Friday, May 4, 2007

Science, Speculation and Gendered Narratives

Timmi's post is weirdly coincidental as I was teaching a Masters session on Media, Health and Science at Cardiff University today, and one of the issues we were discussing was the distinction made in various 'factual' media forms between illegitimate speculation about the future - science fiction - and legitimate speculation about the future: the language of potential and promise or the use of modelling tools for extrapolation - and how sfnal is that? Legitimate speculation is authorised by the taken-for-granted expertise of the speculators - scientists, regulators and legislators heavily invested in the science = progress model, or of the genres in which they publish - although peer-reviewed scientific journals have come in for much criticism - external and internal - of late in the wake of significant scientific frauds such as the claim by Professor Hwang of Seoul National University to have produced patient-specific stem cell lines via therapeutic cloning.

But as to the gendering of this speculation, the ways in which biological processes are imagined and the effects this has on research programmes, check out the work of Evelyn Fox Keller. Her analysis of the use of gendered root metaphors in the conceptualisation of science can be found in the titles Reflections on Science and Secrets of Life, Secrets of Death: Essays on Language, Gender and Science. Emily Martin's work in The Woman in the Body also points to the ways in which the process of fertilisation of women's eggs by men's sperm was rendered in biological textbooks as a narrative of romantic conquest with active questing sperm, and passive receptive eggs. More recent texts represent a more equal co-operative enterprise, only thinkable, she argues, once gendered inequality had been raised as a social issue. Apologies to Fox Keller and Martin for sketchy late night renderings of their work, but it is superb and highly to be recommended - along with the work of Rose and, of course, Donna Haraway for their sensitivity to the material impacts that narratives - linguistic and visual - have on the practice of science and on gendered social relations writ large.

1 comment:

Lesley Hall said...

On gendering and biological processes and the need for social and political changes in order to rethink certain narratives, there was an excellent article in Social History of Medicine a few years ago by M Worboys, about the regendering of gonorrohoea in the late C19th (from being something icky that bad women gave to men, to something that men gave to their wives, making them infertile), in which he makes a very plausible argument that it was not just all about the rise of bacteriology and the identification of causative organism, but also about changing narratives about gender relations (e.g. campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts).