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Science Interrupted: Bureaucracy, agroforestry, and research practice in southwest China and beyond

14:00 - 15:30
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Boltzmannstraße 22, 14195 Berlin, Germany

In his talk, Timothy McLellan examines how scientists in China pursue environmental sustainability within the constraints of domestic and international bureaucracies. Drawing on participant observation at the Institute for Farms and Forests (IFF), he illuminates the frustrations and anxieties of colleagues faced with procedures and processes that pretend to do everything from promote research impact to prevent financial corruption. These frustrations are familiar to academics who have experience with academic “audit culture” far beyond China. Indeed, many of the bureaucracies that IFF colleagues encounter in China are directly connected to proliferating global demands for scientists to demonstrate their “impact” and “value-for-money.” As well as showing how such bureaucracies are experienced in a particular part of the world, Tim explores how IFF colleagues’ encounters with bureaucracy might inform wider efforts to re-imagine relationships between science and society. Extending a mode of anthropology in which ethnography serves as source of theory as well as source of data, he thinks with, and not only against, bureaucracy. And he argues that doing so can help us to imagine more democratic and more collaborative modes of scientific practice.

This talk will be based on material from his new book “Science Interrupted: Rethinking Research Practice with Bureaucracy, Agroforestry, and Ethnography” (Cornell University Press, 2024).

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