Accepted Paper:

On Science and Fiction: The Case of Population Genetics and Belonging  


Venla Oikkonen (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

My paper explores how fiction can shed light on key theoretical questions in feminist STS. I show how a novel that invokes ancient DNA provides insights into the gendered and racialized dynamics of temporality and belonging that underlie the materiality of population genetic practices.

Paper long abstract:

Feminist science studies scholars have long been interested in the ways in which literature and film can shake and enrich our understanding of science. In this presentation, I want to readdress the role of fiction, and especially fictional narrative, as a site of potentially transformative engagement with scientific knowledge and technologies. While scholars have previously explored fiction as indicative of the cultural imaginaries, expectations and values surrounding science, and the ways in which scientific projects take shape through cultural narratives and imaginaries, I ask how fiction can shed light on the materiality of scientific practices, especially those of population genetics.

From this viewpoint, I provide a reading of Margaret Drabble's novel The Peppered Moth, which explores the idea of conceptualizing trajectories of belonging through mitochondrial DNA collected from ancient human remains. I suggest that examining population genetic techniques of analysis through and against a work of fiction enables us to understand the gendered, sexualized and racialized dynamics of temporality and belonging that underlie population genetic technologies. I conclude with some theoretical notions on how this kind of engagement with fiction contributes to feminist STS debates on the connections between the materiality of scientific practices and the cultural dynamics within which science emerges as a meaningful project.

Panel T032
Science Communication