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A Fragile Power

A Fragile Power: Scientists and the State

Chandra Mukerji
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    A Fragile Power
    Book Description:

    When the National Science Foundation funds research about the earth's crust and the Department of Energy supports studies on the disposal of nuclear wastes, what do they expect for their money? Most scientists believe that in such cases the government wants information for immediate use or directions for seeking future benefits from nature. Challenging this oversimplified view, Chandra Mukerji depicts a more complex interdependence between science and the state. She uses vivid examples from the heavily funded field of oceanography, particularly from recent work on seafloor hot springs and on ocean disposal of nuclear wastes, to raise questions about science as it is practiced and financed today. She finds that scientists act less as purveyors of knowledge to the government than as an elite and highly skilled talent pool retained to give legitimacy to U.S. policies and programs: scientists allow their authority to be projected onto government officials who use scientific ideas for political purposes. Writing in a crisp and jargon-free style, Mukerji reveals the peculiar mix of autonomy and dependency defined for researchers after World War II--a mix that has changed since then but that continues to shape the practical conduct of science. Scientists use their control over the scientific content of research to convince themselves of their autonomy and to achieve some power in their dealings with funding agencies, but they remain fundamentally dependent on the state. Mukerji argues that they constitute a kind of reserve force, like the Army or Navy reserves, paid by the government to do research only because science is politically essential to the workings of the modern state. This book is essential reading not only for sociologists and students of science and society, and for oceanographers, but also for every scientist whose work depends directly or indirectly on government support.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6024-1
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xii-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Scientists As an Elite Reserve Labor Force
    (pp. 3-21)

    In the summer and fall of 1986, a group of marine biologists and geologists were notified by the Department of Energy that their funding for studies related to deep ocean disposal of nuclear wastes had been cut out of the next year’s budget. The DOE had decided on a policy of land-based disposal of wastes and no longer needed their services. This was a moment of victory for the citizen groups that had been fighting against using the ocean as a dumpsite; itwas also a moment that revealed quite dramatically the political character of research funded by the...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Development of State Interest in Science in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 22-38)

    The contemporary relationship between science and the state was established in the United States at the end of the Second World War, but it had its roots in the nineteenth century, when the state began to provide fiscal support for scientific activities. Science became tied in more complex ways to the world of business because of its usefulness in manufacture and trade, and this led business to advocate government-supported scientific research in areas that would stimulate economic development. The technological innovations made in industry, in turn, made possible the development of scientific instrumentation that produced new research results, and the...

  8. CHAPTER THREE War and State Funding in the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 39-61)

    Just as the relationship between science and the state began to transform both corporations and laboratories in the nineteenth century, the relationship between science and the military began to change the practice of war and research during the early twentieth century. In the period, war was an overwhelming historical fact for the West. The character and ubiquity of modern warfare gave states new motivation for seeking the advice of scientists. The outcome of war was increasingly tied to the technological and economic strength of nations, and science could affect both the technological sophistication of armies and the industrial power of...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Managing the Scientific Labor Force
    (pp. 62-84)

    How government agencies spend their research money on scientific projects shapes the character of the U.S. scientific labor force. For both inside and outside funding agencies, it may seem that the allocation of research funds is more random than people would like and so variable across agencies that it never could constitute a coherent “state” policy. But there are some fundamental assumptions about how scientific research should be conducted and about the government’s relationship to science that give rise to clear patterns in the funding decisions made by different government agencies. That is why, although there is little centralized state...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Limits on the Autonomy of Soft-Money Scientists
    (pp. 85-104)

    Talk to most successful scientists about their relationship to the government and they will laugh (or scowl) at any suggestion that the government bureaucracy can effectively control anything as large and complex as the scientific research system—much less use it in a systematic fashion to enhance state power. They will agree that government officials, particularly people in the military, make concerted efforts to do so, but they will also remind you that while the Department of Defense is a major funder of research, it is neither the only nor most vital part of the research establishment. They will also...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Technological Dependence of Scientific Researchers
    (pp. 105-124)

    Technology, more than anything else, highlights the fundamental dependence of science on the state. The same instruments that allow scientists to make reputations for themselves, promote their labs, and stimulate scientific debate also tie them to the soft-money funding system. They cannot use advanced technology without large amounts of money, both because labs with advanced instrumentation are too expensive to run without funds, and because advanced instruments are generally too complicated for scientists to make inexpensively for themselves. Thus most independent researchers who want to use them must buy or lease them. The scientists who are capable of building their...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Techniques and Status in Scientific Laboratories
    (pp. 125-145)

    Studying the fate of technology in scientific labs provides another interesting way of assessing state-science relations because it reveals how daily life within labs is shaped by these relations. Much of what people do when they are engaged in research is to use technologies in order to experiment with natural objects. The techniques used in laboratories and the scientific problems addressed with them are the central identifying characteristics of individual laboratories. They determine how laboratories are placed (hierarchically as well as substantively) in the social worlds of science. Yet, for all its importance, the use of techniques in laboratories is...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Expanding the Domain of Science
    (pp. 146-165)

    In doing research scientists may be in some sense engaged in a training exercise for improving their value as a labor force, but they are above all (and in their own eyes) doing science. They address themselves to the social world of science to dominate some portion of that world, while simultaneously promoting science itself. Research may embed the practice of science into the structure of funding (because of its machinery and cost), but it also contributes to a transformation of nature into data (data being representations of the natural world that accommodate scientific analysis), and the latter are a...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Directing Scientific Discourse
    (pp. 166-189)

    While it is certainly a source for the empowerment of science, alienation of nature in itself is not adequate to explain the power of science and its attractiveness to the state. More is needed to explain the fact that scientists have maintained control over the intellectual development of science in spite of their fiscal dependence. How do scientists make nature a resource forscience,and not just for the state? How can they maintain control of their resources, if they are so valuable?

    One part of the explanation must be that science is an esoteric knowledge system, which, no matter...

  15. CHAPTER TEN The Voice of Science
    (pp. 190-204)

    The combination of dependence on and autonomy from the government among soft-money scientists (resulting from their fiscal dependence and drive for intellectual control of the natural world), combined with the use of scientists as advisors by the government, have turned scientific researchers in the United States into an elite reserve labor force. Because scientists have been called upon by government to consult on issues of political weight, they have been encouraged to conceive of themselves as influential and substantial experts. As a group, they have developed a social image as an elite with a powerful understanding of the natural world...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 205-234)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-244)
  18. Index
    (pp. 245-253)