Networks of Exchange: Mobilities of Knowledge in a Globalized World

Project Directors: James Delbourgo and Toby Jones

How have science, technology and medicine been made by global movement, and how has global movement been shaped by science, technology and medicine? This two-year seminar explores the relationship between varieties of knowledge and practice and the formation of networks that transcend single cultures, nations or regions. If we include Western Europe and North America but deny them the status of “centers,” and suspend judgment about what forms of knowledge should count as modern, western or scientific, what new stories about knowledge and power emerge? The concept of the network helps ground global histories as a series of connected, local interactions across distance, while exchange helps us understand such interactions through attention to differential power relations, unpredictable reciprocities, and multi-directional outcomes that are also political, economic and cultural in character.

The program engages with a set of linked questions. Who are the actors in technoscientific networks and how do they function? Recent analyses draw attention to the authority yet instability of the status of intermediaries, brokers, and go-betweens, and their negotiation of sometimes radically different cultural scenes. What identities do such intermediaries assume, what roles do they perform in translating and coordinating between different groups, and how do they establish trust and credibility?

How do networks emerge from material environments, and how do they modify those environments? We propose exploration of the non-human elements that sustain networks through which humans come to intervene in the natural world. Attention will be paid to the movement of specific forms of technique and dexterity; technologies and machinery; live entities (animals and plants) treated as resources and specimens; and the collection and circulation of objects. How can we think through the co-agency of humans and things better to understand the relationship between networks and environments?

Finally, it seems crucial to ask how even the most far-flung networks (whether those of multinational corporations or early modern trading companies) forge local relationships with specific polities and institutions. The promotional aspect of such networks seems no less important. How have they produced aesthetic projections of a globalized world and their place in it, legitimizing them in the eyes of their publics as authoritative brokers of knowledge and resource across distance?

Intellectual and collegial exchanges will be oriented around weekly seminars, in which postdoctoral fellows from outside the university and Rutgers faculty and graduate fellows will be the core participants. Please click here for the 2014-2015 seminar schedule.