Ninth and Tenth Narrative Science seminars: Narrative for law, Linneaus, and long ago
Author: Dominic Berry
We have bundled the summaries of the presentations given over the past month into one blog post, as unfortunately one of our speakers, Sarah Dillon, had to cancel and we have rescheduled her talk for next term. Here we provide a brief overview of the talks given by Vito De Lucia, Marco Tamborini, and Staffan Müller-Wille, including parts of the discussion they provoked. As ever, we have audio recordings of all of their talks and if you would be interested in receiving them please get in touch.
Vito De Lucia, The Arctic University of Norway
Reading law outside of the legal text: legal narratives
De Lucia began by explaining that we can understand law as a system of rules, the application of which will be different in different jurisdictions. Laws cannot therefore be understood outside of the apparatus for their interpretation. The latter turns out to be a highly fertile place for narrative. But this is not something that most lawyers receive any training to deal with; addressing this gap is part of his motivation for studying the narratives that make laws operational.
He was particularly interested in environmental law, which is steeped in narratives of the exploitation of nature. Where others have already addressed ‘interstitial norms’ such as ‘sustainable development’, because they seem to be both legal and non-legal, De Lucia is focused on how interstitial norms function thanks to their narrative form. Particular examples of interest are ‘natural capital’ and ‘ecosystems services’, both of which support legal structures by telling a story about the environment. He belongs to a group of scholars attempting to displace such existing interstitial norms with an ‘ecocentric’ approach. So De Lucia is learning about narrative in order to make use of it for those purposes.
In the discussion period we sought to pin down a distinction between arguments (which may or may not have a narrative form) and narratives. De Lucia sees narratives from all sorts of different origins being drawn in and relied upon to justify the making of legal arguments. Another audience member wanted to ask about textual production and reproduction: where are these narratives being encoded, if anywhere, or are they produced only in the background? De Lucia replied that it is a bit of both, they are sometimes laid out in court documents, decisions, and so on, but also certainly in the background for those articulating different arguments in environmental law. In that respect, De Lucia looks at a wider set of documents than is usually the case in legal scholarship to explore the role of competing narratives in shaping law.
Staffan Müller-Wille, University of Exeter
From Travel Diary to Species Catalogue: How Linnaeus Came to See Lapland
Müller-Wille is currently planning a project, in close collaboration with Elena Isayec from the University of Exeter, that aims to “re-work” Linnaeus’s Laplandic Journey. By working on a new online translation of the travel journal in collaboration with local experts, they hope to understand better how such expeditions happened, what they were for, the kinds of knowledge they relied on or produced, and the issues they raise today (for more detail, see https://linnaeus-in-lapland.net). He began his talk by drawing on Lévi-Strauss’s distinction between engineering and the bricolage. According to Lévi-Strauss, you are involved in the latter whenever you are to some extent constrained by the material you happen to have at hand, only able to progress by making the best of what is available to you. By contrast the engineer will analyse the problem in ways that matter for all sorts of different projects. Müller-Wille finds this distinction helpful for understanding how Linnaeus constructed his manuscript travel account and extracted information from it for a whole series of print publications.
The Lapland expedition took place in 1732, and the journal Linnaeus produced has gone on to be regarded as establishing a paradigm of modern anthropological travel writing. The trip was funded by a local scientific association in Uppsala, who also provided him with a long list of questions to pursue during his travels. The journal also contains a map that Linnaeus drew of the area of Lapland he travelled through (or in some cases failed to travel through), which Müller-Wille highlighted for its contribution to the overall narrative of the journal. But the main narratively interesting feature that he wanted to draw out was Linnaeus’ numbering system for the observations he collected. Each was designated a number, which was then collected on separate paper sheets as part of a detailed index. The inclusion of this system allowed Linneaus to switch back and forth between the register of the bricoleur and the engineer, and produce a whole series of publications from information stored in the journal, ranging from taxonomic catalogues to detailed descriptions of insect life cycles.
During discussion, we first asked about how Linnaeus in the journal is influencing Staffan’s planned re-working of the Laplandic Journey. Is the emphasis going to be placed on the trickster Linnaeus, who pursues his own aim with cunning and misrepresentation, or on the scholar-scientist engaged in objectifying nature and culture for the purpose of colonial exploration? Müller-Wille agreed with the identification of Linnaeus as a trickster, and felt this also helped position him within a distinct anthropological tradition. As for the question of colonial expansion, he pointed out that what a colonial project consisted of was under construction at this time. There certainly were features of this expedition that centred around mapping, charting, and exploring possible transformations of the landscape, transformations that would eliminate much of the extant culture. But at other times Linnaeus was so directly dependent on his Sami guides that the power dynamics could shift considerably. Another participant asked about the extent to which these practices of recording and arranging were aiming at something encyclopedic? Müller-Wille shared that though the overall journal was never published, Linnaeus used all of this information across around 20-30 different articles and books, including those with an excyclopedic aim as Species plantraum (1753).
Marco Tamborini, Technical University Darmstadt
Narrating the Deep Past
Tamborini’s talk concerned how scientists are able to narrate the deep past. He focussed on practices that allow paleontologists to proceed from the known present to the unknown past. Where others have already argued that narrative knowledge is essential to paleontology, Tamborini additionally sought to emphasise the extent to which scientific understanding in paleontology has been dependent on technologies, everything from paper technologies to computer simulations.
For starters, natural historical phenomena are recorded on and ordered by paper technologies. Assembling large numbers of examples (typically fossils, which become treated as stable starting points), tabulating them, proceeding through comparative analysis, and eventual representation as graphs, can be understood as a narrative making enterprise. Today this kind of work is carried out through software packages, which also enable an additional virtual approach through consideration of possible paleontological worlds. Possible geometric reconstructions of, for instance, shell shapes or dinosaur body forms, enable counterfactual exploration of actual shapes and forms discovered. In a different sense narrative also matters for the display and representation of natural history in museums, for purposes of patronage, prestige, and science communication.
In the question period one participant asked about what was involved in ‘making’ fossils into stable starting points. These seem to gain their stability through specificity, that is by being one example within a group, a range, which is put together by technological means (paper or otherwise). It was not clear whether that arrangement itself produces something that we would call a narrative, or whether a narrative was something produced in geological practice. Another audience member wanted to ask, considering his examples range across the C19h and C20th, whether there was something about the narrative space of paleontology that changes over time. Tamborini elaborated that the range of kinds of narrative available to paleontologists has changed as their technologies have changed.
Upcoming workshops and seminars
We are soon to announce a whole host of workshop events, addressing time, polyphony, and the environment, as well as the next round of seminar speakers. Please join our mailing list to keep up to date, which you can find on the homepage of our website, or check the upcoming events section.
Specified in each post.