what is narrative science?
In the course of their activities, scientists often construct and rely upon narratives. Narrative involves ordering materials, an ordering that can be achieved in a variety of ways, be it visually, through diagrams, flowcharts, maps, and the like, or through prose. We can often recognise scientific arguments and practices as adopting or containing narrative structures and elements. What can we learn by subjecting these uses of narratives, their authors, characters and events, to serious scrutiny in order to appreciate the logics and rationales by which scientists’ narratives work? The Narrative Science project explores the philosophical, historical, social, and epistemic functions of narrative in the sciences, and analyses historical cases in which they have been significant.
Our view of science is not narrow. Rather, we take science to encompass any community dedicated to some extent to producing knowledge about the world, regardless of its aims or of the form of knowledge generated (be it technical, institutional, metaphysical, etc.). We are therefore committed to exploring a very wide range of subjects, across - for instance - anthropology, biology, chemistry, engineering, economics, geology, and psychology.
The notion that narrative plays a key role in knowledge making is not an observation novel to our project, though this work has only been pursued in a handful of places, rather than brought together as a research programme dedicated explicitly to studying the functions of narrative in science in a comprehensive and systematic way. Elsewhere on this site you can find a guide to the existing literature, though a few key examples are worth mentioning here, by way of illustration. For instance, Gillian Beer's highly influential Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1983) brought literary theory into the service of the history of science, and helped inspire close scrutiny of the relations between science and literature. Another important source of inspiration has been John Forrester's work on psychoanalytic case histories and the centrality of narrative for Thinking in Cases (2017). Our agenda is also inspired by those historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science who have moved beyond an understanding of science as necessarily grounded by natural law, and who have instead engaged with Science Without Laws (Creager, Lunbeck, and Norton Wise eds., 2007) or the multiple significances of modelling, The World in the Model (Morgan, 2012).
Narrative in Science - Special issue (2017)
For further clarification of our aims and ambitions we would encourage you to get hold of the ‘Narrative in Science’ special issue of the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (Vol. 62, 2017). There you can find essays on the concept, explaining its scope and challenges, alongside exemplary case studies from a range of contributors on political science, palaeontology, biology, social science, natural history, clinical medicine, and chemistry.
Building on such foundations, we are keen to keep the definition of narrative as open as possible, to encourage historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science to find narrative where they may, functioning however it might (or at least, the freedom to make arguments to these ends). This agenda may well bring us into competition with existing definitions of narrative, and we intend for this to be a productive added value from our research.
What are we doing?
We work collaboratively as a team to develop new notions of what narrative science means, and independently to find and develop historical case studies of where and how narrative has mattered to scientific knowledge-making. You can learn more about our individual motivations and subjects of interest on the Team profile pages. These will be developed into publications, and short analyses of various topics will also be added to our 'library of cases'—currently under construction.
In addition, we are developing a programme of workshops and project conferences dedicated to more specific features of narrative science. Two of these have already taken place, the first on classification, the second on visualisation. Please visit the Events page for more information on these and any upcoming workshops.
Beyond the team itself, we have been and will continue to be in dialogue with scholars around the world interested in taking a narrative perspective on the history and philosophy of science. To this end, we organise panels and symposia on narrative science for international conferences, which again can be found on the Events page. Past conferences for which we delivered narrative science panels and symposia include Society for the Philosophy of Science in Practice (June, Ghent) and Cheiron (The International Society for the History of the Behavioral and Social Sciences; June, Akron, USA). You will also find us at the European Society for the History of Science (September, London), the Philosophy of Science Association (November, Seattle), and the History of Science Society (November, Seattle). See our Blog and News page for more details of upcoming activities.