18 Nov 2014 12:00pm - 2:00pm Room SG1, Alison Richard Building


Building Scientific Capacity: Heads and Hands in Global Scientific Economy

Speaker: Branwyn Polykett (CRASSH, University of Cambridge)
Respondent: Emma Hunter (History, University of Cambridge)


This paper brings historical and ethnographic analysis to bear on two overlapping, uneven and unfinished efforts to work systematically upon the human and intellectual capital of East Africa: the first, the ‘Africanisation’ of the institutions of colonial scientific research; the second, transnational scientific capacity building. Both of these projects sought to intervene upon and transform Africa’s place in the broader postcolonial global division of intellectual and scientific labour by training personnel, building skills, and transferring technologies. These projects both contained the always inchoate, contradictory and deeply ideological dreams of other possible future sciences: socialist, entrepreneurial, ‘local’, ‘global’, or ‘African’.

This paper tracks across time, between colonial and postcolonial institutions and European and African contexts in order to understand how flows of ‘capacity’ shape the skills and desires of African scientists and technicians and how capacities in science are gained, lived, and lost, over time. The conflicts of the past and the attempts of African scientists to mitigate, predict and negotiate change is, I argue, a way into understanding the unstable scientific values of the present. Caught between Africanisation and ‘capacity building’, between an idiom of restitution and an idiom of ‘excellence’, between dreams of automation and desires for autonomy, this paper considers how these contradictions are experienced across the lines of lives.


Open to all. No registration required

Part of the Global Science Research Group seminar series

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