Critical discussions of Western colonialism and imperialism and of what
the term postcolonialism could mean, require, and enable first became
acceptable in literature and cultural studies departments in the United
States some three decades ago. Yet it has been much harder to create such
discussions of sciences and technologies. Especially resistant are those
departments where the West’s scientific rationality and technical exper-
tise have long been lovingly explained and “served up” for use in corpo-
rate and nationalist policies: sociology, philosophy, economics, and inter-
national relations, as well as the natural sciences themselves. Now such
discussions are beginning to arise here and there in government depart-
ments, international agencies, and research disciplines. The introduction
of postcolonial issues in Western universities is a powerful political and
intellectual move, contrary to the view of some skeptics. As the historian
Robert Young points out in the epigraph that begins this volume’s intro-
duction, the institutionalization of postcolonialism in higher education
marks “the first time . . . [that] the power of western academic institu-
tions has been deployed against the west.” To focus these kinds of critical
perspectives on sciences, technologies, and their philosophies is to direct
them to the most fundamental rationale invoked by the West in support
of its claims to unique, universally valid achievements and, consequently,
political entitlement.
A number of circumstances have conjoined to increase the possibility
of such discussions. The West’s so-called development programs for the
Third World have been recognized as failures for some time now, even
in the West. Those programs largely created de-development and malde-
velopment for the majority of the world’s most vulnerable citizens while
further enriching already advantaged elites in the West and their allies
around the globe. Western scientific rationality and technical expertise
have been perceived as the motor of progress for these development proj-
ects from the beginning, so the failures of development raise questions
about the value of Western rationality and expertise. Another influence
has been the recent outpouring of empirically and theoretically well-
grounded postcolonial analyses in English (as well as in other languages)
on scientific and technological issues. Much of this work has arisen from
the intellectual arms of activist groups seeking to serve local needs and
interests rather than those of transnational corporations and foreign gov-
ernments and investors. Two central focuses have been the development
of anti-Eurocentric primary, secondary, and university curricula, and of
appropriate and sustainable forms of development.
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