Call for Papers
Nomadic concepts: Biological concepts and their careers beyond biology
Second Annual Conference of the Leibniz Graduate School for Cultures of Knowledge in Central European Transnational Contexts in cooperation with the Department of History, Central European University in Budapest
Dates: 18-19. October 2012
Venue: Herder Institute for the History of East-Central Europe
Peter Haslinger (Herder Institute, Marburg)
Katalin Straner (CEU Budapest)
Jan Surman (Warsaw)
Renewed interest in the role of language in the history of natural sciences has, in the last years, brought fresh insight into the mechanisms of cultural and conceptual transfer both between science and non-scientific knowledge and across disciplines. While this research has predominantly concentrated on transgressions between literature and science, the textual and terminological side of these exchanges has been given less attention. Following the ideas of “nomadic” and “traveling” concepts (Isabelle Stengers, Mieke Bal) our aim is to follow concepts in the divergent (disciplinary, “national,” knowledge) cultures, observing and engaging with interactions between term, content and the linguistic environment. Using examples of biological terms/concepts, we seek to inquire how the exchanges with various, at first sight disconnected, fields and disciplines like religion, vernacular language, arts and literature have affected the form and content of these formations, and led to their modification, renaming, or differentiation from the original idea.
Studies in the language of science have demonstrated how the professionalization and solidification of scientific reasoning in the nineteenth century resulted in what is often viewed as a disciplinary closure: the formation of disciplinary-specific vocabularies as well as the “objectivising” metaphors concerned with the changes of philosophical presuppositions (Daston/Galison 2008). The increasingly universalist view of scientific thought, and the particularist notions often embodied in the processes of the creation of national and/or disciplinary sets of terminologies and vocabularies have together created new narratives heavily imbued with various interdisciplinary references. In the biological sciences Charles Darwin or Jacques Monod, in chemistry Lavoisier, in physics Heinrich Kayser and Werner Heisenberg engaged in an intensive dialogue with non-scientific fields in order to literalize their scientific findings. Notwithstanding the trends to present “objective” knowledge through specialized and aloof language, scientists use concepts from literature or religion to support and substantiate their claims, and often also to visualize them and make them fit in the theoretical frameworks they work in. (Dörries 2002, Latour 2002, Gross 2002, 2006, Steinle 2006, Eggers/Rothe 2009).
At the same time, however, conceptual instruments of biology have entered the public discourse, arts and neighboring disciplines. Darwin's language, for instance, influenced through Spencer, the political imagination of the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries; the concepts of organism or tissue were employed in fields like sociology or architecture. Through their linguistic restrains, some concepts have been retained in some languages but not in others: the concept of milieu, for instance, is widely employed in French and German, but the use of this term remains limited in other languages – having different terms denoting the same concept alters its connotations and thus the concept itself. The conceptual and terminological trajectories of the language of bacteriology and the language of politics were diametrically different between, for example, German and French, despite parallel scientific backgrounds – while the first was militant, the second remained pacifistic. The borrowings of biological concepts and vocabulary thus remain largely language-based, developing distinct, partially divergent trajectories.
In our conference we plan to look more closely at the development of biological vocabulary and concepts and their implementation in different linguistic environments. Our particular interest is to observe the sharpening and distinctions they experienced during the transition from one language to another, with respect to disciplinary, social and vernacular languages.
* What trajectories did the terms oscillating between biology and non-biological fields of knowledge follow? Was this a one-way movement, or did it remain reciprocal, with terms/
concepts remaining interdependent in different languages?
* How did the process of translation change the original terms/concepts, e.g. by making their shortcomings, constraints or one-language-dependence visible?
* In which ways did the authors and translators justify their choices when retaining or altering the terms? How conscious was the process of terminological alteration or retention by conceptual borrowing? How was its role and possible consequences perceived?
* To what extent did the vernacular language influence the textuality of biology? Were vernacular and popularizing concepts filtered out or were they retained in the course of disciplinary development? How did this process change with the ongoing process of the internalization of sciences?
* To what extent did the textual/conceptual borrowings and consequently changed meanings and redefinitions play a role as auxiliary tools in re/conceptualizing scientific discoveries and theories?
The organizers are particularly interested in comparative and trans-lingual approaches.
Postgraduates are particularly encouraged to submit proposals for twenty-minute papers. The languages of the conference are English and German. Travel and accommodation costs will be covered by the organizers. The organizers plan to publish a selection of papers from this conference.
Please e-mail a short abstracts or proposals with a brief CV to:
Jan Surman ([log in to unmask]) by 30. June 2012.
Successful applicants will be notified by 15. July.