Monday, February 9, 2015 - 12:15pm to 2:00pm
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Room 100F, Pierce Hall, 29 Oxford Street, Cambridge

STS Circle at Harvard

Arunabh Ghosh (Harvard, Weatherhead Center), "No 'Mean' Solution: The Reformulation of Statistical Science in the Early People's Republic of China"

Sandwich lunches are provided. Please RSVP to by Wednesday at 5PM the week before.

Abstract:   In 1949, China’s victorious communist revolutionaries were confronted by the dual challenge of a near absent statistical infrastructure and the pressing theoretical need to escape the universalist claims of (capitalist) statistics. Rejecting pre-existing traditions of social science research, revolutionary statisticians and economists chose instead to follow the Soviet Union’s ‘advanced experience.’ Statistics was reformulated as a social science in service to building a socialist society, bifurcating it—rhetorically and substantively—from what was labeled the tainted, bourgeois, and socially unproductive pursuit of mathematical statistics and probability theory. In this talk, I follow the later career of the statistician, banker, and one-time government official Jin Guobao 金国宝 (1893-1963). As the author of China’s most popular statistics textbook during the 1940s (An Outline of Statistics), Jin was an especially easy target for socialist statisticians during the early 1950s. By 1956, he was among a handful of pre-1949 era statisticians whose works were repeatedly dissected in statistical journals as exemplars of capitalist statistics. In following the story of Jin (and his colleagues), I also locate what substantively changed in the content of statistical science during the 1950s; in other words, what theories and concepts were retained, what was rejected, and how this was justified. At a more general level, I also consider what the case of statistics in 1950s China can contribute to our understanding of boundary formation in the sciences.
Biography:   Arunabh Ghosh (BA Haverford College, 2003; PhD Columbia University, 2014) is a historian of modern China and currently a Junior Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. Arunabh's research interests include the social, economic, and intellectual history of the People’s Republic of China, transnational histories of science and statecraft, and Sino-Indian history. His current book project, “Making it Count: Statistics and State-Society Relations in the early People’s Republic of China, 1949-1959,” investigates how the state built statistical capacity to know the nation through numbers. Arunabh is additionally interested in applying digital humanities methods, in particular text mining and natural language processing, to the study of recent Chinese history. Future research projects include a history of dam construction in twentieth century China and essays on Sino-Indian contact during the 1950s. In July 2015, Arunabh will join Harvard’s History Department as an Assistant Professor.

Contact Name: 

Shana Rabinowich

Research Areas: 

Harvard University
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