Narrative Strategies in Science Communication: A Case Study Approach

Peter Mc Allister (2011). Narrative Strategies in Science Communication: A Case Study Approach PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Peter Mc Allister
Thesis Title Narrative Strategies in Science Communication: A Case Study Approach
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-01-01
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Stuart Glover
Dr Joan Leach
Total pages 203
Total black and white pages 203
Language eng
Subjects 19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing
Abstract/Summary Evolutionary science writing is an increasingly popular genre but also one frequently criticised for telling scientifically inadequate ‘Just So’ stories. I argue here that both the popularity and the scientific inadequacy of evolutionary ‘Just So’ stories are due to their narrative structure. I then utilise the creative component of the thesis – the writing of a popular evolutionary text entitled Pygmonia: In Search of the Secret Land of the Pygmies – as a case study to explore ways in which accurate scientific explanation might nonetheless be written in narrative form, avoiding the ‘Just So’ story trap. I conclude that while the narrative form is largely incompatible with deductive- nomological scientific explanation, its constraints can, to some extent, be circumvented and its power harnessed by techniques such as the biographisation of non-human subjects (especially theoretical constructs) and the incorporation of secondary, human sources of narrative appeal. The second part of the thesis looks in greater detail at the concept of biographising subjects such as the anthropological theory discussed in the Pygmonia text. Biography is a perennially popular literary form and one whose appeal is thought to have increased dramatically in recent years, leading some authors to attempt to expand the frontiers of the genre by applying its techniques to novel (in the sense of new), non-human subjects. Science writers have been particularly prominent in this trend, creating what is virtually a new genre through their biographised treatments of diverse, traditionally non-biographical subjects such as volcanoes, rivers, microbes, commodities, mathematical concepts, and assorted plants and animals. Yet the claims of this new genre to be biography have not been theoretically tested. In this second part of the thesis several case studies in the genre – Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World; Longitude: the True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time; Salt: A World History; and Cotton: the Biography of a Revolutionary Fibre are critically analysed to investigate the extent to which they exhibit four common characteristics of biography: a narrative structure; a focus on the revelation of character; emotional engagement and transformation within the reader; and an anecdotal approach. The analysis reveals that in reality the texts seem to satisfy just two of the diagnostic features of biography – narrative structure and an anecdotal approach – and these only partially. These findings are then discussed in the light of problems that arose in the biographising treatment given to the Pygmonia text, concluding with the observation that different classes of non- human science subject exhibit distinctly varying degrees of affinity for the biographising treatment: theoretical constructions and problems such as those that form the subject matter of both Pygmonia and Longitude show a surprising amenability to biographisation that is not shared by other classes of non-human science subject.
Keyword Narrative, science communication, biography, Pygmies, evolutionary anthropology, anthropology.

 
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Created: Tue, 15 Nov 2011, 01:27:57 EST by Mr Peter Mc Allister on behalf of Library - Information Access Service