This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Scienza Per Il Popolo
by Herb Fox
Regional Science is the name used to describe the practice and abstract musings of those scientists and technologists who are concerned with the technical problems of regional development and the interrelationship between regions. Of course many who work in the field recognize that the problems are not really all technical. But even those who do realize the social and institutional dimensions of the problems tend to deal with them in technical terms. Examples of the work of regional scientists are: 1) locational problems—where to locate industries, schools, homes relative to resources; 2) transportation problems—where to place transportation routes, what type, expected use with respect to quality and quantity; 3) resource allocation problems—optimum allocation of limited resources for development of underdeveloped regions or redistribution in unevenly developed areas; 4) city design; etc.
In the first week in September, the Italian Section of the Regional Science Association met. About seventy Italian regional scientists and five North Americans attended; some presented papers reporting on the results of a variety of projects, on various theories and on methodology. Most of the people were well-motivated—really believing they were doing things for people—but since most were paid by governments, private funds or universities and since most had the usual failings of technologists—the unsupportable belief in the potential of technology alone to solve human problems—a great deal of the presentations were either empty or accepting of the institutional status quo or in outright service to the ruling class.
This group of conscientious, socially concerned people whose practice was in contradiction to their own understanding were curious about the slogan “Science for the People”. Seeing the button on the lapel of a visiting SESPA member was enough to invite questions. On the day prior to the meetings some contact was made with a few persons who were to attend the four sessions that were to ensue in the following two days. Among these one was very responsive, liked the Science for the People program, and took a button to wear. Consequently, on the morning of the first session two persons were wearing Science for the People buttons.
By the beginning of the afternoon session about ten were wearing buttons, and there had been many worthwhile private discussions. By the end of the meeting on the second day almost half were wearing Science for the People buttons, speakers were referring to the slogan Scienza per il Popolo and quotations from Mao and Che Guevara had become part of the discussions. The very meaning of the technical pursuit of regional science without a substantial change in the social and economic structure of society was being questioned from the speaker’s platform. Reaction was already evident, for example, in one speaker saying that he had never been to a meeting like this before, and he hoped in the future the attendees would turn to the technical problem and leave out the politics.
How did this come about? There was no guerilla theater, no protest action, no leafletting. Was it the work of an outside agitator? No, it seems to this author that it was the result of inside agitation-agitation in the minds and spirit of the people at the meeting. Scientific and technological workers live a contradiction that is peculiar to certain segments of the working class. A part of their motivation and education is the concept that their work is for the good of humanity. A welder or machinist is not taught, along with the teaching of his skills, that by being a welder or machinist he can make the world a better place in which to live. But so often a scientist is led to believe he is pursuing knowledge and learning skills that he can use for humanity. Therefore, when he finds after a short while in the practice of his trade that he is just being used as a well-trained servant of the ruling class, he is confronted by a contradiction he must resolve. Some willingly serve the ruling class—they are pig scientists. Some drop out of the technical field either to become revolutionaries or to lose themselves in some other occupation (or non-occupation). But most vacillate, are troubled, try to work from within the system and are frustrated, or just live a horrible schizophrenic existence. The inner agitation of these people is the source of their rising when they are given some hope, some opportunity.
Of course once the inner contradiction of the scientist is brought to light, there is still a long way to go. He must conquer life-long habits of accepting privileges and of exercising minor power. He must relearn the language, avoid mystification of his work, end his belief in the cure-all possibilities of technology. He must learn how to learn from the people—all people—how to serve them, respect their culture, their collective understanding of their own needs. He must learn that the way to serve the people is by joining their struggle for liberation, their struggle against bureaucracy, against imperialism. This is a long process involving much struggle, and in their struggle scientific and technological workers must help one another by continual criticism, exchange of experience, and exemplary actions.
Following the meeting a few of those attending arranged a small meeting between some local radicals and a member of Science for the People. Arrangements for further communications were made and experiences exchanged. It is a small beginning but the rulers of the world are organized on an international level and so must we be. Scientists always talk about how science is international and so it is-and so also is our movement. So in Rome …. Scienza per il Popolo!