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Locating Dictatorship in the Anthropocene: Historiographic Trends in the History of Science and Technology and the Study of European Authoritarianism

  • Louie Dean Valencia-García (a1)
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1 Whitaker, Elizabeth Dixon, Measuring Mamma’s Milk: Fascism and the Medicalization of Maternity in Italy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000) . In particular, she discusses ways in which medicine was used to legitimise sexism against women. While this sexism certainly existed prior to fascism, fascism mobilised technoscience to legitimise its own built-in obsession with masculinity.

2 Maulsby, Lucy M., Fascism, Architecture, and the Claiming of Modern Milan, 1922–1943 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014) . Maulsby has shown the ways that Milan’s architecture influenced the consolidation of power in fascist Italy and demonstrated ways in which STS scholars of fascism can look anew at architecture. More recently, Slezkine’s, Yuri The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017) has also looked at how one Soviet architectural project affected the lives of everyday people under the regime, though not through a strictly STS lens.

3 Siddiqi, Asif A., The Red Rockets’ Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination, 1857–1957 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) .

4 Proctor, Robert, The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999) .

5 In writing about authoritarianism I am specifically not trying to conflate types of authoritarianism – fascism, communism, etc. Instead, I am interested in discussing ways in which hegemonic authority is able to exert power, which certainly can be applied to the study of democracies that are organised more hierarchically than horizontally.

6 This is seen in Karen-Sue Taussig’s Ordinary Genomes: Science, Citizenship, and Genetic Identities (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009). In this work Taussig demonstrates the ways that Dutch constructions of identity have affected genomic research, and thus influenced everyday life in the Netherlands.

7 When I use the term ‘intersectionality’, I am drawing from a discourse that goes back at least to Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw’s 1989 article ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’, University of Chicago Legal Forum (1989). Since that germinal work, which called on scholars to consider race and gender in conjunction in order to understand the experiences of black women, intersectionality has grown to describe the ways in which all marginalised or oppressed people encounter intersecting oppressions based on their race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, ethnicity and embodiment. These oppressions are inextricably linked. While the term ‘intersectionality’ is a slippery heuristic, I use it to discuss the aforementioned categories of historical analysis, to borrow from historian Joan Scott.

8 I take the ‘Anthropocene’ to be the concept describing our current geological age, one profoundly influenced by human activity on this planet, a concept popularised by the Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen. Cruzten’s germinal article came to define the field; see Paul Crutzen, ‘Geology of Mankind’, Nature, 415, 3 (2002), 23. As recently argued by Hélène B. Ducros and Katrine Øgaard Jensen, ‘in just a few generations, the relationship between the planet and the societies that inhabit it has undergone profound transformations. Our global dependence on fossil fuels, nuclear power and its radioactive residuals, intense resource extraction economies, genetic manipulations, air, soil, and water contamination, and byproducts of modernity, such as waste material like plastics and other synthetic polymers, have all caused great disturbances in the Earth ecosystems on which many species depend, including the human species’; see Hélène B. Ducros and Katrine Øgaard Jensen, ‘Facing the Anthropocene’, EuropeNow (Council for European Studies at Columbia University), 2 May 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170715093744/https://www.europenowjournal.org/2017/05/02/welcome-to-the-anthropocene/ (archived 25 July 2018).

9 Brown, Kate, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) .

10 See Geertz, Clifford, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973) .

11 See Roberts, David D., Fascist Interactions: Proposals for a New Approach to Fascism and Its Era, 1919–1945 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2016) , chapters 9–10.

12 For a more in-depth discussion of what I mean by fascist tendencies, and the ways those tendencies manifested throughout the Francoist dictatorship, see Valencia-García, Louie Dean, Antiauthoritarian Youth Culture in Francoist Spain: Clashing with Fascism (London: Bloomsbury Academic, May 2018) .

13 Historians such as Robert N. Proctor, George J. Annas and Michael A. Grodin have demonstrated ways in which doctors and scientists were initiators of medical and scientific categorisation that were used by, and complicit with, Adolf Hitler’s regime – weaponising ‘scientific’ categories and knowledge production to attack perceived enemies (both internal and external). One of the most obvious examples of such a socio-political result was the passing of the Nuremburg Laws of 1935. Under the law, using ‘scientific’ racial categorisation, a German Jew was no longer legally afforded the rights of being of German citizen, because they belonged to a non-German ‘race’ – being Jewish –, a conflation of racial, ethnic, religious and national categories. This categorisation had the effect of attacking minority groups, but also affected, and was affected by, scientific categorisation. Already by the 1920s biological determinism began to formulate into Nazi understandings of how fascist ideology ordered and categorised people, giving preference to people of Nordic ancestry. This biological determinism, a devolution known as social Darwinism, propelled a belief in ‘racial hygiene’ – a belief that a race must be bred to perfection. In what might surprise some people, the German biologist, physician and eugenicist, Alfred Ploetz, one of the founders of the racial hygiene movement, initially categorised Jews along with Nordic people – highlighting the instability of those created scientific categories. See Annas, George J. and Grodin, Michael A., The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 1821 . Even before Hitler’s rise to power there were at least fifteen medical journals dedicated to racial hygiene, and more than twenty universities in Germany had established institutes dedicated to racial hygiene: Annas and Grodin, Nazi Doctors, 19. German racial hygienists viewed the United States Immigration Restriction Laws of 1924 in a particularly favourable light, especially for their restriction of South Europeans, Polish people and Jews. See Proctor, Robert N., Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 101 .

14 Gaspar, Víctor Mora, Al margen de la naturaleza: La persecución de la homosexualidad durante el franquismo: Leyes, terapias y condenas (Barcelona: Debate, 2016), 17 .

15 See Tomás, Antonio Sabater, Gamberros, homosexuals, vagos y maleantes: Estudio jurídico-sociológico (Barcelona: Editorial Hispano Europea, 1962) and Carlavilla, Mauricio, Sodomitas: Homosexuales, políticos, científicos, criminales, espias, etc. (Madrid: Nos, 1956) . Carlavilla’s text was so popular that it had twelve re-editions by 1973.

16 Today we know that such usage conflated anatomy with socially constructed ideas of gender and sexuality, effectively collapsing categories of queerness into a single word that served to label all queer people as ‘other’.

17 The variation of definitions should not be surprising given that even the word ‘misogyny’ was often used under the dictatorship by government censors to mean ‘fear of women’. See Valencia-García, Louie Dean, ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way in Franco’s Spain’, in Valencia-García Antiauthoritarian Youth Culture in Francoist Spain: Clashing with Fascism (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018) .

18 Mora Gaspar, Al margen de la naturaleza, 25.

19 See Beachy, Robert, Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity (New York: Vintage, 2015) .

20 See Bauer, J. Edgar, ‘Darwin, Marañón, Hirschfeld: Sexology and the Reassessment of Evolution Theory as a Non-Essentialist Naturalism’, in (Dis)Entangling Darwin: Cross-Disciplinary Reflections on the Man and His Legacy, ed. Sara Graça da Silva, Fátima Vieira, and Jorge Miguel Bastos da Silva (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012) .

21 Mora Gaspar, 24.

22 Ibid., 32.

23 Ibid., 35.

24 Ibid., 58.

25 Ibid., 62. The term ‘passive’ also has connotations going back to at least the early modern period in Spain, used to indicate whether or not a person is being penetrated during coitus – in contrast to the ‘active’ participant (the penetrator). This typically marked a social power dynamic between the individuals. Practically, barring an instance of sexual assault, anyone could be considered active participant, regardless of a semi-medicalised description of anatomical positioning. For more on the topic, see Carvajal, Féderico Garza, Butterflies Will Burn: Prosecuting Sodomites in Early Modern Spain and Mexico (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003) .

26 Camprubí, Lino, Engineers and the Making of the Francoist Regime (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014) .

27 Ibid., 3.

28 Ibid., 5–6.

29 Ibid., 66–75.

30 Saraiva, Tiago, Fascist Pigs Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016) .

31 Ibid., 13.

32 Ibid., 18–9.

33 Ibid., 17.

34 Ibid., 15.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid., 13. Also see Di Cesare, Donatella, Heidegger and the Jews: The Black Notebooks, English edition (Medford, MA: Polity, 2018), 8485 . Di Cesare argues that ‘rootlessness had a broader meaning for [Martin] Heidegger than simply the lack of one’s own land. . . . The Jews were not the only nomads, devoid of a land and state – or, rather, incapable of creating the political structure of a state. Their rootlessness was considered as that unboundness. . . . The absence of one’s own land, also seen as the lack of a background and a foundation, was a peculiarity of a superficial way of existing, without ties – in fact, with a breaking of ties. Above all, a breaking of the tie with Being.’

38 While not a text that deals specifically with authoritarianism, Taussig’s excellent anthropological study shows ways that nationalism, race, ethnicity, gender and religion can affect scientific knowledge creation and diagnosis. See Taussig, Ordinary Genomes.

39 Saraiva, 15.

40 Ibid.

41 Schmid, Sonja D., Producing Power: The Pre-Chernobyl History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015) .

42 Ibid., 16.

43 Ibid., 21.

44 Ibid., 23.

45 Ibid.

46 Ibid.

47 Eglė Rindzevičiūtė, ‘The Birth of the Soviet Anthropocene: Nikita Moiseev and the transformation of Soviet governmentality’, unpublished paper presented at the ICCEES IX World Congress, 2015, currently under review by Modern Intellectual History.

48 Ibid., 3.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid., 2.

51 Ibid., 4–12.

52 Kate Brown, ‘The Great Chernobyl Acceleration: How Writing European History has Changed in the Age of the Anthropocene’, unpublished paper presented at the American Historical Association’s European Section Luncheon (2018).

53 See Scott, Joan W., ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’, The American Historical Review, 91, 5 (1986), 10531075 .

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Contemporary European History
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