6b Transcultural Mobility of Scientists and Science in the Contemporary Anglophone Science Novel

Research team: Anton Kirchhofer and Karsten Levihn-Kutzler

This project focuses on a specific corpus of transcultural Anglophone science novels that have not yet been systematically examined in FMS I or elsewhere, and most of which are partly or entirely set outside Britain and the United States, and particularly novels set in South Asia. These novels appear to share one central component with their Anglo-American counterparts (examined in Kirchhofer’s FMS I project 2b): They feature complex scientist characters whose actions, goals and conflicts not only give an insight into the practical and human aspects of doing science, but also shed light on the larger social issues and implications of science in these respective societies. In addition, however, this particular corpus brings to the fore new aspects of science in society that are related to the global frameworks and conditions for the practice of science: For the scientist characters described in these novels, for example, practicing science is invariably entangled with issues of cultural difference and transcultural mobility. Similarly, relationships between science and the rest of society differ significantly from those that we find in Anglo-American settings, in that conceptions of science and society often display a strongly transnational dimension. Though international and transcultural dimensions may be present in the Anglo-American settings, they are seldom explicitly acknowledged or placed in the center of attention.

This project builds on our analysis of the representations and functions of scientist characters by focusing on the mobility of scientist characters against the background of the global dimensions of these fictional worlds of science. It will focus on the different roles that expert scientific knowledges are assigned in relation to non-scientific (cultural, local, indigenous) knowledges, and on the ways in which the stories of individual characters illuminate the role of scientific and other knowledges in the context of a globalization of knowledge (Renn 2012). Against this background, we will examine if and how contemporary science novels help transcend the cultural stereotyping of scientific knowledge as “Western” or “hegemonic” knowledge and envisage new and promising roles for scientific knowledge in a globalizing world (cf. also Raina 2003, Raina 2015). Materials include novels such as Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost (2000), Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide (2004), Manu Joseph’s Serious Men (2010), J.M. Ledgard’s Submergence (2011) or Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland (2013).