4c. Emergent scientific discourses and power relations in science novels

Researcher: Norbert Schaffeld

A substantial number of contemporary English and German novels in which science plays a major role strongly support the view that fiction, whether set in the past or present, provides an ideal space for examining two particular phenomena: First, the diverse literary representations of the individual scientist's process of discovery; and second, the way in which that fictionalized process is seen in relation to the dominant discourse of the day, both within and beyond the scientific community. The concept of representation is here used to distinguish fictionalized versions of emergent scientific discourses from documentary evidence of past or recent developments. The design of this project is just one part of the proposal's interrelated rectangle whose corners are marked by the authors and their scientific competence and cultural embeddedness, the (historical) scientist as a fictionalized entity (cf. Shapin 1996), the narrative mode which may involve reliable or unreliable mediation, and, finally, the scientific (as well as historical) knowledge of the target audience.

The fictional text corpus spans the past four decades of publication and comprises a diverse mix of some forty science novels in English and German. It includes fictional representations of emergent scientific concepts and paradigm shifts from the 16th to the 20th centuries, and ranges from John Banville's Doctor Copernicus (1976) and Kepler (1982) to Clare Dudman's Wegener's Jigsaw (2003) and Jo Lendle's Alles Land (2011). In order to invite diachronic comparison the analytical focus then shifts to novels such as Allegra Goodman's Intuition (2006) or Richard Powers's Generosity. An Enhancement (2009), in which power relations and mechanisms of control influence the emergence of new scientific ideas in the contemporary world. Within this wider comparative framework the following issues will be addressed: the content and aim of the individual scientist's research in the fictionalized space, the research environment or institutional embedding and accessible modes of scientific communication, the interpretation of data (Firestein 2012, 20), research fraud and scientific misconduct as in Bernhard Kegel's recent novel Ein tiefer Fall (2012) (cf. Bell 1992 and Goodstein 2010), academic integrity and scientific ethics, the significance of language (cf. Krohn 2006) in the interplay of knowledge and power, the entitlement to do specific research and attract recognition or third party funding (cf. Münch 2007), and the gender specific conditions of scientific agency (cf. Rosser 2004).

As a tool to analyse literary representations of, for example, paradigm shifts, mechanisms of control, or scientific misconduct, this project uses discourse analysis to investigate the mode in which reality is perceived by the fictionalized scientist (cf. Mills 2003: 55). In keeping with this view, discourse is seen as having the potential to both produce and control the characters’ perceptions of reality. In the literary spaces of many science novels, discourse is further determined by the interplay of the topics permitted for discussion, the circumstances under which contributions are made, the normative modes utilized, and the allocation of the right to speak as an agent of knowledge. Insofar as it results from a specific constellation of power relations, which provide the context for processes of negotiation, fictionalized scientific discourse and the rules of discursive exclusion reflect the relationships between power, language, and knowledge (cf. Fairclough 2010).

The project thus employs some of the principles of discourse analysis to ex¬plore fictional spaces in which processes of scientific discovery and knowledge production are affected by various agencies of control, whether political, ideological, religious, economic, scientific, or academic. The literary analysis is based on a model of structural periodization that extends Foucault's notion of the discursive break, Raymond Williams's concept of an interplay between dominant, residual, and emergent beliefs and practices, and Thomas Kuhn's diachronic view of science as proceeding in distinct phases (cf. Kuhn 1996), a concept that has found application in social system modelling (consensus formation, opinion formation) and complex system analysis (cf. Bornholdt et al. 2011).

For the purpose of analysing contemporary English and German fiction in which scientists are represented in the process of formulating new discoveries, control is defined as any political, ideological, religious, economic, scientific, academic, or publishing agency that has the power to prohibit, inhibit, or pro¬mote the production and emergence of knowledge. The success of the scientist figure as discursive agent will depend on the employment of a post-Foucauldian version of the triad of object, ritual, and privilege. Translated into the realm of literary analysis, the leading questions for the project are the following: (1) What is the content and aim of research in the given fictionalized space? (2) In what environment or institutional framework is this research conducted, and what modes of scientific communication are accessible? (3) Within the novels' discursive texture, who has the right to do specific research and attract public or academic recognition or third-party funding?

Michael Hagner sees the history of science as being closely related to cultural studies provided that the latter employs a diachronic focus in relation to the historical dimension of knowledge, its forms of representation, its basic categories and media, its practice, as well as its cultural, social and economic interweaving (30). Building on this approach the novels will also be read as literary representations of the contingencies of scientific theory formation (Vanderbeke 2011: 196).