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Accepted Paper:

'Environment' as 'setting' in eco-devo narrative  
Corey Bunce (Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research)

Paper short abstract:

'Eco-Devo' advocates for the significance of the environment in organismal development. Comparing accounts of genetic and environmental sex determination over the last century using narrative theory reveals the way the environment drops out of explanations and the challenges to reintegrating it.

Paper long abstract:

Proponents of 'Eco-Devo' (Ecological Development) advocate for the significance of the environment in organismal development. Sex determination is paradigmatic. Genetic Sex Determination (GSD) has become the dominant model, pulling attention from research on Environmental Sex Determination (ESD). For instance, many turtle species undergo temperature-based ESD. As these species may be adversely impacted by climate change, they are a pertinent subject on Eco-Devo's agenda. However, recognition of the environment's role in development is not new. Temperature-based ESD theories have ancient origins. Given this, what change does Eco-Devo entail? I approach this question using Narrative theory, as development in Biology is expressed in terms of processes, and narrative is the major way people make sense of processes. A traditional account of development would hold the organism to be a 'character' (or set of actants) and the environment to be a 'setting' or 'background'. The Eco-Devo position recognizes that keeping the environment in the background devalues its relationship to the developing plot, problematically erasing it from the narrative. With narrative and semiotic theory, we see that the environment could be made significant in biological narratives either synthetically (as actant) or thematically (as catalyst). Yet, examining the last century of ESD and GSD accounts, Eco-Devo appears restricted from changing the content of explanations. Rather, it changes the context, evoking a genre shift, played out in practices of reading rather than writing biological narratives. Independent of biological particulars, this narratological approach can be valuably employed for any inquiry into relations between nested processes.

Panel Pract09
The Environment Around Us: Relational Approaches as Common Ground
  Session 2 Tuesday 20 August, 2024, -