Mobilizing Modernity: The Nuclear Moment

By Ian Welsh | Go to book overview

2

The nuclear moment

In this chapter I want to establish the genealogy which will orchestrate the remainder of the work. The idea of a scientific social movement is not new but approaching the nuclear case as the expression of such a movement is to my best knowledge novel. Barry Barnes' work best describes the progress of science as a social movement through a steady process of institutionalisation. Throughout this long history science has often had turbulent and conflictual relations with both church and state. In the twentieth century science and state became increasingly inseparable in advanced economies giving rise to what Eisenhower famously dubbed the 'military-industrial complex'. The expansion of science and technology since mid-century means that the majority of all scientists in history are alive today, and that the presence of scientists, technologists and engineers has played a major role in transforming the class composition of societies (Abercrombie and Urry). For my present purposes science-society relations can be characterised as revolving around a set of core tensions. The immense promise of science to deliver people from want, hardship, ignorance and ill-health and the prospect of science producing the horror of Shelley's Frankenstein (Mellor 1989) is one such tension. This tension between promise and threat underlies a profound public ambivalence towards science, as captured by C.P. Snow in his seminal contribution The New Men. The nuclear moment stretching from the 1930s to the 1980s is one in which faith in science and technology apparently overcame such public ambivalence.

In 1930s America, Technocracy Inc., a popular social movement advocating the resolution of all social and political problems by expert means, enjoyed a period of mass membership (Ross 1991). This was also, coincidentally, the decade in which atomic physics was making rapid theoretical and experimental progress. So many advances were made in 1932 that it was dubbed the discipline's annus mirabilis (Gowing 1964:17). In America, Fermi established the viability of controlled nuclear fission when he demonstrated the first nuclear reaction in 1934. By January 1939 the possibility of splitting the atom was firmly established within the scientific commun -ity and some public discussion about the potential for a 'super bomb'

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Mobilizing Modernity: The Nuclear Moment
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Acronyms x
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The Nuclear Moment 34
  • 3 - Resisting the Juggernaut 68
  • 4 - Accidents Will Happen 95
  • 5 - Modernity's Mobilisation Stalls 118
  • 6 - The Moment of Direct Action 150
  • 7 - Networking 183
  • 8 - Conclusions 206
  • Notes 228
  • Bibliography 244
  • Author Index 256
  • Subject Index 259
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