Displaying Science and Envisioning Futures in Political Turmoil

Making politics and displaying science go hand in hand. In this session, we invite the speakers to focus on how science and technology have been represented and displayed in periods of political turmoil, social change and revolutionary dreams (and nightmares). How were spaces like a chemical museum, objects like a colonial locomotive and notions like “industrial heritage” shaped in these periods? Which exhibitions were kept frozen in their museum rooms and which ones were hidden in dark warehouses? Which readings of artefacts were reframed and which ones popped up? By whom? And, more importantly, how all these participated in the political arena as cultural weapons?

One of the results of a recent project on museums, science and politics in the Spanish Transition (MUSAUPOL, 2020-2023) has shown how a wide array of artefacts were mobilized (and immobilized) in the (symbolic and institutional) making of the new political regime after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. From large science centers to short-staffed natural history museums, from old exhibitions of primates to new displays of old metallurgic techniques, museological spaces contributed to promote particular ideas on nation, citizenship and democracy (necessarily against or in dialogue with other proposals emerging within society and being occasionally displayed in alternative exhibitions).

This panel aims at bringing scholars together to problematize the abovementioned questions through different international case studies. We are especially interested in the period from the 1973 oil crisis to the fall of the USSR, a period which witnessed multiple scenarios of social unrest and political struggles across Europe. The fall of the dictatorships in Spain and Portugal, class struggle in Great Britain and France, the rise of communism in Italy and Greece, its decline in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, radical antinuclear feminist movements in Germany and The Netherlands, among others, opened the door to subvert sociotechnical imaginaries in local, national and transnational scales: in these contexts, museums of science became cultural battlegrounds in the struggle for the future.

Case studies focusing on how demands for political transition and for energy transition were intertwined are welcomed (or concerning transitions of other kind: epistemic, economic, environmental). We also welcome those papers on “alternative exhibitions”, bottom-up displays and non-elite managed heritage, which sought to face top-down representations and hegemonic narratives (or those that would become hegemonic afterward). Papers on other periods will be taken into account.

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