Panel 3A | Science Representations and Colonialism + TV Representations of Science and Research

(Neo)Colonial Gazing: Constructing the Figure of the Refugee in Richard Powers’ Generosity
Lucía Bennett Ortega (University of Granada)

Richard Powers’ 2009 novel Generosity centres on the character Thassadit Amzwar, an Algerian refugee in the USA, who despite her traumatic experiences as a child in a brutal post-colonial Algeria, nevertheless experiences life in a state of extreme happiness. In my paper examine the way in which the identity of the refugee is socially constructed by the characters in the novel in relation to Thassa’s permanent state of joy. I argue that this character is not recognized for who she is as a unique individual, but rather, she is perceived and treated by everybody around her, firstly, in terms of their preconceived ideas of what it means to be a refugee, and secondly, as an empirical object of attention by the scientists and the media who try to reconcile the apparently contradictory experiences of post-colonial trauma and happiness. Taking Edward Said’s Orientalism and Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture as a starting point to understand the colonial discourse and the construction of the Other through language, I conduct a close reading of the text to firstly focus on the figure of the refugee as a “stranger” and the stereotypes that frequently accompany it, especially with respect to the descriptions of Thassa as an exoticized Other. Then, following the ideas of May Louise Pratt, I consider the narrative function of the neocolonial and scientific gazes displayed by certain characters in the novel, as a means of exerting control and authority over Thassa. Finally, I follow the conceptualization of “unconditional hospitality” proposed by Jacques Derrida to analyze the dynamics behind the welcoming and Othering that Thassa receives in the USA. In essence, I examine how Powers explores the social construction of a particular identity by focusing on the significance of narratives of labelling, fixity and belonging, emphasizing the complex relationships and the boundaries between the Self and the Other, and offering a criticism of how the neocolonial gaze, in addition to the scientifically biased discourse, function as structural oppressive discourses that support and reinforce one another in their orientalist and objectifying practices, rendering a supposedly hospitable discourse, hostile.

Reading Science and Modernity: A Comparative Analysis of US Pulp and Indian Science Fiction Magazines from 1910s-1930s
Indrani Das Gupta (Maharaja Agrasen College, University of Delhi)

American science fiction’s emergence in 1926 in Hugo Gernsback edited magazine, Amazing Stories has been duly documented in SF’s several histories. While Britain saw the first rudiments of this popular literary genre mostly in the novelistic terrain, John Cheng (2012) and Mike Ashley (2000) read the emergence of SF in America as located in pulp magazines/periodicals published during the inter-war years. Cheng read SF’s publication in the US as marking shifts in industrialising and modernising impulses, and as a cultural phenomenon that “that imagined, celebrated, and considered modern science” (15). Interestingly, thousands of miles away in Eastern and central parts of colonial India (Bengal and United Province areas), science fiction was also being written and consumed in periodicals and magazines (from 1880s onward). In both these disparate magazine sites—vernacular Indian science fiction magazines and US pulp magazines, science emerged as the central idiom to configure multiple societal frameworks like politics, culture, economics and history. This paper seeks to discuss this fascination for periodicals and magazines devoted to science fiction in America and colonial India from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Why did the first instances of science fiction emerge both in America and colonial India in variety of periodicals? What kind of cross-connections and overlaps can be drawn from these disparate sites? In what ways do these early science fiction narratives printed in Bengali and Hindi vernacular magazines and American periodicals comment on modernity? The idea of a continuous, recurring monthly publication of science fiction stories suggests that readers were interested in reading such stories. So, what kind of readers were targeted by these American and colonial Indian magazines? In what ways do these readers facilitate the rise of SF? And what thematic concerns were enunciated in these science fiction magazines? This paper enables a conversation to take place between US science fiction pulp magazines and few colonial Indian magazines published in Bengali and Hindi vernacular languages. Through this comparative analysis, the paper discusses these pulp science fiction magazines as crucial to the narrative of modernity, industrialisation, and colonisation. Simultaneously, this paper via its comparative framework seeks to ‘globalise’ the narrative of science and modernity—leading to a history that is truly heterogeneous and transnational.

Of Cultures and Classes: Representing STEM Education, Science, and Academia in Showtime’s Shameless (2011-2021)
Martin Butler (Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg)

Both structured by and reproducing socio-economic stratification, STEM education in the US, more often than not, still excludes those youth whose family backgrounds do not provide them with adequate educational and economic resources to pass the entry level requirements of college or university careers (cf., e.g., Rozek et al.). Despite attempts at increasing options of including the socio-economically disadvantaged in what is referred to as the “STEM pipeline” (ibid.), the gatekeeping mechanisms defining the field of science and its central institution, i.e., the academy, persist and contribute to maintaining a class-based structure of access and achievement. My paper explores the ways of critically negotiating these exclusionary structures and processes of STEM education in the US television series Shameless, which, in eleven seasons spanning from 2011 to 2021, tells the story of the working-class Gallagher family living in the Southside of Chicago. With one of the family’s members, Philipp ‘Lip’ Gallagher, being a straight-A student torn between aspirations towards a university career and his alcohol addiction, the series indeed addresses the class-related modes of distinction and exclusion of STEM education, while both picking up and subverting clichéd variations of academia and the professor as its major protagonist–both in the sciences and the humanities. Thus entangling different classes and different academic cultures, the series foregrounds the significance of socio-economic status (and a respective habitus in a Bourdieuan sense) in the field of science and its institution, thus shedding light on one central dimension of marginalization in US society and culture.