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A call for decolonising global governance
Series: Inscriptions

This book provides a powerful diagnosis of why the global governance of science struggles in the face of emerging powers. In the field of the life sciences, China and India are both seen as emerging ‘dragons’ and as ‘elephants’. Both countries have formidable resources and are boldly determined to have their presence felt. Yet even when transnational regulatory pledges are made, there often remains an ‘elephant in the room’. Would these scientific ‘dragons’ really abide by the agreed rules? The book provides an essential insight into the logic of science governance in the two countries through unpacking critical events in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. This includes controversies on gene research, stem cell experimental therapies, GM crops, vaccines, the CRISPR technologies and the COVID pandemic. It argues that the ‘subversiveness’ assumed in China’s and India’s rise reflects many of the challenges that are shared by scientific communities worldwide. Previously marginalised actors, both from the Global South and Global North, contest conventional thinking of how science and scientists should be governed. As science outgrows traditional colonies of expertise and authority, good governance necessarily needs to be ‘de-colonised’ to acquire the capacity to think from and with others. By highlighting epistemic injustice within contemporary science, the book extends theories of decolonisation. This book is indispensable for scientists, policy makers and science communicators who are working with or in China and India, and for anyone interested in science-society relations in a global age.

Joy Y. Zhang
and
Saheli Datta Burton

The book opens by unpacking the 2018 CRISPR baby scandal and its global impacts. Jiankui He’s experiment was a perfect example which exposed the multi-layered ambiguities and contradictions in the realpolitik of the Global South’s drive for influence in frontier research and how power struggles are enmeshed with subaltern anxieties. More importantly, it illuminates why some of the ‘deviance’ manifested by China and India are not country-specific, but underlie shared challenges brought on by a growing diversity of ways of doing research outside of conventional institutions. The chapter demonstrates that bottom-up brokerage, de-territoriality of science and cosmopolitanised civic epistemology are three key trajectories of contemporary science which necessitate us to de-colonise our approach to governance. By the word ‘decolonise’, this book not only refers to the existing epistemic project of decolonial theorisation but also stresses a more fundamental meaning of being able to think outside of scientific ‘colonies’. That is, established social space and interactive order that govern a group of individuals with similar interests or are committed to a certain type of behaviour. The chapter introduces ‘national habitus’ as an analytical tool to substantiate what decolonial theorists have called the capacity to ‘think from and with’ global others.

in The elephant and the dragon in contemporary life sciences
Joy Y. Zhang
and
Saheli Datta Burton

Chapter 2 sheds light on the subaltern anxieties shared by China and India in order to help untie a Gordian knot of mutual skepticism between the West and the new powers in the East. Seen from the West, China and India often occupy a ‘geography of blame’ where their aggressive scientific agendas provide fertile ground for fraudsters and mavericks. Western observers thus argue that Chinese and Indian scientific communities need to first prove themselves as trusted players in order to win respect. Yet in the eyes of many scientific practitioners in China and India, they are unfairly condemned to a ‘geography of victimisation’ due to a long-standing epistemic injustice. They argue that the West needs to acquire a fair attitude first so as to appreciate the actual scientific contribution from the two countries. This Gordian knot leads us directly to a thorny question: can there be epistemic inequality within the contemporary life sciences? More importantly, how would this inequality shape our actions, and inactions? This chapter unpacks these questions by elucidating how China and India position themselves in the twin process of modernisation and globalisation. This provides an insight on why mutual skepticism persists and how it can be overcome. The empirical overview on the two countries’ development trajectory also contextualises discussions for subsequent chapters.

in The elephant and the dragon in contemporary life sciences
Joy Y. Zhang
and
Saheli Datta Burton

Various conflicts and contradictions in China’s rise in the life sciences are best understood as a ‘struggle for recognition’ both domestically and globally. It first sets out the basic governing structure and major policy initiatives in China. But such structures should not be seen as static. In fact, through examination of critical events such as China’s joining of the Human Genome Project, hybrid embryo research, the Golden Rice controversy and the COVID pandemic, the chapter demonstrates that even in an authoritarian country, the national habitus of science is constantly challenged and reshaped by bottom-up initiative from scientists, bioethicists and the general public. More importantly, it highlights the de-territorised nature of these initiatives. It debunks the erroneous impression that researchers in China are passive ‘state scientists’. Rather similar to bioethicists, they actively draw on resources transnationally to establish their professional autonomy and authority within and outside of China. In cases such as the International Association of Neurorestoration, the rise of Chinese-led but transnationally organised science has formulated alternative ways of validating knowledge within contemporary Western science. By reviewing critical events Chinese life science experienced in the past 20 years, this chapter effectively examines five sets of key relations (e.g. scientist-state relation, bioethics-state relation, public-science relation, science-science relation and state-science relation) that have shaped its national habitus of science. Key themes of this chapter are further developed in the examination on India.

in The elephant and the dragon in contemporary life sciences
Abstract only
Self-sufficiency in a globalised world
Joy Y. Zhang
and
Saheli Datta Burton

India may not yet be leading global science, but it is clear that scientific advancement in India has been pulling and pushing global science in various ways that force attention. Following an overview of Indian’s science structure, this chapter focuses on two critical events. Central to India’s Bt crops saga is the question ‘who is “worthy” of being heard’. One striking character of the Bt crops disputes was that there was no readily-available categorical term to distinguish the pro- and anti-GM camps, for they were both formed by a coalition of government institutions, scientists, civil groups and industries and both evoked a post-colonial rhetoric and the necessity for ‘good science’. Conventional ways of designing and delivering regulations can easily be trapped in a self-referential ‘bureaucratic amplification of credibility’ which has limited ability to speak, let alone respond to diverse risk preferences. Meanwhile central to the global controversies stirred up by Indian experimental stem cell therapies was the question ‘who could do science’. Geeta Shroff captured Western attention perhaps partly because she presented an enigma about who could ‘afford’ to be defiant to conventional scientific communities – communities she didn’t align herself with but whom she impacted nonetheless. For governance to be effective, it has to stay relevant to the subject it aims to govern. This chapter argues that the legitimacy and authority of the global governance of science is becoming ever more dependent on its perceived fairness and inclusivity of diverse groups of practitioners.

in The elephant and the dragon in contemporary life sciences
Making sense of the rise of China and India
Joy Y. Zhang
and
Saheli Datta Burton

To comprehend the co-dependence and rivalry between China and India and their global implications, this chapter invites and enables readers to think from and with the two countries by pointing to the often ignored leftist science populism that underlines Global South societies’ management of the dual-task of modernisation and globalisation. This helps to identify the latent effects in the two countries’ selective global outreach and to understand their limits in leading South-South collaboration. The chapter first elucidates the concept of leftist science populism and its political logic. This helps to contextualise the gap between the two countries’ official views and actual practices in R&D exchanges and the latent effect of the two countries’ global expansion, which is discussed in the second section. Finally, the COVID vaccine diplomacy exhibits the two countries’ latest struggle to gain a better position in the global epistemic hierarchy. Whereas China’s vaccine diplomacy can be summarised as ‘contrast, collaborate and calumniate’, India adopted an approach that resembled ‘contest, convert and control’. Yet they both experienced some setbacks due to a deficiency in soft power, which is necessary to bring quality change in how science is applied and evaluated.

in The elephant and the dragon in contemporary life sciences
Joy Y. Zhang
and
Saheli Datta Burton

This final chapter brings together the themes and cases visited in the book and asks what a de-colonised global governance may look like. The book ends with an invitation to ponder the question ‘what global science will have been?’ This future anterior framing was first proposed by the feminist scholar Tani Barlow. This linguistic construct draws attention to the fact that the anticipated future is embedded in the present (or that a present scenario was embedded in the past). More than at any time in world history, the sciences, especially the life sciences, are shaped by the confluence of private pursuits, national ambition and transnational assemblages. Thus to ask the question ‘what global science will have been?’ is to draw attention to current power struggles and resource imbalances that both stimulate and confine emerging sciences. On the basis of previous chapters, the authors collect their final thoughts on how a decolonised governance of the life sciences can be achieved through reflections on topics of time, place and people.

in The elephant and the dragon in contemporary life sciences