Goods and Gods, being a narrative disquisition on the poetics of technology in post-traditional India

Raman Srinivasan, University of Pennsylvania


How do cultures shape technologies? How are technological design and practice influenced by culture in twentieth century India? How do legends, Puranas, and Darshans, philosophies of India shape Indian historiography? What is the role of technological research in Independent India? How may the culture of post-British India be characterized and evoked? This dissertation aims to develop and test methods for answering these questions. The cultural biographies of three carefully chosen devices: the Aranmula metal mirror, the Jaipur foot prosthesis, and INSAT (Indian National Satellite), constitute the core of the text. Each of these three very different technological artifacts is used as an aid in meditating on technology and its relation to culture. In addition, the very process of telling their stories, as puranas, is an excercise in understanding the centrality of metaphysical narratives in Indian civilization. In searching for "the meaning of India" through these objects, the reader may come to understand India as a post-traditional society, a meeting ground of several "great traditions," a locus for traditionalizing modernity. The cultural biographies of the three technologies are framed by an introductory discussion of the emergence of an independent Indian state and a concluding chapter on the poetics of technology and post-traditionalism. The introductory chapter examines the political economy of science, technology, and development in non-aligned India, thus providing a background for detailed readings of the Aranmula mirror, the Jaipur foot and the INSAT. The final chapter, a meditation on the nature of technological innovation, highlights the fact that modernity is but a small accretion on the palimpsest of India. The form of this dissertation capitalizes on the powerful presence of puranas in India today. The narrative is embedded in Indo-European myths that express the desires, ambiguities, and tensions animating technology and culture in India. A careful intercalation of puranas, legends, with "objective" historical and sociological research results in a text evocative of contemporary India.

Subject Area

Science history|Cultural anthropology|Aerospace engineering|South Asian Studies

Recommended Citation

Srinivasan, Raman, "Goods and Gods, being a narrative disquisition on the poetics of technology in post-traditional India" (1994). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9521125.