CFP: Art and Science Now: The Two Cultures in Question

Science Museum and Tate Modern, London, 23-24 January 2009

On 7 May 1959, C. P. Snow delivered the Rede Lecture in Cambridge on the subject of The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. A failed scientist and a moderately successful novelist, C. P. Snow drew on his experience as a Civil Service Commissioner to consider what seemed to him to be an increasing fissure between 'literary intellectuals' and 'natural scientists'. In part an attack on the perceived insularity, decadence and political sterility of the London literary scene, in part a complaint about the poverty of a humanities education and a demand for curriculum reform in schools and universities, the lecture was, most fundamentally, a critique of the lack of mutually intelligible exchange between the two cultures. As the 1950s drew to a close, Snow believed that only a national culture as aware of the importance of knowing the second law of thermodynamics as of knowing the plays of Shakespeare, would be fit to offer developing countries the scientific and technological solutions to poverty and deprivation that were so urgently required.

The London Consortium is bringing together the Science Museum and Tate Modern in a two-day conference to mark fifty years of the two cultures. Divided into a more specialised academic event and a more public occasion, it will consider the history of this debate, asking whether Snow's critique has been addressed by the increase in multi-disciplinary research, alongside the expansion of educational curricula and provision within science and the humanities. But in a world of increasing disciplinary specialisation in which there has been exponential growth of sub-disciplines in both science and the humanities, it will also ask whether the distinctions between and indeed within the two cultures might have become further entrenched. The most fundamental question this celebration of 50 years since Snow's lecture will ask, though, is how the terms of the debate may have changed.

We invite papers for a conference at the Science Museum on 23rd January 2009, that consider questions such as the following: How have new technologies such as the internet and new resources like Wikipedia reconfigured our sense of disciplinary boundaries, hierarchies of knowledge and the places where cultural capital is held? Has the new dominance within general culture of ideas drawn from the 'life sciences' ? molecular biology, genetics and biochemistry, ecology, epidemiology ? and their unpredictable pressings upon fundamental questions of how and why humans and other organisms should find themselves and their relationships defined in particular ways, led to an ever more complex and porous boundary between science and the humanities? How are Snow's notions of disciplinary and national cultures to be rethought through the paradigms and politics of globalisation?

Please send 200-word abstracts for papers (20 minutes maximum) by November 1st to Dr. Laura Salisbury, School of English and Humanities, Birkbeck, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX or l.salisbury@bbk.ac.uk.

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