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Hope and anxiety on the endless frontier : scientists, state policy and the popular imagination since 1945

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Item Summary

Title: Hope and anxiety on the endless frontier : scientists, state policy and the popular imagination since 1945
Authors: Trundle, Sean Aaron
Keywords: scientists
cultural representations
Revenge of the Nerds
Issue Date: May 2013
Publisher: [Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 2013]
Abstract: The era following the conclusion of World War II witnessed numerous discursive struggles over the public benefits of science and technology. Scientific advancement has been imaginatively configured in a countless array of relationships to social progress, from ticking time bomb to benevolent savior. These contested meanings can only be understood relative to the historic governmental, material, and social forces that shaped power relations between scientists, policy makers, and public constituencies along axes of capital, race, nationality, gender, and knowledge.
The United States federal government took on a radical new relation to the production of scientific knowledge, establishing large, permanent bureaucracies to fund and oversee research. The nascent research institutions, including the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Advanced Research Projects Agency, Atomic Energy Commission, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration, quickly became the single largest source of funds across virtually every scientific discipline, cementing a link between science and the state in the popular imagination.
Cultural representations of scientists, both real and fictive, became critical discursive sites for negotiating the meanings of this nascent political formation. This dissertation argues that "the scientist" often stands in as the mitigating force between federal policy or institutions and the public interest, functioning symbolically as the embodiment of contested meanings of scientific advancement. This mythology was crafted across a disparate array of popular cultural forms, middlebrow news media, and policy debates at several key historical moments through the latter half of the twentieth century. The biographies and public personae of scientists like Robert Oppenheimer and Wernher von Braun, as well as technological entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, worked in concert with popular films (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Revenge of the Nerds) and television series (Tomorrowland, CSI) to forge the central features of the mythologized figure of the scientist. The personal qualities and desires of scientists as imagined through these arenas were not only markers of American attitudes towards science and technology, but active forces in the construction of cultural meanings for science, the state, and the relationship between the two.
Description: Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2013.
Includes bibliographical references.
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/102010
Appears in Collections:Ph.D. - American Studies



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