“Labor Created Science”: The Class Politics of Scientific Knowledge, 1940–1971

Sigrid Schmalzer

in The People's Peking Man

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2008 | ISBN: 9780226738598
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226738611 | DOI:
“Labor Created Science”: The Class Politics of Scientific Knowledge, 1940–1971

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This chapter argues that the top-down project of science dissemination and the bottom-up one of mass science—while both in some sense “popular science”—lay in profound contradiction. Science dissemination was in practice the far stronger of the two, but it was inherently hierarchical and even elitist in character. Though on the surface far more compatible with Maoist ideology, mass science suffered from a relative lack of organization and consistent political backing, though was at times effective in undermining scientists' claims to authority and promoting popular participation in scientific research and technological development. On the whole, however, it was the masses' superstition, rather than their potential contributions, that occupied scientists and others involved in scientific research and dissemination. Mass science was most influential in areas of technology where workers and peasants had obvious and unproblematic experience to contribute. As a field science, paleoanthropology, too, lent itself to a certain amount of mass participation, but the intellectual and political problems surrounding dragon bones complicated the issue considerably. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, popular contributions to the interpretive side of the study of human evolution, moreover, were out of the question: what the masses had to contribute was too likely to be tainted with superstition.

Keywords: science dissemination; socialist China; paleoanthropology; mass science; superstition

Chapter.  10466 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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