the “ministry of Nature” led three eastern wise men to Jerusalem to honor Christ’s birth and how such prophecy was foretold in the “ancient writings of India” (Buchanan 4-5).In addition, some American editions added an appendix entitled “The Interesting Report of the Rev. Dr. Kerr, to the Governor of Madras, on the State of the Ancient Christians in Cochin and Travancore, and an account of the Discoveries, made by the Rev. Dr. Buchanan of 200,000 Christians in the Sequestered Region of Hindostan.” By 1812, the publication was expanded and retitled as The Works of the Rev. Claudius Buchanan, LL.D. Comprising his Christian Researches in Asia, His Memoir of the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, and his Star in the East, with Three New Sermons. To Which is Added, Dr.Kerr’s Curious and Interesting Report, Concerning the State of Christians in Cochin and Travancor, Made at the Request of the Governor of Madras.

In India around this time, Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833), a Brahmin who alienated himself from his family because of his willingness to forgo traditional beliefs and who pushed for social and religious change, published A Defence of Hindoo Theism in reply to the attack of an advocate for idolatry at Madras, along with A Second Defence of the monotheistical system of the Vedas. In reply to an apology for the present state of Hindoo worship (Calcutta 1817). According to Joscelyn Godwin, Roy was “the first Brahmin to fall under the spell of Enlightenment ideas, and the first emissary from India to the West” (Godwin 312). He upset Christian missionaries because while he admired the teachings of Jesus and the gospels, he also embraced Islam and Hinduism. His actions, however, might also be understood in light of what Homi Bhaba calls a strategy of “hybridity,” a position in which the colonized subject takes on the values and language of the colonized in order to subvert them (Bhabha 112). In that sense, Roy was accommodating Christian colonizers by sanitizing Hinduism through the lens of Western monotheism…Access Full Text of the Article

CRBTs, LMAOs, ROFLs: Curtailing emotions through cyber-acronyms

Arafat Mohammad Noman, East West University, Bangladesh


Cultural symbols- such as arts, music, literature, movies, novels, history- when shared by the members of a particular culture, remain as dormant in them until and unless they get in contact with a different culture. The exposure to a different culture gives a scope to distinguish between one’s own culture and another. Similarly the technological advancement (basically in the field of communication) has gradually created two types of culture within a particular community/nation/group: a ‘real’ culture which is the embodied experience of a particular group of people or a community and the ‘cyber’ culture which is the result (or experience) of extensive consumption of computer mediated communication (CMC). This exposure in the computer-mediated area (basically known as cyberspace) creates a different level of behavioural pattern in human. By inviting the body and the senses into our dance with our tools, it has extended the landscape of interaction, to new topologies of pleasure, emotion and passion. Thus the current paper tries to discuss the rechanneled emotions through technossories and investigate if it is making us techno-bodies or tech-nobodies. The study is about differentiating emotions at two levels: the embodied emotion and the disembodied emotion. The paper deals with the issue that how far the technological adherence marks the alienation of long nurtured social bond that we used to know.


Emotion or e-motion?


Our passionate response to VR [virtual reality] mirrors the nature of the medium itself. By inviting the body and the senses into our dance with our tools, it has extended the landscape of interaction, to new topologies of pleasure, emotion and passion (Laurel, 1993).

-Brenda Laurel, Computers as Theatre

The proximity between technosorries (technological accessories) and human marked a new epoch in the language system. Besides oral and written form of language, a third type has evolved with its revolutionary image: electronic or computer-mediated language. Computer-mediated communication systems are believed to have powerful implications on social life. This system of communication transgresses what is collective and what is individual. Hence, a tension is created with identity: an offline identity and an online identity. The confusion, tension, imbalance whatever we like to tag it with the focus supposedly remains in the arena of how we are dealing with this self-anticipated duality.

Repudiated Self?

Marshall Mcluhan in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (McLuhan 1994) gives an interesting idea about technology. He shows how we are becoming maimed while superficially being extended by the boon of technology. And my current paper somehow follows Mcluhan’s idea of amputation of human agencies while there is propinquity between technology and human. Interestingly we think ourselves as techno-bodies while there is a chance of being tech-nobodies in dealing with the items we are bestowed with. Every extensions of mankind, especially the technological extensions, have also the flipping side of amputating or modifying some other extensions. Just as the development of gunpowder maimed or curtailed the skill of archery or the invention of telephone extends the voice but maimed the penmanship, similarly the overwhelming usage of cyber technology curtailing our emotional expressions. Let us consider the chat history below:

Rachel: Dude m got fished up

Macklin: sup

Rachel: Moms gonna ban my going to gaming zone

Macklin: LOL

Rachel: CID

Macklin: Let’s see wat happens…FC Dude

Rachel: CRBT L

Definitely one would get confused after going through above chat history. Yes, this is the case when we are too much accustomed to online behaviour. Let me clarify some of the above acronyms: CRBT means Crying Real Big Tears; CID means Crying in Disgrace; FC means Finger crossed and I hope LOL need not to be abbreviated!

Let us try some theoretic consideration in depicting the relationship between human and technology. As structuralism tends to bind us in a structure we human habitually try to breach it and this is the result of breaching: avoiding the structured grammatical rules and way of addressing. The psychoanalytical explanation seems more interesting. Why do we think this virtual entity seems to be more exciting for us? What if I say this is the way of personality formation: an introvert turning out to be an extrovert and vice versa. The outcome of this online interaction is a formation of an e-identity, a virtual whole which is greater than its part and that not being real, is full of life and vitality. In seeking impunity from the age old norms and rules, the “self” gets its virtual identity as unrestrained, less accountable, a little bit on the dark side and unknowingly sexier. This e-personality can act as a liberating force for the real life individual, allowing the person to transcend debilitating shyness, let go of the stultifying and suffocating inhibition and forge him/her into new arena of expression which in real life would seem impossible. It is in many cases complements the real life persona and acts as an extension serving him with vitality, promptness and efficiency. It covers the instant hi hello area to the more vigorous forces that culminates in Revolution 2.0 in Egypt. Disdaining the implicit inertia it helps breaking ice with the significant other over e-mail and also let go of an awkward situation just by blocking and hiding which in real life seems embarrassing. And to sum up we can say having a virtual persona can be like having a proverbial third hand.

But are we so sure of the fact that this cyber world not creating an anarchy itself? Are we not fetishisized by its enticing ingredients? So, if we flip the other side of the coin we find desperation, confusion, pain, disorientation in real life. That is because the online persona is dangerous and irresponsible; making the “self” rough and reckless in its move and encourage attaining unrealistic and unhealthy goals. It nourishes selfishness and creates a sense of isolation yet lingering in a community. The other day I came across a facebook status and that provoked my thought. Here is the status:

Life is like Facebook… people will like your problems and comment on it.. but no one gonna solve them..coz everyone is busy updating their own

This status reminds me of the famous poem Leisure by William Henry Davies. We are too busy and indulged in maintaining “self” that we almost forgot we are in close tie with our surroundings. Wordsworth tripartite relationship seems to dissolve amidst this technocratic modification of us. We rely on technology to fill up our fellow-feeling and texting, chatting, messaging are a good source of marking our presence when needed. We just let our sympathy or empathy limited to GWS Bro (Get well soon brother), It’s K (it’s Okay), CRBT (Crying real big tears) etc. The online arena serves double edged effect here: I) It makes easier to cooperate II) It also make easier to behave selfishly; and not acknowledging our gradual transformation we deliberately lenient of the latter one. The reason behind this let go attitude, what I presume, is that the disembodied interaction does not allow us to get the gesture and posture of the person we are interacting and hence neglecting is easier. We are also in a constant better to say IM communication that allows us to meet more than one person at a time. We tend to forget what we have interacted a moment ago. I have named it as overshadowing effect: the previous condition or interaction is being over shadowed by the present one and it is in a perpetual state of changing, impeding us to focus on a single issue which is possible in real life interaction….Access Full Text of the Article

Confused Reality: The War Masks in Japanese Author, Hikaru Okuizumi’s The Stones Cry Out and Argentine Author, Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths”

Rachel McCoppin, University of Minnesota Crookston

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Carl Jung connects the idea that the mask is the persona one presents to the world; “the persona acts…to conceal the true nature of the individual.  It is a social role or mask which acts as a mediator between the inner world and the social world, and which constitutes the compromise between the individual and society” (Hudson 54).  The concept of the mask as persona is common in literature, and global modernity is no exception.  Oftentimes characters are so enveloped within false or unreliable personas that they fool and confuse the reader.  The masks they wear serves as a front to society and the characters they interact with, but sometimes characters are so effectively masked that they become unclear of their own realities, and become unreliable narrators. 

The Importance of Being Postmodern: Oscar Wilde and the Untimely

Jonathan Kemp, Birkbeck College, University of London
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“It is to criticism that the future belongs”

– Oscar Wilde[1]

 “In protesting the independence of criticism,

Wilde sounds like an ancestral …Roland Barthes”

– Richard Ellmann[2]

 “Postmodern is not to be taken in the periodizing sense”

– Jean-François Lyotard[3]

 The above three quotations delineate the typography of a particular trajectory within literary theory which covers more or less the entire span of the twentieth century.  Wilde’s prediction in 1891 seems to find its answer in Lyotard’s claim less than a hundred years later that postmodernism must not in any way be understood as a temporal marker, but rather as an aesthetic attitude or position.  For, if we are ‘in’ the postmodern we are in it precisely because we always already inhabit the possibility of its recognition, presentation or expression.  As such, texts or artworks that predate the critical emergence of the term can nevertheless be understood to be postmodern – and usefully so.  For it gives us permission to name, once again, though differently, perhaps, a particular phenomenon, or a particular convergence of phenomena; one we most typically name the avant garde.  In this essay I would like to use the above three quotations as markers for the trajectory of my argument.  In this sense, I will be using Wilde and Lyotard as both meetings points and end points for an arc that loops around to create a circuit, or a band, upon which – or within which – we might usefully place the concept of the postmodern/avant garde in ways which will shed light upon the notion of the untimely.  I would suggest that the postmodern and the untimely are, in short, other ways of naming and apprehending the avant garde as that which emerges without consensus, but which contains within it the criteria for its own assessment.  As Ellmann comments, Wilde seems, in his formulation of a new kind of art-criticism, to express something that Roland Barthes would develop sixty odd years later[4]: the self-sufficiency of criticism as an end in itself, or as a new form of aesthetic expression.  In this sense, Wilde’s work will be understood as posthumous, or untimely.[5]  That is, avant garde.

The Concept of Crisis in Art and Science

Eleni Gemtou,  University of Athens, Greece

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The concept of crisis in art and science is to be investigated through two approaches: a historical-sociological and a philosophical-ontological one. In the framework of the historical-sociological approach, the crisis that has been affecting both the scientific and the artistic community, has been due to external sociological causes or to the psychological inabilities and personal ambitions of their members. The traditional notions of pure science and high value-laden art have been often neglected, as both scientists and artists deviated from the ideal principles of their working codes. This approach reveals common structures and behaviors in human communities, independent from the differences in subjects, methodologies and purposes they serve. The philosophical–ontological approach to art and science and to the course of their development leads, however, to the opposite conclusion: both art and science as rational systems are incompatible with the concept of crisis due to different reasons in each case.

The Poetics of John Ashbery

Gargi Bhattacharya, Rabindra Bharati University

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John Ashbery (1927- ) takes the postmodernist polysemy of meaning in interpreting a work of art and the polyphony of styles in composing as his forte. He questions the various linguistic codes and makes us aware of the artificiality of the language. All political, ethical and aesthetic imperatives are rhetorical constructs. The writer uses language to persuade the reader to accept the formulated truth and he intervenes in the process of perception by his/her politics of representation. Though his iconoclastic approach towards writing and individuality of style has kept him aloof from mainstream academic syllabi, yet he has now become a prominent figure in Contemporary American Literature. It is interesting to note how Ashbery’s poetry revives the Romantic sensibility while applying the digitalized methods and the postmodern syndromes of immediacy, indeterminacy, disjunctive syntax, open-ended and multiplicity of interpretations. This paper explores the aesthetics of John Ashbery’s poetry.

Towards a Postmodern Poetics: Reading Elizabeth Bishop’s Reccy of Realities

Amit Bhattacharya, University of Gour Banga

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In this paper, I have tried to analyze a few poems by Elizabeth Bishop to show how she takes up or takes in shifting identities and subject-positions in a clear dialogue with cultural norms and expectations. I have also sought to chart her poetic trajectory from alienation to alterity to show how she started by refusing to accept the ‘otherness’ about her and her various poetic personae based on such determinants as gender, sexuality, class or age, and ultimately accepted those self-same counts of ‘otherness’ in a never-ending melee with the ‘so-called’ metareality of conundrum and contingency that is provisionally called ‘life’.

Revisiting Untraded Paths: Literary Revisions of Eighteenth-Century Exploration Journals

Miriam Fernández-Santiago, University of Granada, Spain


The present article proposes a revision of the American imperialistic, scientific, literary and historical origins as they were encoded and re-coded in the writings and rewritings of exploration journals. It theorises on the reciprocal influence that the official and the personal, the scientific and the fictional, the historical and the epical have in the production of a national referent as it is inscribed within the American travel-writing tradition. This article proposes an allegorical and literal reading of “line drawing” in its study of texts by William Byrd, Charles Mason and Thomas Pynchon, which merges experienced and reported realities into a complex multi-text.

What is Performance Studies?

Richard Schechner, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University

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Because performance studies is so broad-ranging and open to new possibilities, no one can actually grasp its totality or press all its vastness and variety into a single writing book. My points of departure are my own teaching, research, artistic practice, and life experiences.

Performances are actions. As a discipline, performance studies takes actions very seriously in four ways. First, behavior is the “object of study” of performance studies. Although performance studies scholars use the “archive” extensively – what’s in books, photographs, the archaeological record, historical remains, etc. – their dedicated focus is on the “repertory,” namely, what people do in the activity of their doing it. Second, artistic practice is a big part of the performance studies project. A number of performance studies scholars are also practicing artists working in the avant-garde, in community-based performance, and elsewhere; others have mastered a variety of non-Western and Western traditional forms. The relationship between studying performance and doing performance is integral. Third, fieldwork as “participant observation” is a much-prized method adapted from anthropology and put to new uses. In anthropological fieldwork, participant observation is a way of learning about cultures other than that of the field-worker. In anthropology, for the most part, the “home culture” is Western, the “other” non-Western. But in performance studies, the “other” may be a part of one’s own culture (non-Western or Western), or even an aspect of one’s own behavior. That positions the performance studies fieldworker at a Brechtian distance, allowing for criticism, irony, and personal commentary as well as sympathetic participation. In this active way, one performs fieldwork. Taking a critical distance from the objects of study and self invites revision, the recognition that social circumstances– including knowledge itself – are not fixed, but subject to the “rehearsal process” of testing and revising. Fourth, it follows that performance studies is actively involved in social practices and advocacies. Many who practice performance studies do not aspire to ideological neutrality. In fact, a basic theoretical claim is that no approach or position is “neutral”. There is no such thing as unbiased. The challenge is to become as aware as possible of one’s own stances in relation to the positions of others – and then take steps to maintain or change positions.