Cultures of Fear: Technonationalism and the Postcolonial Responsibilities of STS

Volume 06, Issue 2

This paper is a slightly spruced-up version of a talk delivered at a roundtable cosponsored by the Society for the History of Technology and the History of Science Society at their annual conference in Cleveland. Asked to speak about the responsibilities and opportunities for historians of technology and science working on Asia, I tried to situate the question within contemporary South Asian realities. In the broadest terms, I lay out the widespread conflicts and displacements that had been engendered by the megatech projects undertaken in the name of development and mobilized through the apparatus of the special economic zones (SEZs). Within this context, I suggest that fear had become a valuable political resource through which opposition to the projects was crystallized. Often irrational and frequently obscurantist, these fears nonetheless managed to trip up the iniquitous developmental juggernaut. As local fears hybridized, borrowed from, and traveled beyond their initial spheres of articulation, they created an intricate ecology of fear within which postcolonial megatech projects had to survive. Actor network theory, I argue, is insufficiently sensitive to these lurking irrationalities that haunt postcolonial technonational developmentalism, and if scholars want to understand the history and sociology of these projects, they have to take these fears and their politics mobilization seriously.

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