Modernities, Sciences, and Democracy

  • Sandra Harding

The “modern” in “modern science” is a relatively uninterrogated and untheorized concept within the sciences and in the philosophy, sociology, and history of science. This is so today at a time when other aspects of Western sciences have been fruitfully explored in critical and illuminating ways (see Christensen and Hansen, Chap. 13; and Skovsmose, Chap. 15). In particular, the exceptionalism and triumphalism characteristic of Western attitudes toward our sciences have been explicitly criticized and purportedly abandoned by many of the scholars working in science studies fields. By exceptionalism is meant the belief that Western sciences alone among all human knowledge systems are capable of grasping reality in its own terms—that these alone have the resources to escape the human tendency to project onto nature cultural assumptions, fears, and desires. By triumphalism is meant the assumption that the history of science consists of a history of achievements — that this history has no significant downsides. According to this view, Hiroshima, environmental destruction, the alienation of labour, escalating global militarism, the increasing gap between the “haves” and the ”have nots,” gender, race, and class inequalities — these and other undesirable social situations are all entirely consequences of social and political projects, to which the history of Western sciences makes no contribution. Such conventional Euro centric assumptions can no longer gather the support either in the West or elsewhere that they could once claim

In recent decades a huge amount of literature on modernity has emerged from the social sciences and humanities. Stimulated by the massive shifts in local and global social formations during the last half of the Twentieth Century, and by the post-modern response to such changes, social theorists, literary and other cultural critics, and, especially, historians have debated the uneven and complex origins, nature, and desirable futures of modernity, modernization, and modernism. Such controversies about modernity are first and foremost about a culture's relation to its past and its possible futures. They arise as ways of asking what went wrong, and what needs to be corrected. The last half a century has witnessed the global decline and fall of belief in the unquestionably legitimate authority of the white, bourgeois, male. Contributing to the epistemological, economic, political, and cultural rubble left by his demise — or, at least, deflation — have been compelling and influential counter-histories of social relations between the races, classes, genders, and within colonial and imperial eras


Modern Science Social Progress Western Science Risk Society Political Project 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandra Harding
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate School of Education and Information StudiesUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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