Author: Kim M. Hajek
Workshop held 3 June, 2019
Organised by Dr Kim M. Hajek and Prof. Mary S. Morgan
In this one-day workshop, organised as part of the Narrative Science Project at the LSE, we examined how ‘voice’ and narrative have interacted in the activities of a range of sciences. In the human and observational sciences, in particular, it has often been the case that knowledge-making activities drew upon many ‘voices’, or in other words, that doing science involved ‘polyphony’—accounts of a storm given by different observers; patient voices incorporated into a psychological case history; myths transcribed by an anthropologist. What many of these examples share is that the information provided by each different voice forms its own little narrative. Yet scientists have also organised them into related groupings or broader narratives, as a way to elucidate particular research problems.
Speakers interrogated ways that narrative has helped scientists to configure multiple narrative chunks, to manage a multiplicity of voices in their enquiry, or to elicit a response from voices that might otherwise be silent or silenced. Each speaker presented a focused case-study of one concrete example, with extensive discussion allowing participants to explore questions including:
The day ended with a stimulating plenary discussion, in which participants and speakers reflected on the way that much of the polyphony in our case-studies tended to result in a ‘bringing together’ of different voices, or the dominance of one narrative or voice (often the expert’s). That is, the polyphony was ‘harmonic’, rather than ‘dissonant’; few cases involved a multiplicity of different voices interacting in counterpoint. This situation can have political implications, but is also sometimes the result of an active effort to negotiate between voices and arrive at a compromise (such as in the policy space or the courtroom). Where scientists did work to draw out one or many voices in their particularity, such as in anthropology, botany, or in historical witness seminars, that process involved careful preparations, protocols, or means of ‘amplification’.
Careful preparation by our speakers and the productive polyphony of enthusiastic participants combined to make a thought-provoking contribution to the narrative science project. Summaries of the individual papers, by their presenters, appear below.
Unheard Words. Franz Boas and the Anthropology of Voices.
Isabelle Kalinowski, ENS, and Camille Joseph, Université Paris 8
In his work on the Native American peoples living on the northwest coast of America, German-born American anthropologist Franz Boas (1858–1942) insisted on the importance of listening to native voices. In the field, it implied learning local languages, recording and transcribing texts in the original language, asking Indians to verify the ethnologist’s interpretations… But Boas also identified a limit to such focus on voices, one that is particularly difficult to overcome: the phenomenon of ‘sound blindness’, or the inability for uneducated ears to perceive some pronunciations.
Darwin, Entrainment, and the Ecology of Form.
Devin Griffiths, University of Southern California
Starting with his work on orchids in the 1850s, Darwin was fascinated by plants that suggest a deep continuity between animal and plant life, and he developed a sophisticated array of techniques that allowed him to establish dialogues with their behaviour. Notably, in Darwin's late work, The Power of Movement in Plants (1880), he developed tools of synchronization, or ‘entrainment’, that allowed plants to write themselves into his work. This involved ‘training’ plants to ‘draw’ the movement of their roots, for instance, as they wiggled across a smoked glass plate. But when such techniques had to be calibrated, Darwin’s solution was an interactive one: plant movement combined with human intervention to line up a tiny glass filament with dots on a standard plate. In other words, human practices and voices—in Darwin’s texts—amplified the plant ‘voice’, in a form of collective authorship. Not only was human involvement necessary, but it operated on particular temporal rhythms, which had to come into synchronisation with plant rhythms; the resulting ‘entrainment’ resembles the kind of interaction that also operates in what I have called ‘harmonic analogies’, where understanding flows both ways between terms in an analogical pair.
Silencing Suggestion? Narratives of Suggestive Psychotherapy in Hippolyte Bernheim’s Psychological Cases.
Kim M. Hajek, LSE
This case-study interrogates the place of the suggesting voice in a nineteenth-century collection of clinical observations of psychotherapy, in order to consider the way narrative helps to organise collections of particular units. The particulars in question are themselves small narratives, the cases of patients treated by suggestive psychotherapy by Hippolyte Bernheim in his hospital and private practice; 103 such cases make up the second part of Bernheim’s 1891 book Hypnotisme, Suggestion, Psychothérapie. They follow a set of clinical lessons in which Bernheim expounds his ‘Nancy School’ conception of the crucial role of suggestion in hypnotism, hysteria, and beyond—views which he propounded in opposition to Jean-Martin Charcot’s ‘Salpêtrière School’. The clinical observations were to demonstrate, ‘better than simple assertions’ (234–35), the ‘considerable role’ of suggestion in ‘aetiological, diagnostic, and therapeutic’ aspects of medicine (202). It is rather surprising, then, that the specific words of these suggestions are very often elided in the case narratives, particularly when it comes to therapeutic suggestions. That is, suggested words tend not to be narrated as direct or indirect speech, but are instead evoked through their effects, or merely noted as having occurred. Where particular suggestions do have a textual presence is in ‘experimental’ or more unusual therapeutic situations: when the physician’s words to his students serve to create artificial painful points in a patient (and thus to demonstrate the way a physician’s ‘unconscious’ suggestions can confuse diagnosis), or when ‘indirect’ suggestions are used to overcome a hysterical patient’s tendency to act counter to any direct suggestion. If the suggesting voice is frequently silent (or silenced) on the level of individual observations, the accumulation of the same clinical plot across the collection—cures by suggestion (or partial cures)—nonetheless serves to demonstrate the therapeutic benefit of this method. This is an example, I propose, of a scientific argument being made from particular observations, but through a generalised narrative form, rather than by drawing on the particular voice of suggestion in each observation.
The Case of the Sexological Patient: From Narrative Polyphony to Visual Affect and Fragmentation.
Birgit Lang, University of Melbourne
In the nineteenth century, Central Europe became the hub of studies of human sexual behaviour. The psychiatric framework of this new field of knowledge and its empirical concerns led to the prominence of a new case study modality—the sexological case study compilation. With its dichotomic structure including scientific discourse and patient-centred casuistry, this genre represented a polyphonic yet hierarchical means for doctors and patients to negotiate their encounters.
The close reading of case 112 of the seventh edition of Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis from 1892 provided me with an opportunity to investigate why Krafft-Ebing insisted on starting his discussion of homosexuality with the ambivalent case of a gay man who was also a convicted paedophile. The narrative effort needed to justify this choice—Krafft-Ebing did not believe homosexuality and paedophilia to be related—was driven by a thirst for empiricism. The fact that the individual in the case was a physician and claimed to have had over 600 sexual partners, made him a reliable witness to one of Krafft-Ebing’s key scholarly insights, namely that there was only a very tangential connection between biological sex and sexual orientation.
In a second step, I hypothesized why the visual turn that engulfed the case study compilation in the 1910s in all likelihood would not have led to the inclusion of photographs related to case 112. In the 1910s, photography was used by sexologists to document visual alterity, such as by Magnus Hirschfeld in Das dritte Geschlecht, or—in the legal context—as visual evidence of violent crime, in particular homicide. Further research might well identify the visual turn in sexology as one of the precursors to those wider societal developments, but there are many questions that remain to be asked regarding the impact of photography, including the discourse of bodily fragmentation—such impacts on the sexological patient have remained uncharted so far.
Voices at the Table: Reflections on a Witness Seminar on the History of Experimental Economics.
Harro Maas, Centre Walras-Pareto, University of Lausanne
In 2010 Andrej Svorenčík and myself organized a witness seminar on the history of experimental economics in Amsterdam. Laboratory experimentation is a relatively new phenomenon in economics that only really took off from the 1990s onwards. The seminar examined the period from the early 1960s to halfway through the 1990s, and we invited twelve experimentalists and a moderator to talk about four themes we had selected in advance: the emergence of the laboratory as a dedicated site of research, the development of the skills of the experimenter, the emergence of a community, and funding. Witness seminars have been used to great effect, amongst others by the Wellcome History of Twentieth Century Medicine Group and the Institute for Contemporary British History. My main contribution consisted of a discussion of our preparations of the seminar, its actual unfolding, and our interventions during the seminar to ensure a polyphony of different voices at the table would contribute to a communal oral conversation about this new scientific practice in economic research.
On Narrative Competition in Coastal Policy Development: The Case of the Sand Engine Pilot Project.
(Lotte Bontje and) Jill Slinger, TU Delft
A large scale sand nourishment was implemented for flood defence and liveability purposes on the Dutch coast. The manner in which different narratives were employed to realise the innovative pilot project, the potential development of the narratives and the roles of different ‘voices’ in this process are analysed. We interpret the results in terms of a conceptual model of narrative competition in policy development (Bontje 2017), shedding light on the active use of storytelling to engender support for policy change. Negative voices die down as the ‘winning story’ is proclaimed, and the use and confirmation stage of the narrative competition begins. The strong recognition accorded to the pilot project narratives by actors in the coastal policy community and the ease with which they reflect upon narrative dynamics indicates the promise of applying narrative methods to the fields of coastal engineering and policy development.
Weaving Narratives from Data and Myth: Multi-Vocal Heritage Interpretation at Glastonbury Abbey.
Rhianedd Smith, University of Reading
Glastonbury Abbey is rumoured to be the burial place of King Arthur and multiple overlapping narratives regarding subjects as diverse as goddess worship, ley lines, and the Holy Grail are told to visitors by both official and unofficial sources. It has also been a site of archaeological research over some thirty-six seasons, whose data and findings have only recently been interpreted, in many cases. All these narratives intersect most clearly around the site of the Lady Chapel, site of the first church at Glastonbury—‘ground zero’ in terms of both spiritual significance and archaeological research. It is therefore an apt focus for interpretation in terms of ‘multi-vocal archaeology’ or ‘co-curation’, as its heritage interpretation is negotiated between archaeologists, curators, and the public, not to mention unofficial guides drawing on a range of spiritual myths. Other voices can conflict with archaeological interpretations, especially when they challenge various origin myths, yet it must be recognised that archaeology, too, does not speak with a neutral voice. And indeed, if these narratives do not necessarily weave together into one coherent account, they tend to co-exist in relatively harmonious polyphony, for the Lady Chapel and Glastonbury more broadly.
Ordering Cyclones: The Courtroom in the Making of Meteorological Sciences in Colonial India.
Debjani Bhattacharyya, Drexel University
This paper explores the development of nineteenth-century ‘cyclonology’ to argue that it emerged out of the complex interplay between narrativization and occlusion. Exploring the records of the Marine Court in Bengal and the writings of Henry Piddington, a cyclonologist who also served as the President of the Marine Court, this talk argues that two key modes of narrativization were central in the making of atmospheric science: the legal bracketing of contingencies in the courtroom, followed by the narrative patterning of wind movements in Piddington’s writings. Throughout the nineteenth-century the oceans functioned as a ‘field’, a ‘laboratory’, and an ‘archive’ of geophysical and meteorological sciences (Naylor, 2015). As distinct domains of doing science, the field, the laboratory, and the archive had different instruments for narrating, documenting, and disseminating knowledge. Storms and wind patterns were documented and narratively ordered in ship logs, cyclone memoirs, scientific publications, and court decisions. As my archival work reveals, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Marine Court cases pertaining to shipwrecks were a central archive for the science of cyclonology. Indeed, the search for a ‘plausible narrative’ about shipwrecks, captain’s duties, and responsibilities in the courtroom was deeply embedded within its socio-political context. How then do we understand the traffic between legal and scientific narratives? I conclude by showing that legal narrative operated as a scaffolding for the semantic ordering of wind patterns as cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes.
Author: Dominic Berry
This post reports on a seminar that took place long long ago, back at the end of April. Very sorry indeed for the delay, but we have a number of events taking place in May, June and July that have required my attention. Our two speakers were Neil Tarrant and Heike Hartung. As ever, this post is only intended to capture key parts of their talks and a flavour of the discussion they inspired. An audio recording of their talks is available for those who write to me directly.
Neil Tarrant, University of York
The Roman Index and Arnald of Villanova: The Rejection of Albert the Great’s Astrology
This talk focussed on one part of Tarrant’s larger project on censorship in science of the sixteenth century. The case of Arnald of Villanova, a fourteenth century physician and philosopher whose works on the proper uses of talismans would come to be censored in the sixteenth century, can teach us not only more about talismans, but how they were thought to work, the broader epistemologies they were a part of and were capable of transgressing, and the intellectual foundations for what would eventually become natural philosophy. Why was it that Arnald’s astrological works would come to be censored? What precisely made them suspect? The debate about the legitimacy of talismans hung on whether or not their use necessarily involved a communion with demons, or whether they provided orthodox access to nature and its powers.
Some influential thirteenth-century theologians, notably Albertus Magnus had accepted that it was possible to make astrological talismans. Others, including Albertus’s student Thomas Aquinas argued that they could not possibly have any natural power, but merely opened up the user to potential demonic encounters. His reasoning being that though the actual inscriptions placed on talismans (which most commonly were bits of metal or stones marked with symbols and words) could have no actual power, they could nevertheless attract demons who - seeing the effort to make markings - might interpret them as evidence of ungodly irreverence. By the fourteenth century, the argument over legitimacy of talismans was still unresolved. Albertus’s view actually seemed to predominate – especially in many universities. Arnald of Villanova for instance could argue that talismans functioned by natural means and were acceptable to Christians. His practical work as a physician incorporated talismans, and his publications explained how they could be made and their occult powers used to rid demons and improve health.
Even by the time of the sixteenth century, the status of talismans remained ambiguous. A repertoire of Christian arguments existed that could be used to justify the use of talismans, and Albertus’s defence of talismans kept open a possible path to good talismans. This changed with the establishment of the Roman Inquisition, which began to sharpen definitions of orthodox practice by returning to the arguments of Aquinas and giving them a renewed currency. By choosing Aquinas’s view over Albertus’s, the Roman Inquisition defined which of these two theological authorities was correct. By extension they determined which account of the natural world and the use of talismans was ‘true’. These kinds of argument - building an epistemology out of philosophy and theology - would have a legacy in the eventual formation of natural philosophy, providing early modern natural philosophers materials by which to begin anew the work of distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate knowledge.
In the question period we asked Tarrant to go deeper concerning the kinds of narrative present in and evoked by talismans. He emphasised the importance of the images inscribed, which could be quite elaborate, and could indeed be done deliberately to attract demons, though the philosophers he studies often self-censored when it came to this kind of question! Another audience member wondered whether or not there is an element of competing narrative understandings in play when it came to the markings: when, for instance, the Inquisition began prohibiting particular talismans, was that because they had different understandings of how these marked objects fitted into a cosmological, theological and philosophical relation with the world? Tarrant argued that there is a rediscovery of much of this kind of argumentative culture precisely as a result of the new Inquisitorial activity emanating from Rome in the sixteenth century. Different versions of Aquinas’ thought could contribute to different Thomist agendas, that can be distinguished by their increased emphasis on the possibility and danger of tacit pacts, and of indiscriminate inscription or narrative making.
Heike Hartung, University of Potsdam
Longevity Narratives: From Life Span Optimism to Statistical Panic
Our next speaker had a background in literary and cultural studies, a perspective she applied to debate and discussion of ageing from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. What longevity is, and whether the extension of average human lifespans is a worthwhile goal, are controversial subjects. Whereas debate and discussion in the eighteenth century focussed on the importance of overcoming restrictions on ageing to demonstrate man’s increasing prowess, in the nineteenth century discourse shifted to deeper concerns about the role of heredity and the environment in determining life expectancy. Theorists also began to distinguish between life expectancy, a statistical average available to members of a population, and lifespan, the greatest possible age that a person could achieve.
Hartung then shifted to two twentieth century figures, one from the science of senescence and the other from literature. Putting them in dialogue provided means to reveal important assumptions underpinning discussion of ageing that continue to influence contemporary debate. American psychologist G. Stanley Hall's Senescence was published in 1922, and is considered foundational to age research thanks to its multidisciplinary approach and embrace of a wide range of generic forms. The psychological approach drew on elderly people as interview subjects, on the grounds that they possessed better knowledge and understanding of the ageing process than had typically been assumed up to that point. In his view, senescence was a particular stage of life, beginning in a person’s early 40s, a category that he had long entered. In doing so, Hartung pointed out, he not only created older people as a category apart from everyone else, but also established himself as uniquely expert. This grounding did not lead to any narrow range of prescriptions, but rather lead Hall to propose a wide range of interventions and solutions for European society ranging across problems of political disillusionment, to the crisis of modernity, pension reform and evolution.
The dystopian potentials of this collection of themes and approaches were mirrored by another work published only the previous year, George Bernard Shaw's play cycle ‘Back to Methuselah’ (1921). This monster of a play spans thousands of years in great leaps, and sees human society as only able to survive thanks to efforts to expand life expectancy to dramatic lengths, so that ‘ancients’ might eventually gain sufficient knowledge to avert catastrophe. Here too ideas of evolution, the natural order, and the political possibilities opened up by extended lifespans are the stuff of narrative in the face of a world’s otherwise impossible complexity.
In the question period we sought further clarity on the comparison being made between Hall and Shaw, and the extent to which they diverged. Hartung clarified that the key feature she is interested in, that longevity offers up new kinds of wisdom, is something that really characterises them both, and which is not otherwise readily found outside of the earlier Enlightenment texts. Shaw himself did not want people to focus on the fantastical element of his play, but rather use it as a worthwhile intellectual exercise. Another participant wanted to ask about how increasing complexity of society is paralleled in both cases by an increasing need for longevity. Hartung reflected on how strange it is that both focussed on the importance of key individuals to solving problems, given Shaw’s own commitment to socialism.
The next seminar has already long been and gone, and featured Sally Horrocks, Paul Merchant and Sarah Dillon. A blog post will follow hot on the heels of this one!