"Identity versus science? Science at the service of identity?"

MADALINA VARTEJANU JOUBERT's picture
Type: 
Call for Publications
Date: 
November 10, 2021
Location: 
France
Subject Fields: 
Anthropology, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Indigenous Studies, Public History, Research and Methodology

The interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal Sociétés plurielles/Plural Societies (societesplurielles.fr) is launching a Call for papers on the theme "Identity versus science? Science at the service of identity?".

 

The appropriation of knowledge in terms of identity is a constitutive phenomenon of human societies and is already part of the analytical horizon of the social sciences. Long associated with constituted powers or political currents of various horizons, it has been marked, during the last decades, by a new phenomenon. In the name of the recognition of the rights or the memory of minorities from populations that were victims of colonialism, the claim to a right to control the conditions of scientific investigation or its results has been asserted. Addressed in particular from the angle of the uses of the past and the status of museographic objects in the post-colonial context, this tension between science and identity has been particularly sensitive in the fields of archaeology and anthropology, as the following brief list shows:   

1.        Thirty years ago in the United States, the NAGPRA (Federal Act on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation) established, among other things, the right of collectives considered to be the descendants of individuals whose remains were kept in museums to demand their restitution. By making them subject to the approval of these same groups, it also considerably tightened the conditions under which archaeological research could be carried out, thus provoking protests from part of the scientific community[1].

2.        In Australia, where the situation of Aboriginal communities continues to be a salient political and social issue, the reproduction of museum items for publication purposes is now subject to their approval. Public institutions rarely fail to use the time-honoured phrase of respect for 'elders, past and present', as do the researchers they employ. It is in this context - and in the context of legal struggles over land rights - that the publication of a recent book has led to a genuine social phenomenon. The book, written by a novelist of Aboriginal descent[2], aims to challenge two centuries of consensus about the livelihoods of the continent's occupants at the time of the arrival of Westerners. The book was a huge bestseller and has been incorporated into school curricula, but it continues to provoke bitter controversy where scientific positions are inextricably intertwined with political agendas.

3.        In a slightly different vein, it is also worth mentioning the recent ICOM[3] project to redefine the mission of museums, according to which they "(...) are inclusive and polyphonic places of democratisation, dedicated to critical dialogue about pasts and futures. (...) The definition of the museum must be rooted in the plurality of worldviews and systems of thought and not in a single Western scientific tradition". The opposition to this proposal, which denies scientific knowledge any specific status and any primacy over beliefs, led to the decision being postponed. It is nevertheless significant of an era and of the claims that are being made.

These few examples, which could be multiplied at will, illustrate the many questions raised by this movement, which raises new issues concerning the production of knowledge. Should the recognition of wrongs suffered, in particular by colonised populations, result in the granting of new rights to those identified as the descendants of these populations, concerning the objects likely to be the subject of scientific investigation, or even the discourse held about them?  Are the demands of memory and those of knowledge antagonistic? How do the actors of scientific life view their collaboration? Does the consideration of these memory requirements represent an opportunity or an obstacle for science and the mutual understanding of different human communities? How can we explain the crystallization of this tension in different contexts of knowledge production? Which disciplines are concerned? What is the notion of truth underlying these debates? What is the status today of what can be called scientific relativism, which consists in formulating knowledge that is differentiated according to the group for which it is intended?

These are the questions that the next issue of Sociétés plurielles/Plural Societies wishes to address.

 

[1] John Whittaker, “Here comes the anthros. What good is an archaeologist?” in J. G. Andelson (dir), Anthropology Matters: Essays in honor of Ralph A. Lueben, Grinnell, Iowa: Grinnell College. 1997.

[2] Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?, Magabala Books, 2014.

[3] International Council Of Museums.

Contact Info: 

madalinavartejanu@gmail.com

Proposals of one-page text with a short biography in English, French, or German, can be sent to the editorial office at programmesp@gmail.com.

Director

Madalina Vârtejanu-Joubert (INALCO, PLIDAM)

Editorial Board

Delphine Allès (INALCO, CASE, EHESS/INALCO), Liliane Crips (Université de Paris, ICT), Christophe Darmangeat (Université de Paris, LADYSS), Damiano de Facci (Université de Paris, LADYSS), Pilar Gonzales-Bernaldo (Université de Paris, « Mondes Américains », CNRS-EHESS), Éric Magnin (Université de Paris, LADYSS), Delphine Pagès-El Karoui (INALCO, CERMOM), Marie-Louise Pelus-Kaplan (Université de Paris, ICT), Patrick Renaud (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, CLESTHIA), Thomas Szende (INALCO, PLIDAM).