Centre for Internet & Society

This is a session proposed for the Internet Researchers' Conference (IRC) 2016 by Sumandro Chattapadhyay and Jahnavi Phalkey.



The proposed workshop session is motivated by an interest in historicising contemporary debates on the state's role in development of science and technology in India, and the adoption of both into the processes of government and statecraft. From the DNA Bill to the Digital India initiative, we are experiencing a state that takes science and technology seriously, perhaps a little too seriously.

The debate on state-led organisation of science and technology began in earnest in late-imperial India. The National Institute of Sciences of India met in Calcutta during WWII (1943) to discuss the following questions: “what should be the organisational model for science and technology adopted for post-war and independent India; and how should India benefit from the Commonwealth structure?” In his report at the end of the visit the following year, Archibald Vivian Hill, British physiologist and Secretary of the Royal Society, suggested centralised state-led organisation of science and engineering research as the way forward in India. The debate continues to date.

More recently, especially since 1991, the Indian state has entered into multiple forms of relationships with the science and technology establishments in the country, both public and private. Centralised support for science, technology, and innovation is distributed through various channels that range from regulated oligopolistic markets, to public-private partnerships in fundamental and applied research, to strict governmental control over primary means of communication.

This session is interested in situating present day controversies around the state and internet in India within a historiography of science, technology, and state in India.

Sources on these debates are not readily available in a structured format for direct analysis or visualisation. The session, therefore, plans to make use of the diverse group of participants at the Internet Researchers' Conference to start developing an open data set to understand the key topics, positions taken by the Indian state, institutions, persons, policy directives and statements, and objects involved across the science and technology debates in twentieth century India.

We hope to achieve two goals with this session: 1) to begin to address the challenge of conceptualising contemporary discussions about the internet in a historical frame, and equally, 2) to rethink methods of representing and mapping debates and its components, when the sources are not found readily in digital form.



The key methodological difficulty faced by this session is that lack of structured data and sources on the topic of science, technology, and state debates in India. Most, if not all, tools and methods of issue, debate, or controversy mapping have dealt with forms of discussions and materials that is either taking place over digital media (for example, social media platforms), or is already made available in a digital format (for example, digitised books). These tools have often developed to address the unique issue mapping challenges and opportunities emerging with the distributed, and often real-time, discussions taking place over the internet (See: http://www.issuemapping.net/Main/WebHome).

In this session, however, we are interested in debates both after and before internet became a commonplace technology in India. Our energies are focused on generating a data set on debates on topics of science, technology, and the state in twentieth century India, which is 1) structured, so that it can utilised for various kinds of analysis and visualisation, 2) expandable, so that we can continue to add information, and 3) open, so that it can be modified and used by other researchers.

The workshop will begin with a quick overview of science and technology projects by the Indian state in the last century. We will be attentive to the vocabulary of the imaginaries within which these projects were proposed.

The participants will be divided into groups, each focusing on one thematic area of science and technology debates (for example agriculture, space, and biotechnology)). Each group will use a spreadsheet software (say, Libre Calc or Microsoft Excel) to document the key aspects of the debates concerned along the following categories: 1) fundamental question of the debate, 2) position taken by the state, 3) institutions involved, 4) persons involved, and 5) objects involved.

This documentation will be done using a pre-designed schema so that the resultant data can be combined and visualised to test the robustness and feasibility of the project.

The final 30 minutes of the session will be kept for combining all collected data, visualising it, and doing some initial exploration of the linkages foregrounded by the gathered data.

We will use RAW, developed by Density Design, and possibly Google Charts library to create the preliminary visualisations.

All collected data, along with documentation of the data creation process, will be published under open standard and license with appropriate credit attribution.



Caroll, Patrick. 2006. “Science, Culture, and Modern State Formation: Theory and Analysis.” In Science, Culture, and Modern State Formation. Berkeley: University of California Press. 11-27. http://www.ucpress.edu/content/chapters/10533.ch01.pdf.

Density Design. RAW. http://raw.densitydesign.org/.

Marres, Noortje. 2015. “Why Map Issues? On Controversy Analysis as a Digital Method.” Science, Technology, & Human Values. 40(5). 655-686. http://sth.sagepub.com/content/40/5/655.full.pdf+html.

Phalkey, Jahnavi. 2013. “Introduction: Science, History and Modern India.” Isis. 104. June. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/670950.


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