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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Materiality and the discourse of science Cwiartka, Monika


This dissertation examines the relations between scientific work as it is performed at the benchtop and scientific work as it is represented in scientific prose, where “scientific prose” is defined broadly as instances of communication which point to the methods and objects of scientific research. The idea I expand upon is that scientists have historically been embodied knowers, moving through a physical context involving research objects, and that some forms of scientific communication have evolved to convey this material relation of scientists and their objects of study. Using concepts from phenomenology, such as intentionality, and Kenneth Burke’s theory of Dramatism, I develop and apply an “action-attention-language” triad model for examining how references to actions on research objects are represented. With this triad model as a heuristic tool, I examine various cases of representation in science. I look at experimental papers which attempt to introduce an apparatus into the community; the use of mice as research apparatus in neurobehavioral genetics; advertisements for research products placed in the journal Science; and two instances of what can be called “cyberscience”: websites selling research mice and services, and research involving “virtual” mice. The chapters of this dissertation progressively problematize the relation of physical and linguistic practices. In experimental papers describing an apparatus, the style of reporting tends to portray a direct correspondence between physical and linguistic research practices; when mice become research apparatus, language is both constrained by the mouse body and also used to surpass material limitations; advertisements for research products point to the automation of apparatus and the division of research work between those performing the experiments and those writing about experimentation. Furthermore, I observe that the digitization of research allows researchers to access mice and research services over the internet, while virtual biosimulations ask researchers to infer and describe material processes from digital representations. The contribution of this dissertation to knowledge in Science and Technology Studies is primarily evidential, as I attempt to show the relationships and transformations in research work which others have pointed at, but often in broad terms which call for further substantiation through specific textual examples.

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