Science and Political Discourse, 18th-21st Century
November 14th & 15th, 2014, Université Stendhal – Grenoble III
By presenting it as a form of discourse essentially aimed at –and successful in− convincing, Lyotard (La condition postmoderne) forcefully challenged the traditional view of science as the expression of reality. Yet, to this day, it is difficult to renounce the idealisation of science as an absolute, a universal form of knowledge, the guardian of a truth understood as one-sided. This is not the case with political discourse, which is a claimant to universality too, but whose practices (the use of rhetoric among others) have ceased to be viewed as valid over time. In fact, the de-legitimization of political discourse has been such that, as Christian le Bart remarks, it is now seen as “predictable, coded, to the point of being potentially fraudulent, less interesting than self-interested” (« L’analyse du discours politique : de la théorie des champs à la sociologie de la grandeur », Mots. La ville, entre dire et faire, n° 72, juillet 2003, p. 1).
The questions raised by the two differing paths taken by scientific and political discourse, respectively, become all the more relevant when one considers the position of their authors. One of the reasons for the general distrust of political discourse is that the latter tends to be associated today with the agents of the political field exclusively, and so, to be perceived as the prerogative of our representatives. By contrast, by evolving from the status of enlightened amateur to that of expert, the figure of the scientist has, over centuries, increasingly gained credibility with the general public. One can wonder, then, whether –and to what extent− science or scientific discourse can in some cases be summoned up to make up for a deficit of legitimization.
Are the relationships between politics and science, these two “vocations” (as Max Weber would say), to be understood as always operating along these lines, or can close scrutiny help bring out other types of interaction between them? On the one hand, these questions will entail the consideration of political discourse as broader than the language of experts; on the other hand, they will lead us to examine notions of authority, interest, and the modes of translation between the two types of discourse, using examples taken from the 18th century to the present. Contributors will for instance consider how philosophers, writers, clerics, feminists, politicians… have been able to seize upon scientific models or ideas so as to nurture and support their arguments; how, across a spectrum ranging from the direct application of scientific theories to demonization, through the mere subordination of science to match their rhetorical needs, authors from various fields have managed to re-appropriate concepts and data from various sciences (medicine, biology, mathematics, astronomy, physics…) or pseudo-sciences (phrenology…) so as to suit their political purposes.
In terms of literature, utopia and dystopia are two genres relevant to this discussion, as well as the industrial or realist novel, for example. As regards civilization, among many possible topics, social Darwinism, eugenics, the use of racialist theories in the context of the subjugation of indigenous peoples within the Empire, the denigration of the theory of evolution by some Republican representatives in the USA, the social issue that bioethics represent in the body politic… are topics of interest.
Abstracts (300-350 words) should be submitted by March, 1st, 2014, and sent to:
Cyril.firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
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