Accepted Paper:

Bodily performance of scientific authority in how-to manuals on presenting  


Alexandra Supper (Maastricht University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses how notions of scientific authority are constructed in how-to manuals for giving presentations, by tracing how these manuals (1970s-today) in different scientific disciplines instruct scientists on how to use their voices, body language and audio-visual representations.

Paper long abstract:

Existing studies of the role of bodily engagement in scientific practice primarily focus on tacit skills. Although scientists use their bodies and senses in myriad ways, they - partially due to a scientific rhetoric that builds upon the notion of disembodied knowledge - rarely receive explicit, written instructions for doing so.

In this paper, I want to analyse a genre of writing which does give guidance to scientists on how they should use their bodies: the how-to guide on giving presentations. Through these texts, (especially young) scientists are instructed in how to use their voices, body language and various audio-visual representations in order to create an impression of scientific authority. The specific form that these instructions take, however, are historically grown and can vary considerably: while some texts recommend lively bodily performances to draw in the audience, others instead suggest suppressing one's body language to a large extent in order to not distract from, and thus potentially discredit, the scientific content of the presentation. Based on an analysis of how-to manuals on giving presentations, spanning from the 1970s to today and encompassing a variety of scientific fields (extending towards medicine, the humanities and social sciences), I will trace how notions of scientific authority and expertise are constructed through these instructions.

Panel T111
Body, Science and Expertise