University of Cambridge > > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > The rise of modern physics in Spain: knowledge, power and memory

The rise of modern physics in Spain: knowledge, power and memory

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In the decades following the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), General Franco’s regime enlisted modern physics in the construction of an autarkic, totalitarian new state. The regime launched costly research and development programmes in nuclear physics, aeronautics and material sciences, and moulded a scientific community depleted by the war. It has proved difficult to make sense of these developments, especially since our understanding of the power relations of science in the dictatorship is shaped by the way its legacy has been handled. Francoism remains such an urgently conflicted issue, that these relations have been dismissed or minimized. Physicists and historians have emphasized that Francoist policy was indifferent if not hostile to modern science, and that the regime’s official ideology, National Catholicism, did not reach beyond the rhetorical surface. I will challenge these views by discussing one important if neglected aspect of the coproduction of science and the regime. Beginning in the 1930s, prominent right-wing ideologues sought to replace the progressive liberal reading of physics that had prevailed in the country through the first decades of the century, for a reactionary modernist reading that stressed the spiritual dimension of the discipline. They explicitly echoed German debates on technology and culture, yet were careful to avoid any materialistic or atheistic implication and argued rather for the integration of science in the Christian scheme of the world. Physics was thus aligned with the political and religious discourse that became hegemonic after the war. I will reflect on the implications of this story for our understanding of science in totalitarian regimes, and account for its invisibility.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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