chapter  2
34 Pages

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 ‘militaryindustrial 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.