Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950

Bernard Porter writes:

Africa as a Living Laboratory will surprise some readers, who may expect from the title yet another stricture on the way Britain used its colonies and their peoples as a research facility for its own imperial purposes; but they will find that Tilley is far too aware of the nuances, ambivalences, weaknesses and even contradictions of British imperialism to be seduced by such foolish simplifications. She is at pains to emphasise that she is not defending imperialism; and the effect of her analysis is to provide a much more reliable basis for any critique of it. Tilley admits that she is a ‘defender of science’: the scientific method, that is, rather than the conclusions that ‘bad’ science sometimes throws up. The same method informs her own research, which is rigorously empirical, in contrast with the airily theoretical approaches that mar so much recent work in this area.

(LRB 10 May 2012)

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