UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Organisation


Alexis De Greiff

Alexis de Greiff Acevedo is native from Bogotá, Colombia. He studied physics and received his MSc in theoretical physics before becoming a historian of science. He holds an MSc and a PhD in history of science from London University.
He worked as consultant to the Departamento Nacional de Planeación in Colombia, served as director of the Office of International Relations of Universidad Nacional and is currently Vice-Rector of the same institution, where is Associate Professor.
He has published on discourses and practices of South-North scientific exchange in the Twentieth Century, particularly in the framework of the United Nations system.
He is director of the interdisciplinary research group on Social Studies of Science at the Universidad Nacional.
He has been Visiting Professor at the Università degli Studi di Milano.

Some of his publications are: “The tale of two peripheries: The Creation of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste”, Historical Studies of Physical and Biological Sciences (Special Issue, Alexis De Greiff and David Kaiser eds) Vol. 33, Part 1 (2002), pp. 33-60. “The Politics of Non-cooperation: the Boycott of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics”, OSIRIS (Science, Technology and International Affairs: Historical Perspectives, John Krige& Kai-Henrik Barth, Vol. 20 (2005), submitted and accepted.
“The Politics of Non-cooperation: the Boycott of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics”

In 1974, the 18th General Conference of UNESCO approved three resolutions against Israel. The decision was widely condemned by intellectuals both from the left and the right. A group of physicists promoted a campaign to boycott the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), an institute created to foster collaboration in theoretical physics between Industrialised and Third World countries and partly supported by UNESCO. This political action against the “politicisation” of UNESCO, led mainly by U.S. and Israeli physicists, was, however, very selective in the institutions and programmes boycotted. Their action was based on a version of the meaning of the resolutions produced by the mass media and other interested actors, rather than on the information provided, and the interpretations given by the officers of the Executive Board and the Secretariat of UNESCO.

In this paper I shall argue that the boycott of the ICTP was motivated as much by the formal connection between UNESCO and ICTP, as by the identification of the ICTP with the Third World, which was blamed for the “exclusion” of Israel from UNESCO. The episode reflects how scientific non-cooperation, became a means to reverse a Third World act of insubordination against a close ally of the US. This work reflects the limits of scientific internationalism in the second half of the twentieth century. I am particularly interested in the conditional bases of scientific co-operation. In this context I investigate the meanings given by the actors to the terms politics, scientific co-operation for development, and science.
Abstract of a paper to be published on OSIRIS, Vol 20, 2005, edited by Kai-Henrich Barth and John Krige

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