Dr. Dominic Berry
My research integrates the history, philosophy, and sociology of science, with a particular emphasis on the history of biology from the late nineteenth century to the present. The kinds of case study that I choose often require me to conceptualise biology by the lights of the history and philosophy of technology and engineering. I am contributing to the Narrative Science project in a variety of ways: by pursuing independent research; publishing my results; managing the project team and activities; creating materials for this website; amongst other things. Further information about my earlier research in the history and philosophy of science, along with a full and updated list of my published work, can be found on my personal website.
There are numerous fruitful sites for research into the significance of narrative in the history and philosophy of biology. These include the fields of plant breeders, the lab benches of plant pathologists, the vats of industrial microbiologists, and the freezers of synthetic biology. These kinds of case not only provide examples that demonstrate novel features and functions of narrative science, but also provide the raw material for a book manuscript that I am currently writing. The manuscript holds up the notion of narrative science alongside that of biological engineering, to demonstrate how adoption of multiple methods and analytical perspectives can open up entirely new histories of biology and technology.
Narrative Science research themes
Philosophy of science in practice
One of the most interesting aspects of the narrative science thesis, is the suggestion that narrative constitutes its own distinct epistemological character, which we might consider a form of reasoning, a logic, a tool, a way of knowing, or through . Building on earlier work that has emphasised the importance of epistemic goals and values, I am invested in understanding when narrative contributes to scientific practice. This kind of research often leaves behind the scientist’s own self-understanding in order to give more attention to what they do, how they organise experiments, and so on. I am currently developing two key examples, both from the world of contemporary biological engineering. In the first, I am learning how narrative helps integrate quite distinct epistemologies, particularly those of the biologist and the engineer, through attention to their collaborative modelling practices. This case concerns an interdisciplinary group of researchers trying to uncover how dandelion seeds fly. In the second, I am focussing on the measuring practices of plant synthetic biologists, and their uses of fluorescent proteins to provide more detailed visualisations of sequential plant development.
History of biological engineering
Another key interest for the overall Narrative Science project, is when and why scientists resort to narrative forms of representation in order to communicate their ideas, or make their arguments all the more persuasive. The argument that we may need to understand the biological as technological has a very long history, and has inspired many kinds of visual and linguistic representational narratives. Remaining healthily open to, but skeptical of, the need to collapse the biological and the technological, it is nevertheless the case that attending to those times and places where the two have been thought to merge has proven an exceptionally valuable historiographical approach. Inspired in particular by Robert Bud’s Uses of Life, I am locating biology in practical and industrial contexts. When have these researchers relied on narrative to explain their breakthroughs, be it in the context of learning to industrially synthesise DNA, or culture a plant tissue with its pathogen.
History, temporality, and time
Does narrative need time? Can we compose narratives, or find forms of narrative reasoning, that render the existence of time inconsequential? Here I am further developing a line of research pursued in collaboration with Prof. Paolo Palladino, that reflects on the historian’s practice, and the different roles that history and time play in connecting past and present. In this strand of research I am drawing particularly heavily on work from the philosophy of history, narratology, and literary theory.