Imperial Technoscience

Imperial Technoscience: Transnational Histories of MRI in the United States, Britain, and India

Amit Prasad
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Imperial Technoscience
    Book Description:

    The origin of modern science is often located in Europe and the West. This Euro/West-centrism relegates emergent practices elsewhere to the periphery, undergirding analyses of contemporary transnational science and technology with traditional but now untenable hierarchical categories. In this book, Amit Prasad examines features of transnationality in science and technology through a study of MRI research and development in the United States, Britain, and India. In an analysis that is both theoretically nuanced and empirically robust, Prasad unravels the entangled genealogies of MRI research, practice, and culture in these three countries. Prasad follows sociotechnical trails in relation to five aspects of MRI research: invention, industrial development, market, history, and culture. He first examines the well-known dispute between American scientists Paul Lauterbur and Raymond Damadian over the invention of MRI, then describes the post-invention emergence of the technology, as the center of MRI research shifted from Britain to the U.S; the marketing of the MRI and the transformation of MRI research into a corporate-powered "Big Science"; and MRI research in India, beginning with work in India's nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) laboratories in the 1940s. Finally, he explores the different dominant technocultures in each of the three countries, analyzing scientific cultures as shifting products of transnational histories rather than static products of national scientific identities and cultures. Prasad's analysis offers not only an innovative contribution to current debates within science and technology studies but also an original postcolonial perspective on the history of cutting-edge medical technology.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32206-5
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    “The world is flat,” despite its seductiveness, is as chimerical a notion today as it was in the medieval times.¹ Nevertheless, there can be little dispute that the transnational geography of science and technology has dramatically shifted in recent times.² In the last four decades, during which magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has emerged as a cutting-edge medical technology and a “cultural icon,” technoscientific practices and imaginaries have undergone a profound change.³ In the 1970s and the early 1980s, when the first possibilities for MRI were being explored, India, for example, was considered a part of the “noninnovating South.”⁴ The next...

  5. 1 “Invention” of MRI: Priority Dispute, Contested Identities, and Authorship Regime
    (pp. 15-36)

    In 2003, when Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield were awarded the Nobel Prize for their contribution to the development of MRI, Raymond Damadian reacted sharply to his exclusion. “The Nobel committee is rewriting history,” he told Reuters.³ To give voice to their outrage, Damadian and his supporters took out full-page ads in theNew York Timesand other leading newspapers that stated: “This is the great voyage of scientific discovery that gave the world the MRI. It will be ignored on the shameful night of December 10th. The Nobel Prize will make itself irrelevant to the true history of the...

  6. 2 Translating a Dream into Reality: Birth of MRI and Genesis of a “Big Science”
    (pp. 37-58)

    Celebration of MRI as “the ultimate imaging technique” is today neither uncommon nor unwarranted. But, in the 1970s, scientists and nonscientists alike were unsure whether it could ever be developed. Thus, when it came to MRI, even Ervin Hahn, one of the pioneers of NMR research, was an unbeliever, dismissing its medical possibilities as “talking moonshine.”¹ Long after it was first proposed, NMR imaging of macro objects, specifically human bodies, remained a distant dream. Indeed, as Paul Lauterbur recalled, “MRI’s death certificate was signed several times” during this period.² Apart from theoretical and technical difficulties, there were a variety of...

  7. 3 Marketing Medicine’s “Sports Car”: The United States Becomes the “Center”
    (pp. 59-78)

    “People want this smart test [MRI],” John Caronna, a professor of clinical neurology, told theNew York Timesin 1991. “There’s no way to shut it off. The doctors crave it, it’s reassuring, and patients crave it.”² The professor was not far off the mark: the MRI market did expand rapidly in the second half of the 1980s. But its expansion raises at least three important questions. How did the MRI market so quickly become a “collective device,” and with such widespread influence?³ What does “collective” in “collective device” imply? And if markets are collective devices because they allow compromises...

  8. 4 Recovering “Peripheral” History: Genealogy of MRI Research in India
    (pp. 79-98)

    If the history of “modern science” in the non-West has been constituted as the “other” of the history of science in the West, Euro/West-centric historicism has ensured that it also remain inextricably bound and subservient to that same history.¹ Consequently, it has become an appended and dependent history—a history defined by “first in Europe and then elsewhere” temporality.² In comments on Needham’s just-quoted work that hold for the non-West generally, Peter Dear has observed that “the natural-philosophical dimension [of the history of science] is treated as largely epiphenomenal,” although “not entirely ignored—presumably because it resembles the natural-philosophical aspects...

  9. 5 Three Cultures of MRI: Local Practices and Global Designs
    (pp. 99-114)

    Despite fears to the contrary, “scientific culture” remains among the most pervasive and influential cultures in the world.¹ As a universal culture of exalted values, it also continues to present “a map for the rearrangement” of other cultures.² Nevertheless, sociological investigators have found the cultures of technoscience to be both elusive and difficult to define. The problem, in the first instance, is that scientific culture has been, and continues to be, defined through idealized epistemological values.³ Consequently, “modern science” has become, to use Sharon Traweek’s phrase, “a culture of no culture.”⁴ That is to say, the social entanglements of science...

  10. Conclusion: Looking Back/Moving Forward
    (pp. 115-118)

    The ManchesterGuardian’s 2011 headline “Nobel Prizes: Asian Scientists Set to Topple America’s Run of Wins” may seem premature, but it no longer sounds implausible.¹ In fact, its discursive presence reflects a recent dramatic shift in the transnational geography of technoscience.³ Yet, even in this new era of transnational technoscience, Euro/West-centrism and the West versus non-West divide continue to inflect both technocultural imaginaries and techno scientific practices. Such a discursive framing is evident in, for example, a functional MRI study of Chinese and Korean medicine:

    The development of oriental medicine [in China and Korea] is relatively slow and still relies...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 119-170)
  12. References
    (pp. 171-196)
  13. Index
    (pp. 197-216)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-219)