- International Centre for the History of Universities and



- International Centre for the History of Universities and
Interfacing science, technology,
and humanities
Università di Bologna
Dipartimento di Filosofia
Centro Internazionale per la Storia delle Università e della Scienza
Interfacing science, technology,
and humanities
edited by
Massimo Mazzotti and Giuliano Pancaldi
Università di Bologna
Dipartimento di Filosofia
Centro Internazionale per la Storia delle Università e della Scienza
Comparative DNA analysis. Gell electrophoresis of DNA fragments
Bologna Studies in History of Science, 12
CIS - Dipartimento di Filosofia
Università di Bologna
Via Zamboni 38
40126 Bologna - I
[email protected]
Copyright © 2010
CIS, Dipartimento di Filosofia, Università di Bologna
ISBN: 978-88-900162-5-7
Fotocomposizione: Linosprint, Bologna
Finito di stampare nel Dicembre 2010 dalla Tipografia Negri
Impure cultures: interfacing science, technology, and humanities
Massimo Mazzotti
STS and political ecology in dialogue: future directions for a
social study of environmental controversies
Jan Cherlet
From hermaphroditism, to intersex and disorders of sex development (DSD): shifting terminology and shifting meaning
Daniela Crocetti 57
Crime, race, and national identity from liberal to fascist Italy
Massimiliano Pagani
Innovation in regional context: the case of Emilia-Romagna
Matteo Serafini
Joyce and the spatio-temporal map of “Ulysses”
Armando Caracheo
Science and the building of Europe
Marco Liverani
Science ladies on stage
Andrea Grignolio 195
Purification rituals: reflections on the history of science in Italy
Giuliano Pancaldi
Notes on contributors
Index of names
Impure Cultures: Interfacing Science, Technology,
and Humanities
Massimo Mazzotti
In the summer 2010, the Berkeley campus became the site of a rather
unexpected controversy between bioscientists, scholars from the social
sciences and the humanities and, eventually, the state of California.
Following a heated debate and a ruling from California’s Department
of Public Health, the University of California at Berkeley had to scale
down and deeply modify its Student Genetic-Testing Project, whose
original aims included testing incoming freshmen’s saliva samples for
three genes known to play a role in how the body metabolizes folic
acid, lactose, and alcohol. According to the original plan, the students
who had volunteered would be provided with the test results on their
arrival on campus in September. The project was designed, according
to a Berkeley professor of genetics, “to help students learn about personalized medicine and identify their own vulnerabilities”. 1 The critics of the project – mostly based in social sciences and humanities departments – pointed out various problems, including the “voluntary”
nature of the initial choice, the need to protect the privacy of the students involved, and the lack of the proper context and knowledge to
interpret the test results, which might cause unwise lifestyle decisions.
They argued, in other words, that this was not a purely technoscientific question, but rather an impure, hybrid one, with relevant cultural
and social dimensions that should not be ignored. The controversy attracted coverage from the local and national media, including the New
York Times and Scientific American. For those who lived through the
“science wars” of the 1990s, it might have all looked worryingly familiar.
It is probably not surprising that in times of shrinking budgets on
. Tamara Lewin, “College Bound, DNA Swab in Hand”, The New York Times, 18 May
/ Impure Cultures
both sides of the Atlantic, the misleading discourse of the “two cultures” might emerge once again and gain visibility. The current academic landscape, however, is different from that of fifteen years ago,
as are the academic and political dynamics of these more recent controversies. For one thing science studies – an interdisciplinary field of
study that explores the interaction of technoscience with other areas of
social and cultural life – is now a consolidated and mature academic
field, which bears increasingly upon science policy decisions. In fact,
when compared to the rest of the humanities and the social sciences,
science studies appears to be in rather good shape. This field has, for
example, passed relatively unscathed through the critical phase of the
“post-ims”. Emerging fields like cultural and postcolonial studies have
not challenged the methods and goals of science studies – quite the
contrary: their agendas have been largely perceived as related and mutually reinforcing. Also, the obvious and ever-increasing relevance of
its object of study – technoscience as defined by scientists – has spared
science studies the endless soul-searching that one can observe in other neighboring disciplines. Last but not least, its association with the
sciences has been thus far beneficial in terms of funding. Just to give an
example, in the United States science studies scholars and historians
of science can apply for grants to the National Science Foundation, the
federal agency that supports all fields of fundamental science and engineering – the so-called STEM: science, technology, engineering, and
In addition to these structural considerations, the current fortune of
science studies seems also to depend on some characteristic features of
this field, such as its being a space whose boundaries are not strictly
pre-determined nor policed - i.e., on its programmatic disciplinary
impurity. Science studies construes its objects as essentially hybrid,
borrowing methods and skills from a variety of disciplines. Initially
they were mostly borrowed from history, philosophy, sociology, and
anthropology, but some recent developments have rather emphasized
the connections with the study of law and with other areas of the humanities, such as literary criticism, media studies, and visual studies.
As argued by Mario Biagioli, fostering a stronger alliance between science studies and the humanities could indeed serve the dual purpose
of enriching further our understanding of technoscientific practices
while enhancing the overall relevance of the humanities in the academic arena. Indeed, it could be an effective response to what is often
Impure Cultures / described as the long crisis of the humanities within contemporary
universities. 2 In what follows I would like to address briefly some aspects of the relation between science studies and the humanities, and
in particular the way in which history of science has been transformed
by its interaction with science studies, as a way of introducing the essays collected in this book.
I should begin by rehearsing once more a well-known genealogy,
which begins – but it’s a rather conventional choice – in the late 1960s.
At that time, Marxist sociology of science, Durkheimian anthropology
of culture, and Wittgenstein’s insights into the mechanisms of cognition were turned into powerful resources to rethink the very nature
of science, and therefore the way one should write about its history.
In such a receptive context, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions (1962) acted as a major catalyst. The book broke decidedly
with the standard image of science as a continuous, cumulative enterprise in favor of one characterized by radical discontinuities, meaning-shifts and, to some extent, incommensurability. Crucially, some
scholars read this book as offering a much needed example of how one
could abandon once for all the untenable representation of scientific
knowledge as simply “mirroring” nature, and understand it instead
as the contingent product of historically situated collectives as they
engage with reality. 3
Around 1970, following this reading of Kuhn’s book, some British
sociologists and historians based at the Science Studies Unit of the
University of Edinburgh began studying science and its history in
a way that was radically different from the standard methodologies
of the time. In essence, they pushed out of the picture the normative
agenda shared by most contemporary historians and philosophers of
science, and started exploring science not as it should but as it is actually practiced by scientists. They began, in other words, to look at
science from the point of view of the relevant actors. In this way they
turned the study of science from an essentially normative enterprise,
which aimed at the epistemological evaluation of scientific knowledge
and methods, into a descriptive and interpretive one. When adopted
. M. Biagioli, “Postdisciplinary Liaisons: Science Studies and the Humanities”, Critical
Inquiry, 35, 2009, pp. 816-833.
. T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [1962], University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, 1996. B. Barnes, T.S. Kuhn and Social Science, Columbia University Press, New
York, 1982.
/ Impure Cultures
in writing the history of science, this new attitude implies that scholars should treat past scientific knowledge “symmetrically”, i.e. they
should study its origin and credibility irrespective of whether they
consider it to be true or false. The “symmetry postulate”, openly defended by David Bloor in 1976, proved to be a powerful and liberating
methodological tool, and a veritable turning point in the sociological
and historical study of science. 4 Above all, its adoption made it possible to decouple the practice of history and sociology of science from
a set of epistemological priorities and concerns that had caged them in
the previous decades. This move turned history of science into a scholarly activity much more similar to the historical study of other cultural
formations, like art and religion, thus delegitimizing the peculiarly teleological narratives of progress that had thus far informed it. Soon the
carefully policed boundaries that had isolated the history of science
from the rest of the history of human culture began to be perceived
as problematic and, ultimately, untenable from both an empirical and
a theoretical point of view. A period of thriving historiographical experimentation followed, which enriched enormously the historian of
science’s toolbox. The development of so-called “interest analysis” and
the adoption of microhistorical techniques were some of the first visible manifestations of this new, “constructivist” history of science, but
many other methodological innovations followed during the 1980s
and 1990s. These included the use of ethnographic techniques, and of
analytical tools derived from the study of patronage systems, social
identities, gender, literature, and visual culture. 5
It might be worth to pause for a moment and reflect on the concept
of “constructivism”, which is often used to describe the essential historiographical shift sketched above, and that was also the target of many
polemical attacks during the so-called “science wars”. In the early days
of the Edinburgh School, these sociologists tried to convey a sense of
their ground-breaking program by saying that scientific knowledge
is best understood as a “social construction”. Many critics took this
claim to mean that scientific knowledge is inevitably distorted by social
factors. As a consequence science as a whole would be a delusional
activity, one that yields false knowledge and unreliable technological
. D. Bloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery [1976], Chicago University Press, Chicago,
1991, pp. 175-179.
. For an overview of these developments, see J. Golinski, Making Natural Knowledge:
Constructivism and the History of Science, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998.
Impure Cultures / artifacts. Also, the methodological relativism that was clearly associated with the symmetry postulate has been understood by some as
equivalent to the claim that all knowledge is to be considered equally
true (or false, for that matter), and that one has no criteria to discriminate between false and true scientific statements. In the words Paul
Feyerabend – whose subtle irony often goes undetected – one could
say that the symmetry postulate was turned by its critics into a new
version of “anything goes”. 6
Part of the problem here has to do with the attempt to frame the
constructivist approach in the language of 1970s philosophy of science.
Hence the constant and misleading opposition between constructivism
and “realism”, as if the former was some new kind of philosophical
idealism or skepticism. This attitude was well exemplified by wouldbe sharp polemical remarks about, say, the fact that science studies
scholars, if consistent, should not have been flying planes like everybody else. 7 Rather than being a serious challenge, this line of attack
clearly revealed a failure to grasp the methodological novelties of science studies and of constructivist history of science. Arguing that scientific knowledge is “constructed” does not imply that it is produced
independently from empirical reality, and that it is the mere expression
of contingent human interests. One of the early claims of the Edinburgh School was precisely that “natural” and “social” are not mutually exclusive categories or, in the language of economics, that they are
not the participants in a zero-sum game. Reliable knowledge of the
natural world may be socially constructed as well. In fact, the original
constructivist claim is stronger: reliable scientific knowledge and effective technology cannot but be socially constructed. One of the key points
to grasp here is that all kinds of normativity – including scientific normativity – can only be grounded in social interaction, an insight that
the Edinburgh sociologists associated with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s argument on the impossibility of a “private language”. 8 In the absence of
a texture of patterned and routinized social interaction there would be
no criteria for deciding whether a given statement is true or false. The
. P. Feyerabend, Against Method [1975], Verso, London, 2010, p. 14.
. See Bloor’s ironic reply in “Relativism at 30,000 feet” in M. Mazzotti (ed.), Knowledge as Social Order: Rethinking the Sociology of Barry Barnes, Ashgate, Adershot, 2008, pp.
. L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations [1953], Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, 2009,
pp. 243-315.
10 / Impure Cultures
social dimension, therefore, is not a distorting factor in the acquisition,
evaluation, and transmission of scientific knowledge, but rather one
of the very conditions of possibility of these processes. Cognition, in
other words, can only be a collective – and therefore social – phenomenon.
By the mid-1980s the field of science studies was thriving, and a
number of approaches emerged that, giving the symmetry principle
for granted, developed these original insights towards new and sometimes diverging directions, as it is most visible in the cases of the ethnomethodological study of science and actor-network theory. Rather
then following these developments, however, I would like to shift the
attention to the way in which these forms of social constructivism have,
in those same years, profoundly reshaped the imagination of historians of science. Quite appropriately, Dominique Pestre has likened the
momentous transformation of the practice of history of science during
the 1980s to the historiographical revolution promoted by the members of the École des Annales during the 1930s. 9 Like the nouvelle histoire, this new history of science is characterized by a radical rupture in
respect to both its methodology and its objects of study. The two cases
are also similar in that the transformation is essentially the outcome of
a process of contamination, whereby techniques and objects proper of
other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences are mobilized to
enrich and expand the practice of historians, altering significantly their
professional profile. Finally, in both cases resistance to change has been
articulated around notions of disciplinary purity, based on which one
should discriminate between legitimate and illegitimate objects and
One of the essential traits of the profound and “irreversible” rupture of the 1980s, as Pestre describes it, has been the unprecedented
and throughout historicization of science. 10 I use this expression to refer
to the fact that categories traditionally associated with the description
and evaluation of science have been turned from ready-made analytic
tools into problematic historical objects, whose meaning should be
understood in relation to their local contexts of emergence and use.
As it became clear at the time of the publication of Simon Schaffer’s
. D. Pestre, “Pour une histoire sociale et culturelle des sciences: nouvelles définitions,
nouveaux objects, nouvelles pratiques”, Annales HSS, 1995, pp. 487-522.
10. D. Pestre, “Thirty Years of Science Studies: Knowledge, Society and the Political”,
History and Technology, 20, 2004, pp. 351-369.
Impure Cultures / 11
and Steven Shapin’s Leviathan and the Air-Pump (1985), the new frontier
of history of science and technology consisted precisely in the careful contextualization of notions like discovery, experiment, proof, evidence, expertise, efficiency, and replication. 11 This process of contextualization did not shift the balance between so-called “internalist” and
“externalist” history of science, but rather made this very dichotomy
meaningless. 12 It should be noted that the interaction between science studies and history of science has always been characterized by a
fruitful two-way interaction. On the one hand, the new history of science has been informed by science studies themes and priorities. On
the other, however, it was historical materials that, to a large extent,
prompted and accompanied the theoretical reflections of early science
studies and that subsequently have been used to test and refine science studies hypotheses and models, in a dialogue that has been so far
constitutive of both fields.
The reciprocal shaping of science studies and history of science has
been a striking success story in terms of tackling effectively key questions about the nature of scientific knowledge, and especially the ways
in which it is established, made credible and authoritative, transferred
to different settings, replicated, and so on. At the same time, however, this interaction has forced practitioners to rethink the institutional
framework of their research and teaching. It became soon clear, for
example, that traditional academic departments and centers were illequipped to train specialists in the new constructivist – and therefore
programmatically impure – history of science. In the English-speaking
world, academic institutions have been tinkering with this issue for
the last three decades. One of the most common answers to this problem has been the establishment of interdisciplinary units or graduate
programs in which the student would be free to explore the many dimension of scientific practice without being burdened by traditional
disciplinary boundaries. These units and programs would typically
employ historians, philosophers, and sociologists. The benefits of these
institutional structures have been obvious, but so are some of their limits – first of all their rigidity, and the tendency to produce canons that
are soon made obsolete by the rapid transformation of contemporary
11. S. Schaffer, S. Shapin, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental
Life, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1985.
12. S. Shapin, “History of Science and Its Sociological Reconstructions”, History of
Science, 20, 1982, pp. 157-211.
12 / Impure Cultures
technoscience. Currently, an interesting debate is taking place about
the future of science studies and constructivist history of science, and
about the kind of academic institutions that should support them. Bruno Latour, for example, has invited to rethink patterns of collaboration
with specialists in the sciences, arguing for the necessity to move on
from what he sees as a phase centered on forms of critique that have
now “run out of steam”. 13 Mario Biagioli has also been reflecting on
the relations between the sciences, science studies, history of science,
and the humanities – both in terms of research and teaching. He suggests to replace the thus far dominant emphasis on “interdisciplinarity” with what he calls a “postdisciplinary” approach. Based on what
has been happening in the sciences, and most visibly in the biosciences, he envisions a near academic future in which research is organized
around problem-oriented clusters rather than disciplines and fields.
This model is centered on temporary cross-disciplinary set-ups that
bring together specialized researchers and facilitate their collaboration
in order to address specific problems. Clearly this model is fairly distant from the common understanding of interdisciplinarity – especially within the humanities, where this expression is often understood in
terms of enriching the skills of the individual scholar. It also abandons
the idea that interdisciplinary research and teaching need to be housed
in permanent academic units. Rather, what truly matters in this model
is the collaboration between groups – a collaboration that is not structured anymore through departments and institutes. An example of
how a modular way of organizing interdisciplinary research is percolating from certain sciences into the social sciences can be found on the
Berkeley campus. As of late 2010, plans for redesigning the landscape
of the social sciences are being discussed that intend to replace the
“hardscape” of existing research centers – mostly a 1960s configuration
– with a “softscape” that can provide resources and support quickly to
researchers who decide to cluster around specific problems or sets of
problems. These configurations are understood as temporary, and will
change in time as research groups are disassembled and reassembled
to face new and unexpected questions. Whatever the outcome of this
particular project will be, it seems clear that we have entered a phase
of debate and experimentation, and that science studies and history
13. B. Latour, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters
of Concern”, Critical Inquiry, 30, 2004, pp. 225-248.
Impure Cultures / 13
of science, due to their distinctively cross-disciplinary features, are regarded as exemplary in this respect.
In many ways, Italy arrives at this crucial juncture in an anomalous
History of science has a long and remarkable tradition within Italian
academia. However, for reasons that are lucidly explained by Giuliano
Pancaldi in this volume, most Italian historians of science have so far
resisted the constructivist turn. In fact, they have carefully avoided any
serious engagement with science studies, even at the cost of weakening
the international relevance of their research. The science studies tradition has thus far raised some interest almost exclusively within sociology departments, and even there its reception has been rather selective,
with much of the attention going to areas like public understanding of
science and science communication. Recent developments, however,
suggest that the situation is changing. For one thing, an Italian STS society (Società Italiana di Studi su Scienza e Tecnologia) has been founded in 2005 with the explicit intent to bring together researchers from
different areas that share an interest in the social dynamics of science.
Today the society counts around one hundred members, mostly at the
junior level, whose varied research is inspired by exemplary work in
the science studies tradition. By and large, however, these researchers
are still mostly based in sociology departments, and the participation
of scholars from the humanities – including history of science – is extremely low.
Another interesting recent development has to do directly with the
present book. In 2008 the University of Bologna has launched a new
international Ph.D. program in Science, Technology, and Humanities
(from 2010: Science, Cognition, and Technology), in cooperation with
the universities of Exeter, in England, and Konstanz, in Germany. This
is the first academic program in Italy that opens up a space for the dialogue between humanities, science studies, and the sciences. It is in
many respects a unique experiment in the local academic landscape, as
it is housed in a renowned center for the history of science (CIS - Centro
Internazionale per la Storia delle Università e della Scienza) but transcends well-policed academic boundaries, abandoning the “history and
philosophy of science” model that has been thus far predominant in
Italy. Instead, the program is sustained by the international collaboration of faculty from a broad spectrum of disciplines, from the sciences
to the humanities. Students enrolled in this program are expected to
14 / Impure Cultures
work in a cross-disciplinary perspective, and to design their doctoral research around guiding problems rather than along traditional disciplinary lines. Students are invited to spend part of their graduate career in
one of the other participating universities, where they take courses and
are supervised by local faculty. They are also invited to specialize in two
main areas, one in the humanities and one in the sciences, so that theirs
will not just be an interdisciplinary Ph.D., but one assembled with recognizable, well-established building blocks from different traditional
disciplines. This feature of the program is clearly a way of addressing
those concerns about the future of science studies and history of sciences
described above. It is also a response to the challenges of an increasingly
difficult job market for graduate students, and one in which the ability to
deploy sets of skills associated with disciplines on both sides of the sciences/humanities divide might become a valuable asset. The similarities
between this arrangement and certain American experiences such as the
“designated emphasis” at the University of California or the “secondary field” at Harvard will be apparent. What is interesting in the Italian
case is that these early attempts to create new institutional spaces for
training and research at the intersection of science and the humanities
do not take place in the academic landscape that is familiar to most English-speaking readers, nor are they shaped by debates on the future of
science studies and constructivist history of science comparable to those
described above. The long lasting preservation of the purity of history of
science, and the marked lack of interest in science studies have had, in
this respect, a dual effect. On the one hand they have made it very difficult to open such spaces within the traditional Italian university system,
where this research is still largely perceived as not relevant or desirable.
Hence the importance of international collaborations and programs: the
network model can indeed facilitate the establishment of such programs
across continental Europe, and is also an effective strategy to compete
for funding at the European level. On the other hand, however, the absence of established interdisciplinary departments and of entrenched
science studies canons can make it less problematic to experiment with
new programs, to open conversations with science departments, and to
look at the most advanced models of interaction between science and
humanities worldwide. This volume documents the early activity of
the Bologna doctoral program by collecting work-in-progress essays by
some of its graduate students and by some of their colleagues based at
the University of Exeter. In this way it offers these students an opportu-
Impure Cultures / 15
nity to present their current research to an international audience and, at
the same time, it aims to bring attention to an experience of international
and cross-disciplinary collaboration that might become a model for the
future development of science studies and constructivist history of science across Europe.
The essays are extremely diverse in terms of topics and methods,
but they all share a set of guiding concerns, and among them that of
developing interpretive tools to be deployed in the understanding of
hybrid problems and formations that are at once cultural, social, and
technoscientific – very much like the Berkeley Student Genetic-Testing Project with which I opened this introduction. Thus, for example,
Daniela Crocetti explores the twentieth-century transformations of
the traditional discourse of hermaphroditism into new genetic-based
ways of understanding this condition. Drawing on recent work in gender studies, social theory, and science studies, Crocetti reconstructs the
process of progressive medicalization that stabilized first in the notion
of “intersex” and then, more recently, in the contested notion of “disorders of sex development” (DSD). Crocetti guides us through some key
historical shifts in the scientific understanding of hermaphroditism,
from the “one sex” model of antiquity and the early modern age, to
the so-called “age of gonads” – the nineteenth-century – to twentiethcentury genetic definitions. Crocetti emphasizes the profound social
and cultural significance of gender determination through western
history, and shows how differently this problem has been addressed
within different societies and institutions. Interestingly, Crocetti also
bring our attention to the ways in which recent insights from the social
sciences have percolated through the medical discourse and the discourse of social activism.
The essay by Massimiliano Pagani also deals with a complex sociotechnical problem: scientific criminal identification. Pagani provides a
historicization of the early practices of scientific policing in Italy at the
turn of the twentieth century, exploring how these were shaped by previous European traditions of identification and by the criminal anthropology of Cesare Lombroso. Pagani then focuses his attention on the
1920s and the passage from liberal to fascist Italy, exploring the conflicting epistemologies of personal identity and their legal and social
implications. He thus reveals the highly contested status of techniques
such as fingerprinting, and argues that, contrary to what has been often assumed, scientific policing and identification were progressively
16 / Impure Cultures
marginalized during the fascist regime, in favor of other forms of social control – a cultural transformation whose implications went well
beyond 1945.
Matteo Serafini builds upon the vast literature on the notion of
“knowledge economy” in order to describe and analyze recent transformations in the dynamics of innovation in Europe. He focuses on
the emergence of new “regional systems”, in which regions become
crucial institutions that mediate between industrial districts and the
broader context of the new global economy. Serafini uses the Italian
region of Emilia-Romagna – whose productive system is characterized
by a remarkable innovative capacity – as an exemplary case-study. He
thus reconstructs the postwar tradition of industrial districts in this
region, describes the limits of this form of organization, and sketches
some of the salient aspects of the more recent transformations. The
current phase is characterized by the active engagement of local administrations in fostering a close interaction between regional research
centers and industries. This new model of regional system, and the
new innovation processes that characterize it, cannot be properly understood through traditional economic and statistical approaches, Serafini argues. Instead, these tools need to be integrated with qualitative
methods that enable the analyst to map and interpret the structural
and historical features of the system as well.
The interaction of political and scientific institutions in an increasingly knowledge-based economy is also the topic of the essay by Marco Liverani on the rise of “euroscience”. Liverani explores the ways in
which scientists and scientific institutions have been involved in the
process of European integration, and how this involvement has reshaped the organization and distribution of scientific labor across the
continent. The essay opens with the foundation of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), as an exemplary case of the postwar
European strategy, which was indeed characterized by the establishment of “big science” institutions. Liverani analyses the political and
cultural dimension of this model, and then contrasts it with the rather
different paradigm that has framed the development of euroscience
during the last thirty years. This period has been indeed characterized
by a shift from large centralized facilities to the emergence of transnational networks and consortia, a form of scientific research that reflects
new political and cultural orientations, and indeed a new conception
of European integration.
Impure Cultures / 17
The essay by Caracheo engages with questions about the interaction
of science, culture, and society by focusing instead on the relation between science and literature. Using James Joyce’s Ulysses as case-study,
Caracheo investigates the complex exchange between modern physics
and modernist literature at the turn of the twentieth century. Caracheo
shows how Joyce came in contact with new concepts that were revolutionizing the science and epistemology of his days, and how he re-elaborated and turned them into key resources for the making of the Ulysses. In particular, Caracheo examines what Joyce called “simultaneity”
and “parallax”, suggesting that Henri Poincaré’s Science and Hypothesis
was a crucial source for the Irish author. Based on these concepts, and
on his long-lasting fascination for cartography, Joyce constructed the
Ulysses as an unmistakable narrative map. In fact, Caracheo concludes,
this was a multi-layered spatio-temporal map that embodied concepts
at the intersection of cartography, mathematics, physics, philosophy: a
veritable emblem of an entire culture.
Jan Cherlet devotes his essay to a sophisticated analysis of the relation between science and technology studies (STS) and political ecology. Cherlet traces the genealogies of these two young disciplines,
emphasizing their methodological similarities and the affinities of
their agendas. He then argues for an integration of the two traditions
into a new interdisciplinary approach to environmental problems and
controversies. In this way scholars would be able to engage more effectively with issues such as climate change, as they would fully acknowledge both their technoscientific and political components. This
move, Cherlet concludes, would bring benefits that are, at once, cognitive and moral. In fact, rather that compromising the objectivity of our
analyses, this constructivist move would foster our understanding of
the environment while offering, at the same time, the opportunity to
readdress unfair socio-political processes.
The volume includes also a contribution by Andrea Grignolio, who
looks at theatre as a site where science and humanities have fruitfully
crossed paths in the last twenty years. He considers in particular three
one-woman plays inspired by the difficult lives and careers of twentieth-century woman scientists, a genre that was virtually non-existent
before the 1980s. Grignolio explains the writing and staging of such
plays in terms of the new conditions that were brought about by the
understanding of science as a situated and socially shaped activity.
The cross-disciplinary interaction between science studies and gen-
18 / Impure Cultures
der studies has shed light precisely on the ways in which gender and
power relations come to bear on the dynamics of scientific communities and the making of scientific knowledge. The essay is followed by
Grignolio’s Italian translation of The Longing to Understand, a play by
Jane Cox on the life of Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock, which
has been brought to stage in Italy in 2009.
Finally, in the afterword, Giuliano Pancaldi reflects on the particular
historical conditions that have made it rather difficult for Italian historians of science to engage seriously with the social constructivist turn.
Pancaldi reconstructs the agenda of the Neo-Enlightenment movement
in postwar Italy, and shows its role in shaping the field of history and
philosophy of science during the 1960s. He then offers a concise and
effective description of the highly distinctive context that framed the
transformation of the discipline during the following decade, from the
tense political climate to the peculiarities of academic life in the peninsula. Due to this set of conditions, Pancaldi argues, Italy experienced
its own precocious version of the “science wars” already at the turn of
the 1970s. One of the most lasting effects of this warfare was a widely
supported effort to “purify” both science and the history and philosophy of science, redefining the boundaries and legitimate objects of the
latter in terms of history of philosophy and intellectual history. Ironically, as politics began permeating academic life more profoundly than
ever before, history of science was being isolated from the rest of the
social and political life through what Pancaldi calls “rituals of purification”.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue: future
directions for a social study of environmental
Jan Cherlet
1 Introduction
In an article about the commodification of scientific knowledge, the
humanist Masao Miyoshi writes that “crossing [disciplinary] borders is
becoming an intellectual compulsion for inquiring and critical minds.
[...] Thus, nearly all research universities seem to encourage interdisciplinary projects in one form or another, yet these projects finally fail,
simply because the faculty are still inescapably locked in tradition-oriented department”. 1 He presents interdisciplinarity as something that
most scholars want and try to do, but he admits that they are thwarted
by the traditional structure of academia. Other authors sustain that
true interdisciplinarity is impossible, not so much because of institutional barriers, but rather because scientists of different disciplines
speak a different jargon, pertain to different cultures of doing research,
have other ideas about what is interesting and what not, and ultimately have different ideas about what should be considered as knowledge
and what not. 2 These reflections seem to hold out little hope for an
article that aims to describe the interdisciplinary research possibilities
for Political Ecology and Science and Technology Studies. However, I will
argue that it is precisely a similar research culture and similar ideas
. M. Miyoshi, “Technology and the humanities in the ‘global’ economy”, in W. Greenough, P. McConnaughay and J. Kesan (eds), Defining Values for Research and Technology.
The University’s Changing Role, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Md., 2007, pp
. See H. H. Bauer, “Barriers against interdisciplinarity: Implications for studies of
science, technology, and society (sts)”, Science, Technology & Human Values, 15, 1, 1990, pp.
105-119; and S. Fuller and J. H. Collier, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the End of Knowledge. A
New Beginning for Science and Technology Studies, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, London,
20 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
about knowledge that makes these disciplines unusually apt for interdisciplinarity.
Science and Technology Studies (STS) is a young, interdisciplinary
research field that tries to understand —from a sociological viewpoint
– the origins, dynamics, and consequences of science and technology in our society. 3 In the last decades, the STS community has been
expanding its attention towards the relation between science and the
environment. Environmentally sensible STS scholars have especially
been concerned with three fields of recent scientific-environmental
controversy: the human genome project, humanly induced climate
change, and genetically engineered food. 4
This move of some STS scholars to study environmental issues
brings them close to the interests of Political Ecology, another young
and interdisciplinary field of research. Political Ecology (PE) probes
the social and political conditions that influence the causes, experiences, and management of environmental problems. 5 In turn, PE scholars
have in the last decade or so been moving towards STS by paying more
attention to social constructionist aspects in “environmental problems”
and “environmental science”.
I argue that in environmental issues such as climate change or biotechnology in agriculture, both STS and PE have much to say, though
even more if they would combine efforts and could come to a common
interdisciplinary research program. This article does not plead for a
new discipline, yet it argues that interdisciplinarity should be more
than the simple aggregation of the research methods of two (or more)
disciplines. Since STS and PE play on different levels – STS on an epistemic level and PE on a material level – such a simple aggregation is
practically impossible; rather, a new but common framework should
be established.
In what follows, this article will first describe the roots of STS and
PE. Both crystallised as distinct disciplines only in the last few decades.
PE is the descendant of a marriage between geography and anthropology, while STS is principally an offspring of philosophy and history
. S. Yearly, Making Sense of Science. Understanding the Social Study of Science, Sage Publications, London, 2005; S. Sismondo, “Science and technology studies and an engaged
program”, in E. Hackett et al. (eds), The handbook of Science and Technology Studies, The
MIT Press, Cambridge MA., 2008.
. S. Yearly, “Nature and the environment in science and technology studies”, in E.
Hackett, et al. (eds), The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, op. cit., pp. 921-948.
. T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology. Routledge, New York, 2002.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 21
of science. A brief introduction to both disciplines will teach us the
research instruments that are the product of their ancestry. The reader
that is familiar with PE or STS can jump the respective sections 2 or
3. Second, the article describes what the two disciplines have already
in common. Third, it suggests future directions for interdisciplinary
research. Finally, the article demonstrates with a case study – climate
change – how an interdisciplinary approach that combines STS and PE
can break ground.
2 Political Ecology
According to Bryant and Bailey, 6 political ecologists “accept the idea
that costs and benefits associated with environmental change are for
the most part distributed among actors unequally [... which] reinforces or reduces existing social and economic inequalities [... and which
holds] political implications in terms of the altered power of actors in
relation to other actors”. They consider society and environment to
be one system, and try to show how environmental change or envi 7
ronmental problems are interrelated with unequal social, political and
economic relations in society. PE is heavily grounded on field experience from developing countries, where these inequalities and their
relation with environmental change are most poignant.
In practice, PE tries to answer questions like these: What social-political processes provoke the deforestation of the Amazon? Who benefits and who loses in re-forestation projects? Is desertification in the
Sahel a fact or merely a discourse? Why does Kenya suffer much more
loss in bio-diversity than neighbour Tanzania? To what extent does the
introduction of commercial crops in developing countries improve the
livelihoods of small farmers?
Political ecology exists because there exists apolitical ecology. 8 Apo. R. Bryant and S. Bailey, Third World Political Ecology, Routledge, New York, 1997.
. The terms environmental “change”, “problem” or “degradation” are of course
not neutral; they are value laden. Environmental “change” is mostly used by authors
that defend a non-equilibrium or constructionist vision of the environment in which
environmental “change” only becomes a “problem” through a specific discourse. In this
article “change”, “problem” and “degradation” are used as synonyms and do not invoke
a specific ideological stance.
. P. Robbins, Political Ecology, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2004; R. P. Neumann,
Making Political Ecology, Hodder Education, London, 2005.
22 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
litical ecology is not really a discipline, but it refers to a collection of
persistent mantras in orthodox environmental science, economics and
geography that pretend to explain environmental degradation in apolitical, asocial terms. One of these mantras is the “limits to growth”
narrative, which claims, from a neo-Malthusian stance, that population growth is the principal culprit of ecoscarcity and degradation. A
second, the “modernisation” narrative, sustains that western technology should be diffused throughout the world – especially towards the
developing world – to optimise the use of natural resources. A third
persistent mantra is the “tragedy of the commons” narrative, which argues that traditional management of common resources is ineffective.
More exclusive property control should be given to individuals and
companies in order to let the free market optimise the use of natural
There are two problems with these apolitical explanations. 9 First,
although they are accepted as apolitical, they are inherently political
but do not make their political assumptions explicit. Second, these
apolitical explanations oversee the political and social dynamics in environmental change. That’s where PE comes in: it uncovers the social
and political dynamics in the origins, management and effects of environmental change or problems.
PE has a long history of fighting apolitical science. Robbins presents
Kropotkin – the Russian aristocrat turned anarchist – as the first political ecologist, albeit avant la lettre. 10 His case is in fact exemplary.
In various trips during the second half of the nineteenth century
he explored the Russian Far East and observed the local hunters,
herders and farmers. He got fascinated by “the constructive work
of the unknown masses” and the importance of it “in the growth
of forms of society”. 11 The data he collected convinced him of the
importance of mutual aid and cooperation between individuals in
evolution. His thesis opposed the then hegemonic discourse of social
Darwinism – that also in society the weak are (or should be) weeded
out. Kropotkin’s publications combated the reductionism in social
Darwinism and re-politicised the debate around poverty in society.
Many elements of Kropotkin’s work are present in contemporary PE:
. P. Robbins, Political Ecology, op. cit.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 23
a focus on subsistence and production to understand the human-environment relation, the importance of field data that takes as starting point the environment, and the special attention to marginalised
groups and local environmental knowledge.
Between Kropotkin and the crystallization of contemporary PE lies
a century that encompasses the work of human geography, cultural
ecology, hazard research, peasant studies, post-colonial studies, etc. PE
bears the marks of each of these schools. Robbins identifies four main
themes in present PE, which I will describe briefly, together with their
tools for analysis.
2.1 Marginalisation and degradation
The field of PE took its current shape in the eighties, with publications that were influenced by “Dependency Theory” and that tried
to link environmental degradation to political and economic marginalisation. The “marginalisation and degradation” thesis goes like
this: traditional production systems that are in balance with the environment undergo a transition to over exploitation and end up in
a vicious circle of social and environmental degradation, due to (i)
the imposition of state development policies, and/or (ii) the increasing inclusion of the local producers in the global capitalist market.
The landmark publications by Blaikie 12 and Blaikie and Brookfield 13
tried to show that the phenomenon of soil degradation throughout
the developing world was linked to such economic pressure on local
farmers. Another well documented case is that of deforestation in
the Amazon, where the geopolitical and economic strategies of the
Brazilian state should be blamed. 14 The local farmers are the victims
rather than the villains.
In this “degradation and marginalisation” thesis we clearly see a
commitment to weaken the arguments of apolitical ecology. The “trag12. P. Blaikie, The Political Economy of Soil Erosion in Developing Countries, Longman
Development Series, London, 1985.
13. P. Blaikie and H. Brookfield, Land Degradation and Society, Methuen and Co. Ltd,
London, 1987.�
14. S. Bunker, Underdeveloping the Amazon: Extraction, Unequal Exchange and Failure of
the Modern State, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1985; S. Hecht and A. Cockburn,
The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon, Verso, London,
1989; M. Schmink and C. Wood, Contested Frontiers in Amazonia. Columbia University
Press, New York, 1992.
24 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
edy of the commons” mantra is undermined with empirical data. 15 In
turn, land degradation is explained in terms of changing socio-economic relations due to imported farming techniques or imposed development policies, rather than in terms of population pressure or mismanagement of the commons.
The marginalisation thesis is deeply rooted in Marxist materialism,
which explains social and cultural systems as the product of historical
material conditions and relations. If the “modes of production” of a
society change, then the social relations and production relations will
change. Marx was convinced that the capitalist mode of production
was based on the extraction of surpluses from nature and labour, and
this idea is reflected in much early work of PE on environmental degradation.
Also hazard research needs to be mentioned as an early predecessor
of the marginalisation thesis in PE. Halfway the twentieth century, hazard research focused on how and why people are exposed to extreme
natural events and how they respond to it. Gilbert White argued that
hazards are fundamentally a human problem, a matter of planning,
and not a natural problem. In his wake other researchers showed how
natural disasters have more impact in marginalised groups. Hazard
research produced the first accounts of the role of power in the environment-society system.
2.2 Conservation policies
In the nineties some scholars started to shift attention to a second
important theme in PE: the consequences of “conservation” policies.
They show that resources and land have been wrested from local users
for the sake of sustainability or environmental preservation and that
in this way the livelihoods of local land users around the world have
been curbed in an undifferentiated way, insensible to whether the local
production practices were sustainable or not.
Since the first environmental protection schemes were implemented
(e.g. Yellowstone in 1872) nature conservation has always been deeply
political: it is the state that claims authority of environmental protection. Control over resources is transferred from users to local authori15. E. Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 25
ties. Central in the analysis of conservation policies, is the concept of
“hegemonic governamentality”, described by Foucault. 16 Governamentality refers to the phenomenon that the state obtains the consent
of the governed population because the governed internalise the mission of the state. Through social technologies and institutions the state
obtains a self-enforcing coercion of rules, norms and ethics in individuals and social groups.
Also environmental history and social constructionism have fired
this research. To protect something, one needs to express what he
wants to protect and how it ideally should be. Therefore, conservation
discourse invokes images of nature that is free from humans and in
balance. However, archaeologists and environmental historians have
shown that humans have shaped and manipulated nature for as long
as we have historical records. Hence, wilderness, as it is presented in
environmental conservation discourse, is a discursive construction
that has been loaded with cultural values. 17
2.3 Environmental conflict
The third main theme, the “conflict” theme, followed soon. PE scholars argue that environmental scarcity is not the direct consequence of
population growth, but provoked by the increasing enclosure or appropriation of resources by the state, companies or elites. This scarcity
is thus a social construction, which nonetheless can generate long-lasting conflicts. Also the opposite is true: social or political conflicts can
become “ecologised” when they have an impact on environmental
This theme draws on feminist as well as post-colonial studies. From
feminist studies, PE has learned that the division of labour and the
access rights to different parts of the environment differ from society
to society with infinite variations. For political ecologists it is important to study this division of labour and differentiated access rights,
in order to understand who benefits and who is harmed by develop-
16. M. Foucault, “Governmentality”, in G. Burchell, C. Gordon and P. Miller (eds), The
Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, Harvester, London, 1991, pp. 87-104.
17. W. Cronon, “The trouble with wilderness, or getting back to the wrong nature”,
in W. Cronon (ed), Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature, WW.Norton & Co.,
New York, 1995, pp. 69-90.
26 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
ment projects, environmental conservation policies or environmental
Post-colonial studies denounce that development and environmental management initiatives tend to be based on gendered, raced and
classed conceptualisations of the future “beneficiaries”. In particular,
post-colonial studies have shown that the assumptions about their behaviour, interests or goals reflect the planner’s idea of the beneficiaries,
rather than how beneficiaries really are. These conceptions are built
into policies and can have the potential to cause conflict.
2.4 Environmental identity
The last important theme, the “environmental identity” thesis,
shows that changes in environmental regime or conditions can be used
by people to manifest themselves politically. A particular environment,
or particular changes in the environment, can unite people – crossing
social groups, class, gender, ethnicity, etc. – and this group articulates
then its identity through the environment.
This theme draws on hazard research, feminist studies and peasant
studies. From the latter it takes the concept of “everyday resistance”,
which is described by Scott as the real weapon of the weak to oppose
the social and ideological control of the local elites. 18
2.5 A note on recent developments in PE
Thus far I have described the four main themes and concepts of
PE research as they were identified by Robbins. 19 They relate political dynamics in society to environmental change. Some ten years ago
Scoones argued in a review article that PE was too much focused on
equilibrium ecology. 20 For Forsyth, degradation was too often attributed to the inclusion of third world farmers into the global capitalist market. 21 Vayda and Walters said something similar when they accused PE
18. J. C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, Yale University
Press, New Haven, 1985.
19. P. Robbins, Political Ecology, op. cit.
20. I. Scoones, “New ecology and the social sciences: What prospects for a fruitful
engagement?”, Annual Review of Anthropology, 28, 1999, pp. 479-509.
21. T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 27
scholars to know the answer before they started the research: that political and economic forces always determine ecological outcomes. 22
In section 5 I will demonstrate that part of the PE literature has,
since long, paid attention to non-equilibrium theories in ecology and
to the socially constructed character of the environment and of environmental science. According to Neumann, 23 two special issues of the
journal Economic Geography, dedicated to “environment and development” marked the establishment of PE as mature discipline. Interestingly, in the introduction to these special issues, Peet and Watts identified, already by that time, that one of the themes that would extend
the frontier of PE was precisely the concern for social constructions
of knowledge, especially with regard to the natural sciences and the
popular ideas of nature and environment. 24 Another of their suggestions was that PE would benefit from dropping outdated ecological
theories of stable equilibriums in nature and incorporating ecological
models of continuous disequilibria in nature.
These two different views on PE – Scoones, Vayda and Forsyth on
the one hand, and Peet and Watts on the other hand – coincide also
with an evolution from structuralist explanations to post-structuralist
or post-modern theories. The former try to reveal the structural mechanisms that relate economic exploitation with environmental degradation, while the latter are more sensible to the socio-political and discursive framing of environmental problems. 25
3 Science and Technology Studies
There is no need to belabour the observation that science is of incredible importance in our modern society: in every 1000 people in the
OECD-countries, seven are involved in research, and this 0.7% of the
OECD-population absorbs more than 2.2% of the domestic product. 26
Moreover, this group of researchers and the knowledge they produce
22. A. Vayda and B. Walters, “Against political ecology”, Human Ecology, 27, 1, 1999,
pp. 167-179.
23. R. P. Neumann, Making Political Ecology, op. cit.
24. R. Peet and M. Watts, “Introduction: development theory and environment in an
age of market triumphalism”, Economic Geography, 68, 3, 1993, pp. 227-53.
25. T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit.
26. OECD, OECD Factbook 2009, available at http://www.sourceoecd.org/factbook;
accessed 2009-10-30.
28 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
have a very particular status in society: traditionally, scientists are seen
as modest but persistent toilers that, by means of precise empirical observation or experimentation, progressively and accurately expand the
understanding of our world and universe. Therefore the knowledge
they produce is accepted as “impartial” and the use of it for policies
is accepted without much contest. One of the early “sociologists” of
science, Robert Merton, argued in a similar vein that science “ideally”
should be (i) universal, (ii) communal, (iii) disinterested, and (iv) sceptical in an organised way. 27
For most of the twentieth century, philosophy, history and sociology
had this “idealistic” view of science, and we could say that the broad
public still largely embraces it. However, once one starts to scrutinise
the practices of scientists in laboratories, the social dynamics within
the scientific community or the relation of science with other societal
institutions, it becomes clear that not one of Merton’s ideals reflects the
reality of the scientific enterprise. Just the simple observation that science is (almost) entirely paid for by companies, by governments and
by the military, makes it difficult to defend that science is a disinterested activity.
Just like PE tries to combat orthodox views of environmental degradation, STS puts a social and politicised view of science against the
orthodox, apolitical view. It does so by studying two things: “the sociology of the scientific community itself (in other words, the sociology
of ‘pure’ science and other forms of research) and the sociology of that
community’s relationship to the rest of society”. 28
3.1 A possible starting point
Modern “sociology of science” sprouted in Edinburgh during the
seventies, where a group of sociologists set an agenda, known as the
“Strong Programme”, for the sociological inquiry of science. Before
this programme took shape, sociology used to focus on the part of science that did not “make it” into history, i.e., the scientific propositions
or beliefs that proved to be wrong. The Strong Programme instead,
27. R. Merton, The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations, Chicago
University Press, Chicago, 1973; S. Yearly, Making Sense of Science. Understanding the Social
Study of Science, op. cit.
28. S. Yearly, Making Sense of Science. Understanding the Social Study of Science, op. cit.,
p. XIV.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 29
advanced in particular by David Bloor, insisted that all knowledge
should be treated impartially and symmetrically, including knowledge
that seemed “immune” or “irrefutable”. 29 Religious beliefs, political
ideologies, physics or logic should be explained by the same types of
cause. Only by taking a completely neutral stance vis-à-vis the construction of the “wrong” and the “right”, the “true” and the “false”, we
can come to a social theory of knowledge construction.
For a short overview of the analytical tools and research themes in
STS it is convenient to adopt Steve Fuller’s distinction between “High
Church” and “Low Church” STS. 30 “High Church STS” has developed
conceptual tools to analyse the development and stabilisation of scientific knowledge and technological artefacts. While its hermeneutics of
science and technology are often explicitly opposed to the asocial, apolitical and rationalist accounts of traditional philosophy and history of
science, the High Church still plays on the same conceptual level. The
“Low Church” plays on a more “practical” level. These STS-ers are,
on the one hand, concerned with public activism about problems that
are caused or solved by science and technology, and on the other hand
with making science accountable to public interests.
3.2 High Church
Now, what are the conceptual tools that STS has developed? As
Yearly writes, 31 Bloor’s Strong Programme is the symbolic heart of
the new sociology of science since he pushed the sociology of scientific knowledge to a symmetrical approach. In part derived from and
in part opposed to the Strong Programme, the Empirical Program of
Relativism (EPOR) assumes a more practical form of inquiry as it concentrates on scientific “controversies”. 32 In analysing the resolution of
scientific controversies, it aims to show that there is always an inevitable openness or interpretative flexibility in scientific results. Then it
29. D. Bloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1976.
30. S. Fuller and J. H. Collier, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the End of Knowledge. A New
Beginning for Science and Technology Studies, op. cit.; S. Sismondo, “Science and technology
studies and an engaged program”, op. cit.
31. S. Yearly, Making Sense of Science. Understanding the Social Study of Science, op. cit.,
p. 21.
32. See e.g. H. M. ����������������������������������������������������������������
Collins, “An empirical relativist programme in the sociology of
scientific knowledge”, in Science Observed: Perspectives on the Social Study of Science, Sage,
London, 1983, pp. 85-113.
30 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
tries to analyse how the openness in results is closed by social processes, including social forces that go beyond the immediate community of scientists. Some STS-ers found “interests” to be an answer to the
question which forces are involved. 33 The so-called Edinburgh Group
– though not Bloor himself – argued that (cognitive and social) interests and (scientific) beliefs are mutually supportive. Interests affect the
claims scientists make, influence the position they take, and thus have
a decisive role in the closure of scientific debate.
The explicitly theoretical orientation of the Edinburgh School did
not turn out to be very fruitful, since they did not succeed to conceptualise or define “interests”. Moreover, controversies are only a part of
the knowledge construction process. Therefore, some sociologists of
science urged to focus more on what scientists really do, say or write.
A first way is the ethnography of laboratory life, also known as the
ethnomethodological observation of science. These sociologists move
into laboratories and offices to observe the ordinary, daily actions of
scientists. They describe the skills needed for research, the way data
is produced and interpreted, how scientists work towards publishable
results, etc. 34 They conclude that the construction of data is heavily
shaped by skills, disciplinary cultures and the continuous negotiation
concerning the validity of the data. 35
A second way of empirical enquiry into the production of knowledge is to analyse the scientific discourse to understand how scientific
knowledge is constructed. Discourse analysis has become widely used
in social science, principally since the work of Michel Foucault. In the
context of scientific discourse analysis, the key body of work is done
by Nigel Gilbert and Michael Mulkay. Their principal claim is that scientists constantly use two different discourses to describe the research
in their field: one that is used to describe the own results, presenting
them exclusively with an empiricist and objectivist repertoire, and a
second, contingent one used to attack the opponents, by claiming that
33. See e. g. S. Shapin, “Phrenological knowledge and the social structure of early
nineteenth-century Edinburgh”, Annals of Science, 32, 1975, pp.219-43; B. Barnes, Interests
and the Growth of Knowledge, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1977; D. A. MacKenzie,
Statistics in Britain, 1865-1930: The Social Construction of Knowledge, Edinburgh University
Press, Edinburgh, 1981.
34. See e. g. B. Latour and S. Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts, Sage, London, 1979; H. M. Collins, Changing Order: Replication and Induction in
Scientific Practice, Sage, London, 1985.
35. S. Sismondo, “Science and technology studies and an engaged program”, op. cit.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 31
the opponent’s results are distorted by psychological, social or cultural
influences. Gilbert and Mulkay blame science studies for having derived too much of the evidence from the second, contingent discourse
of scientists. In turn, also scientific discourse analysis has been criticised for that according this theory it would be impossible to unveil
motives deeper than what is embedded in discourse. 36
Other, more Foucaultian approaches to discourse analysis have
emphasised how discourse, storylines or discourse coalitions shape
the problem demarcation and create a framing in which the problem
and solutions are formulated. Hajer wrote that “storylines are devices
through which actors are positioned, and through which specific ideas
of ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’ and ‘urgency’ and ‘responsible behaviour’ are attributed”. 37
Another important theory in STS, that also started out from discontents with interest theory, is Actor-Network Theory (ANT). The two
principal authors are Bruno Latour and Michel Callon. The network
maps the material and semiotic relations between different “actants”
which can be humans, things or concepts. ANT is most known for the
controversial insistence on the agency of things – which can be interpreted as an extension of the Strong Programme’s “aim for symmetry”
– but its innovativeness lies mostly in its dynamic character. 38 Interests
drive the knowledge produced by the network actants, but the interests
on their turn are iteratively shaped by knowledge. If one actant A can
convince another actant B that A’s knowledge is useful for B to achieve
B’s objectives, it is said that A “translates” his knowledge in order to
“enrol” B. In this way, actants try to build long chains of associates or
allies, whether these allies are scientists, stakeholders, statistical data,
concepts, equipment or laboratory rabbits. In this negotiation process
interests and knowledge reciprocally produce and reshape each other.
Scientific facts and artefacts are thus a product of a negotiation process.
While in a first instance scholars were interested in the social dynamics of the scientific community and the relation of that community
36. N. Gilbert and M. Mulkay, Opening Pandora’s Box: A Sociological Analysis of Scientists’
Discourse, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984.
37. M. A. Hajer, The Politics of Environmental Discourse. Ecological Modernization and the
Policy Process, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995, pp. 64-65.
38. M. Callon and J. Law, “On interests and their transformation: enrolment and
counter-enrolment”, Social Studies of Science, 12, 1982, pp. 615-625.
32 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
with the wider society, in more recent decades technology started to
be studied within the same framework. In that way “Science Studies”
came to be called “Science and Technology Studies”. 39 A widely known
theory is the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) that analyses
how the success of a technology relates to the social group that takes it
up and promotes it.
3.3 Low Church
The Low Church STS – sometimes referred to as “Science, Technology and Society” – is less concerned with the conceptual analysis of the
development of science and technology, but more with making science
accountable to public interests. Typically these scholars are more involved in advocacy work. They denounce the social contradiction that
scientific knowledge ought to be considered universal while in practice it is produced by a small elite. As a consequence, they say, science
and technology generate effects of which the benefits, costs and risks
are very unevenly distributed. Another knotty problem for them is the
apparent trend towards technocracy, in which the democratic rule of
the people is substituted by the voice of a small number of experts.
Therefore, the Low Church deeply believes that more public participation in science or technical decision-making will improve the validity and quality of science and technology.
3.4 A note on constructionism
According to Sismondo, the metaphor of “construction”, be it in
stronger or weaker form, ties together all High Church STS work. He is
convinced that most applications of this constructionist accounts have
shown to be “reasonable or unobjectionable” since STS has demonstrated that “for scientific knowledge and technological artefacts to be
successful, they must be made to fit their environments or their environments must be made to fit them”. 40
Notwithstanding, STS has been accused by positivist scientists to be
39. S. Fuller and J. H. Collier, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the End of Knowledge. A New
Beginning for Science and Technology Studies, op. cit.; S. Yearly, Making Sense of Science. Understanding the Social Study of Science, op. cit.
40. S. Sismondo, “Science and technology studies and an engaged program”, op. cit.,
p. 17.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 33
relativistic and post-modern, to such an extent that it was embroiled
in the so-called Science Wars. Although, according to Bucchi, 41 it has
never been clear which part of the social sciences was the enemy in that
war – post-modernism, some extreme forms of post-modernism, social
constructionism, or cognitive relativism – STS scholars have in the last
decade been much more cautious in the use of the terms “construction” or “social construction”. Other terms like “framing”, “constitution”, “organisation”, “production”, etc., are now being used to refer
to certain aspects of social constructionism.
The problem with constructionism is that the term covers a wide
range of ideological stances. The strong variant holds that all knowledge about the surrounding reality needs to pass through a socio-cultural framing (language, symbolism, cognitive classification, discourse,
etc.) that gives meaning to it. Hence, people from different cultures or
backgrounds perceive the world differently – the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis reverberates. This is off course the most criticised variant of social
constructionism. A weak version of social constructionism believes
that knowing reality is possible, but that the process of knowledge acquisition is inevitably influenced by social and political dynamics.
Most STS scholars will deny that they are cognitive relativists or
post-modernists. Bruno Latour, for instance, famously wrote that the
strong version of social constructionism is a position by which one
could not be convinced “for more than three minutes. Well, let’s say an
hour, to be fair”. 42 He maintains that the social study of science does
not attack the truth condition of science but it just shows that there is
a factor “time” in the production of scientific knowledge. “Why do
we consider that adding, time, rectification, instruments, people, and
institutions could be a threat to the sanctity and truth conditions of
science when they are its very stuff, when they are the only way that
exists to lay down the continuous path allowing for ideas to become
loaded with enough intersections to decide retroactively if they had
been correct or not?” 43
41. M. Bucchi, Scienza e società, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2002.
42. B. Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA,
1993, p. 125; cited also in S. Yearly, Making Sense of Science. Understanding the Social Study
of Science, op. cit., p. 97.
43. B. Latour, “A textbook case revisited - knowledge as a mode of existence”, in E.
Hackett et al. (eds.), The handbook of Science and Technology Studies, op. cit., pp. 83-112.�
34 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
In his recent manual, Yearly settles the question of “social constructionism” in STS as follows:
Science Studies insists that ultimately it is people or communities who decide on how the world is. Of course, they typically do this based on as much
evidence as they can generate. But, in the end, people decide; the world does
not. This leads to the second conclusion, that people are critically dependent
on each other for determining what is known. The worth of knowledge is
decided in communities. [...] Third, [...] relations of trust in those communities are central to the ways in which the value of knowledge is established
and maintained. [...] Finally, the production of knowledge demands judgment. Scientists need to decide which experimental results to discount as
unreliable, whose claims to pay attention to, and so on […] 44
4 STS’ and PE’s similar research culture
As the introduction reminded us, many scholars have doubts about
the possibility of true interdisciplinarity. However, the short overview
of the history of PE and STS shows that these disciplines themselves
are already very interdisciplinary, since they grew from very heterogeneous breeding grounds. PE carries the genes of ecological anthropology and human geography. Moreover, it is influenced by critical development studies, feminist and post-colonial studies. It shares research
concerns with orthodox and un-orthodox environmental science. On
the other hand, STS is an offspring of philosophy and history of science while it shares concepts and research techniques with other social
sciences such as ethnomethodology, discourse analysis, participant observation, ANT, etc. When the relation between AIDS activist groups
and HIV research is studied, the STS scholar has to be expert both in
STS as in HIV research. If climate change policies are analysed from an
STS perspective, the researcher is again expert in both STS as climate
It is probably hard to deny that all academic disciplines are to a certain extent interdisciplinary or have an interdisciplinary background.
So what is the big issue about interdisciplinary research, apart from academic politics? It is obvious, of course, that some disciplines are more
apt for interdisciplinary research than others. Just like Spanish and Italian are to a certain extent reciprocally intelligible, Spanish and Japanese
44. S. Yearly, Making Sense of Science. Understanding the Social Study of Science, op. cit.,
pp. 110-111.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 35
aren’t at all. I argue that STS and PE are reciprocally intelligible and
hence apt for interdisciplinary research, since they share a similar approach and commitment, and some affinity in research topics.
4.1 Approach and commitment
STS and PE have a common foe: “positivist” or “orthodox explanations” of “certain phenomena” that are insensitive to social and political dynamics in the object of study. PE extends apolitical environmental
science with socio-political explanations. STS adds a social dimension
to the asocial explanation of scientific-technological production.
This stance of STS and PE inevitably puts both disciplines in an inferior position. Orthodox science is called “orthodox” precisely because
it is the reigning paradigm. Therefore, to oppose orthodox science is to
choose David’s side, rather than Goliath’s.
Now, claiming that STS and PE are inter-intelligible just because they
have “orthodox science” as common foe, is of course a rather weak argument. However, also the methodological premises bear similarities.
Therefore, let’s first re-examine STS’ basic assumptions, of which the
basis was laid by the Strong Programme in the seventies.
The Strong Programme urged to find explanations that are symmetrically valid for the production of false and true beliefs. The researcher
should maintain an impartial stance towards truth and falsity. The representations of “Nature” that science proposes us should be treated as
the result and not the cause of what is accepted to be true.
The symmetry can also be applied to technology. 45 The researcher
should treat successful and failing technologies impartially. His explanations for failure and success should be symmetrically valid for both.
This is important since for STS-ers the fact that a technology “works” is
not the cause but the result of a technology being successfully accepted
by society.
The principle of symmetry was even further extended by Actor-Network Theory, by claiming that explanations for the success or failure
of knowledge or technologies should include human and non-human
actants in an impartial way. 46 The distinction between what is “mate45. S. Wyatt, “Technological determinism is dead; long live technological determinism”, in E. J. Hackett et al. (eds.), The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, op. cit.,
pp. 165-180.
46. Ibid.
36 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
rial” and what is “social” is the result and not the cause of the acceptance and stabilisation of a social-material boundary.
The theoretical premise of symmetry is very influential in High
Church STS. For instance, in order to show the influence of social and
political interest in the work of two early twentieth century statisticians, MacKenzie extensively gave voice to both of them, whether winner or loser. 47 Callon, in his account of scallop cultivation experiments
in France, gave voice to the researchers, the scallop-fishers, and even
the scallops. 48 This principle of symmetry might give the impression to
imply both a moral as a cognitive relativism. 49 It seems to leave science
and technology unmolested. However, Yearly remarks that by giving
equal voice to winner and loser, the social scientist, in his symmetrical deconstruction, will be disproportionately helpful to the socially, economically or politically weaker party than apolitical accounts. 50 Now,
some reviewers sustain that this – giving voice to the weak – is rather
the main characteristic feature of Low Church STS. Epstein’s study of
how AIDS activists changed AIDS research, attributed much agency
to the victims, rather than explaining the evolution of AIDS research
strictly in its own terms. 51 In general, through its concern about the
undemocratic character of science, Low Church precisely tries to give
voice to whom doesn’t have a voice in science.
We could conclude that the gap between Low and High Church appears to be not as wide as some reviewers believe. The distinction artificially creates two camps in STS that aren’t there. An alternative view
is proposed by Sismondo, who believes that in STS there are plenty
of overlaps between activism and conceptual analysis. 52 He projects
the research field of STS on a Cartesian plane: the horizontal axis represents a spectrum from less to more activism, and the vertical axis
varies from less to more theory. In the quadrant of high activism and
high theoretical content, he situates the “Engaged Programme” of STS
47. D. A. MacKenzie, Statistics in Britain, 1865-1930: The Social Construction of Knowledge, op. cit.
48. M. Callon, “Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the
scallops and the fishermen of st brieuc bay”, in J. Law (ed.), Power, Action, Belief: A New
Sociology of Knowledge?, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1986, pp. 196-233.
49. S. Yearly, Making Sense of Science. Understanding the Social Study of Science, op. cit.
50. Ibid.
51. S. Epstein, “The construction of lay expertise: Aids activism and the forging of
credibility in the reform of clinical trials”, Science, Technology and Human Values, 15, 1995,
52. S. Sismondo, “Science and technology studies and an engaged program”, op. cit.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 37
that aims to contribute both to some version of activist projects and to
general theoretical perspectives. As soon as an STS scholar addresses
topics of clear political importance – such as bio-engineered food, climate change, etc – he is moving in the engaged quadrant of STS. “The
engaged program studies science and technology when they are or
should be engaged, and as a result, interactions among science, technology, politics, and public interests have become topics for STS and
not just contexts of study. Politics has become a site of study rather
than a mode of analysis”. 53
Now, the step from STS to PE has become very small. They do not
only share orthodox science as common foe, they also share the commitment to give voice to all parties, especially the weak parties. And
finally, socio-political relations are explicitly part of their research rather than being just a contexts of study. These three levels of similarity
make that STS and PE share a similar research culture, similar opinions
about what is to be considered interesting for research and what not,
and similar ideas about what to consider knowledge and what not.
Apart from the theoretical and ideological similarities, they have
a similar way of “doing” research. STS and PE are interdisciplinary,
not only because they cross the borders of academic disciplines, but
also because they disregard the academic/non-academic divide. STS
scholars engage scientists, activists, practitioners such as doctors or engineers, farmers, decision makers, and other stakeholders. 54 Robbins
says something similar about PE: PE is something that people do, not
something they study. 55 They need to be in the field to be able to give
voice to all parties.
4.2 Topics
As said earlier in the introduction of the article, STS is expanding
its attention towards the environment, life sciences or nature in general. The last part of the Handbook of Science and Technology Studies is
dedicated to Emergent Technosciences: one of the seven papers is about
the environment and three of the remaining six discuss genomics or
medical technologies.
53. Ibid., p. 21.
54. E. Hackett et al., “Introduction”, in E. Hackett et al. (eds.), The handbook of Science
and Technology Studies, op. cit., pp. 1-7.
55. P. Robbins, Political Ecology, op. cit., p. 14.
38 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
Therefore, not only the research assumptions, research culture or
commitments bear similarities, also the topics of interest are drifting
towards each other. PE is paying more attention to the construction of
environmental science. STS, in turn, has in recent years scrutinised environmental controversies concerning biotechnology, climate change,
genomics, etc. 56
From this point on, the common field of research between STS and
PE that I will focus on, will be called the “social study of environmental controversies”.
5 Directions for interdisciplinarity
Although I argued that academic barriers nor disciplinary cultures
seem to form an obstacle for a joint STS-PE research programme, there
is a danger that a call for interdisciplinarity remains an ephemeral or
empty “fad”. According to Fuller and Collier, “the desultory character of most interdisciplinary research” is mostly due to a “lack of
cross-disciplinary epistemic standards”. 57 Although interdisciplinary
exchanges have the potential to significantly transform the work that
disciplines do, this is only possible if new, common epistemic standards are established to which the disciplines agree to hold themselves
Instead of cross-pollinating PE with concepts from STS and vice
versa, I prefer to level the field for interdisciplinarity by formulating a
number of premises for the “the social study of environmental controversies”. Then I will elicit the possible future directions for new interdisciplinary research.
5.1 Premises for future interdisciplinary research
5.1.1 Overcome constructionism, part I
STS as well as PE draw on constructionist aspects of reality to explain, on the one hand, the dynamics of science and technology, and
56. S. Yearly, “Nature and the environment in science and technology studies”, op.
57. S. Fuller and J. H. Collier, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the End of Knowledge. A New
Beginning for Science and Technology Studies, op. cit.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 39
environmental problems on the other hand. The trap of cognitive or
moral relativism seems to be lurking behind the corner. In order not to
get trapped in such a relativism, STS and PE scholars have proposed
moderate alternatives for social constructionism like “production”,
“framing”, “the third position”, 58 “constrained constructivism”, 59 “artefactual constructivism”, 60 or “institutional explanations”. 61 These
positions accept the existence of a material world independent of human perception, but at the same time recognise that our knowledge
of that material world is situated, institutionalised and mediated, and
will thus never grasp entirely the mechanisms in the material world.
According to Neumann, this position is common in most PE work
and can be reduced to the philosophical position known as “Critical Realism”, associated in particular with Roy Bhashkar. 62 Critical Realism
effectively provides a third way between empiricism and relativism,
since it distinguishes three ontological strata in reality. 63 The simplest,
“empirical” level refers to those experiences of underlying reality that
we can observe and measure. The second, “actual” level contains not
only measurable experiences but also the events that provoke measurable experiences. These events are the resulting effect of the interaction
of things on the most fundamental or “real” level. This third level includes the causal mechanisms that give rise to events and experiences.
This ontological stratification implies that on the “real” level lie the
profound causes of what is observable, but what is observable does not
necessarily lay bare the causal mechanisms present in the “real” level.
Causation is not defined by how many times some series of events has
empirically been observed. Therefore, it is very unlikely that explanations of nature refer immediately to the “real” level.
In Critical Realism, “transitive” explanations are defined as those
that refer to only a part of the three strata of reality. Therefore these
transitive explanations are socially constructed, short-term and change58. J. Proctor, “The social construction of nature: relativist accusations, pragmatist
and critical realist responses”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 88, 3,
1998, pp. 352-76.
59. N. Hayles, “Search for common ground”, in M. Soul and G. Lease (eds.), Reinventing Nature? Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction, Island Press, Washington DC, 1995,
pp. 47-64.
60. D. Demeritt, “Science, social constructivism and nature”, in B. Braun and N. Castree
(eds.), Remaking Reality: Nature at the Millennium, Routledge, London, 1998.
61. T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit.
62. R. P. Neumann, Making Political Ecology, op. cit.
63. R. Bhaskar, A Realist Theory of Science, Leeds Books,�������������
Leeds, 1975�.
40 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
able. “Intransitive” knowledge on the other hand refers to the underlying and unchanging reality. According to Forsyth, current accounts in
apolitical ecology of environmental change might be transitive – and
thus socially constructed – since they give short-term explanations, anchored in the “empirical” level, of long-term mechanisms, while in fact
we haven’t grasped the “real” level yet of these mechanisms. 64 Or in the
words of Forsyth: Critical Theory “advances a powerful framework for
understanding how environmental explanations may emerge as the
result of partial empirical research and lead to fixed models of causality that do not reflect more complex underlying causes of change”. 65
This résumé of Forsyth’s and Neumann’s inclination towards Critical Realism is not a plead that all STS and PE scholars should adopt
this epistemological stance. It just gives a model for the “third way”,
in which soft social constructionism is compatible with empirical realism. The model of Critical Realism is in agreement with Yearly’s vision
on social constructionism: 66 scientists try to collect as much empirical
data as possible (from the empirical level), but in the end it are humans
who have the ultimate word about the world. The real level does not
reveal itself directly to human perception and therefore scientific controversies need to be closed by human judgements.
Critical Realism is also in harmony with “situated knowledge”, 67
with “Standpoint Theory”, 68 with Latour’s and Forsyth’s appeal to reevaluate the distinction between norm and fact etc. 69
These theories share the same goal: demonstrate that all observation is embodied by an individual, that all knowledge production is
framed in a particular socio-political contexts, and thus, that all knowledge is partial. Although these claims can easily be misunderstood as
relativist and seem to demonstrate the impossibility of doing true science, they have the opposite goal: they offer a framework to analyse
knowledge production in order to better understand this knowledge
production and avoid undesirable consequences of this knowledge. I
64. T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit.
65. Ibid., p. 71.
66. See section 3.
67. D. Haraway, “Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the
privilege of partial perspectives”, Feminist Studies, 14, 3, 1988, pp.575-599.
68. S. Harding, “How standpoint methodology informs philosophy of social sciences”,
in S. Turner and P. A. Roth (eds.), The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of the social sciences,
Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2003, pp. 291-310.
69. T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit.; B. Latour, Politics of nature: how to bring
the sciences into democracy, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA., 2004.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 41
am convinced that this “third way” should to be the epistemological
stance of interdisciplinary PE and STS research.
5.1.2 The non-equilibrium revolution
What is most striking in conceptions of nature, even mythological ones, is
the yearning for purpose and order. [...] Such an outlook may be in the background of the idea of a divinely designed earth, that divine power is inseparable from an order of nature. 70
The geographer-historian Clarence Glacken, in a monograph about
the concept “nature” in western culture, traces a human “yearning for
purpose and order” in nature back to Sumerian and Greek civilisations. That there should be an order in nature, whether ascribed to a
divinity or not, seems to be a deep-seated idea in our western culture.
Up till today, a vision of nature “in balance” is the reigning paradigm
in orthodox ecology.
A good example is the Equilibrium Theory of Island Biogeography
(ETIB) that took shape in the sixties. Based on the observation of the
ecosystem of “island habitats”, this theory is a collection of laws about
the equilibrium of species on such an island. The level of bio-diversity
would be a function of the available area or “carrying capacity”. When
left undisturbed, the ecosystem is believed to achieve a certain balance of influx and outflux, or to be in gradual transition towards such
a balance. “Resilience” is the concept that indicates how sensible the
equilibrium is to external disturbances.
The findings of ETIB are generally extended towards all eco-systems. Most oddly, this nature-in-balance seems not to include humans.
Apparently it is difficult to overcome the “yearning for purpose and
order” in nature and hence to convince man’s mind that man and nature are constantly in interaction. The effects of equilibrium ecology
– or the yearning for order – has far reaching effects. Not only orthodox environmental science blames human presence for degradation
phenomena in nature; the same persistent discourse is used by environmentalists, policy makers, etc.
The idea that there is a continuous interaction between man and his
70. C. J. Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore. Nature and Culture in Western Thought
from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century, University of California Press,
Berkeley CA., 1967, p. 3.
42 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
environment – man changing it and being influenced by it – also has its
mythological antecedents, but its full development belongs basically, I
think, to rational thought, because such a conception requires a sense
of history. 71
In the last few decades, the equilibrium ecology and especially ETIB
are being contested by a new non-equilibrium ecology that claims that
stability is not the reality of most natural communities. Rather, constant change and dynamic equilibria are the rule in nature. Non-equilibrium ecology may be defined as a variant of ecological science that
emphasizes the variable, and often chaotic, nature of change within ecosystems, at various different spatial and temporal scales. 72 In a special
issue of the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, 73 that reviewed the
status of ETIB, it was argued that there is too much evidence contrary
to ETIB to ignore. Eco-systems in equilibrium exist, but they appear to
be much rarer than assumed by ETIB.
Forsyth and Neumann have identified three implications of nonequilibrium ecology that will be crucial for the social study of environmental controversies. 74 First, it invites PE and STS scholars to critically
re-evaluate the production and utilisation of orthodox environmental
knowledge. As explained in the review of PE, orthodox or apolitical
ecology implicitly includes hidden assumptions and ideologies. Once
this discourse has become hegemonic, once the origins are forgotten,
then the discourse is accepted as fact. In particular, Forsyth dubs the
unsubstantiated claims of orthodox ecology as “environmental orthodoxies”. It are “generalized statements referring to environmental
degradation or causes of environmental change that are often accepted
as fact, but have been shown by field research to be both biophysically
inaccurate”. 75 Moreover, these environmental orthodoxies have severe
consequences since they lead to “environmental policies that restrict
socio-economic activities of people living in affected zones”. 76 Examples of environmental orthodoxies are: that soil degradation is caused
by overpopulation, that deforestation provokes water scarcity down-
71. Ibid., p. 4.
72. T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit.
73. Year 2000, issue 9.
74. T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit.; R.
P. Neumann, Making Political Ecology, op. cit.
75. T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit., p. 38
76. Ibid.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 43
stream, that common management of resources increases the risk of
overexploitation, etc.
The second implication of non-equilibrium ecology is that more
agency is given to nature in the nature-society interactions. This idea
is compatible with “Critical Theory”: the agency of nature is situated
on the ontological, “real” level, while our understanding of material
reality is placed in the “empirical” level.
Third, non-equilibrium ecology introduces a sensitivity for spatial
and temporal scales. The analysis of the human-environment interactions on a temporal scale (e.g. by historical ecology) emphasises the
non-linear and non-cyclic character of these interactions. The analysis
of knowledge production on a temporal scale (e.g. by STS) elicits the
social and political influences in this process. Non-equilibrium ecology
has also introduced a new sensitivity to the various spatial scales at
which the environmental variations have their origin.
With these considerations I conclude the second premise for interdisciplinary research: not only political and social accounts of environmental change defy the theses of orthodox environmental science;
attacks also come from within ecology, supported by empirical data.
The findings of non-equilibrium ecology should be taken into account,
also by PE and STS. This is especially crucial for the social study of
biotechnology, genetic engineering, etc. These new technologies show
that humans have gained an incredible power to change the environment, but although this power can profoundly alter nature, it does not
give more power to control nature. If non-equilibrium ecology is right
– and it has some good proofs to be so – reactions of nature are still
largely unpredictable.
5.1.3 Overcome constructionism, part II
Traditional PE has been combating apolitical accounts of environmental controversies. In doing so, it has probably overemphasised the
one-dimensional relation between power relations and environmental degradation. Such an analysis of degradation is reductionist just
like apolitical ecology is reductionist. Smith is aware of that and urges
for a dynamic model of human-environment interaction. 77 Moreover,
77. N. Smith, “The production of nature”, in G. Robertson, M. Mash, and L. Tickner
(eds.), FutureNatural: Nature, Science, Culture, Routledge, London, 1996, pp. 35-54.
44 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
such a model is more and more needed since non-equilibrium ecology
has shown that nature is much more variable than previously known.
Smith wields the Marxist terminology and describes the production of
nature as a process of human-nature dialectic. I would go further and
introduce the ideas “symmetry”, “network”, “production” and “hybridity” in the social study of environmental controversies.
Environmental problems, degradation or controversies are “produced” in a dynamic process by an entire “network” of actors. The traditional “chain of explanation” 78 or “progressive contextualisation” 79
are too one-dimensional. These models attribute greater but increasingly diffusive power to higher levels in the model, from farmer, over
local land managers, to governments, and finally to international institutions. This hierarchy of power is too deterministic. Instead, in the
network model the actors mutually influence and alter each other. A
network does not pre-assume different levels of power. Moreover, not
only humans can be actors in the network, yet the network is “hybrid”.
The network includes farmers, policy makers, scientists, etc, but also
the biophysical world, institutions, environmental policies, ideas. The
hybrid network concept allows to include political and apolitical accounts of the environmental controversies into one model. “People,
institutions, communities, and nations assemble and participate in the
networks created in this interaction, leveraging power and influence,
just as non-human organisms and communities do”. 80 Local environmental policies, for instance, alter the biophysical reality of the forest
and the farm. In turn, the farmer, the local land manager and even the
farm itself (e.g. through its higher or lower production rate) alter the
environmental policies.
Saying that environmental controversies are “produced” by a “network”, opens the way to introduce “symmetry” into this model. The
network model should not only be able to explain how environmental
controversies are produced, but it should be valid to explain all aspects
of the environment. Not only soil degradation is produced by the network, but also a well producing farm, the forest, the river, even the
farmer himself.
This urge for a network model that is symmetrically valid to ex78. P. Blaikie and H. Brookfield, Land Degradation and Society, op. cit.
79. A. Vayda, “Progressive contextualization: Methods for research in human ecology”,
Human Ecology, 11, 3, 1983, pp.265-81.
80. P. Robbins, Political Ecology, op. cit.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 45
plain the human-environment interactions is the last premise for a social study of environmental controversies. This model of “a network
that produces the environment” should by no means be understood as
normative relativism. It helps to explain loss of bio-diversity, environmental degradation, etc, but it does not mean that these phenomena
are inevitable.
The network model is very general, broad and malleable; it has the
advantage to be widely applicable. This aspect also bears severe disadvantages: it does not tell which nodes or relations in the network weigh
more than others, nor is it clear how the epistemic-material relations
between humans, institutions, ideas and biophysical actors should be
conceptualised. In fact, only applied research, such as proposed in the
next section, can give body to the network model.
5.2 Future directions
In this section I identify three possible directions for future research
in the field of “social study of environmental controversies”:
1. the co-production of environmental science and policy;
2. the production of environmental controversies;
3. public involvement in environmental science.
Of course, these are not the only ones.
5.2.1 The co-production of environmental science and policy
The Political Ecology Research Group (PERG) of Oxford University,
virtually the first group of PE scholars, wrote back in the year 1979:
Science is dialectical in nature, i.e. the results of research depend upon the
assumptions of the researchers, which depend upon all manner of social factors specific to that researcher or research institution. The current situation,
where Government attempts to appoint “impartial” assessors, in a quasilegal framework, will in our view lead to the increasing dissatisfaction with
the inquiry procedure. 81
The more science becomes powerful, the more this statement will
81. PERG, A First Report of the Work of the Political Ecology Research Group, The Group,
Oxford, 1979.
46 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
gain in relevancy. Lay people, but also most scientists and policy makers, traditionally think that science is disconnected from political values
and that therefore it is a good advisor for effective policies. This view
of science-that-drives-policies and the traditional Mertonian view of
science are two sides of the same coin. However, STS has convincingly demonstrated that science is not apolitical, asocial and universally
valid, as it is traditionally presented. Neither is it true that value-free
science drives policies. Various scholar from PE and STS argue that
environmental science and environmental policies “co-evolve”, they
are “co-produced”; 82 facts and norms are “hybridised”. 83
Hybridisation refers to the process by which both natural as social
elements merge into one entity: a hybrid entity. It means that in a process of discursive framing and bounding, social elements are entwined
with natural/objective facts and a new, hybrid, socio-natural entity is
established that ends up to form part of what we consider the “natural reality”. We think that such hybrid entities are perfectly natural or
physical, but deep inside they are inextricably social and natural at
once. 84 In this process the natural hybridises with the social, the fact
hybridises with the norm.
Co-production, on the other hand, considers the broader framing,
legitimisation and dissemination of knowledge within society and policy processes. Sheila Jasanoff defines co-production as “the simultaneous production of knowledge and social order”. 85 In this definition,
“social order” does not necessarily refer to a state of political stability,
but it can also refer to a struggle for order. The important aspect of the
definition is that it is a dynamic process.
Forsyth convincingly applies the hybridisation and co-production
metaphors to demonstrate the links between environmental science
and environmental activism, but he does not provide a general framework for the co-production of science and policies. 86 To effectively analyse the co-production of science and policies, researchers should focus
on how this co-production happens in practice, on a day-to-day basis,
82. S. Jasanoff, “Beyond epistemology: relativism and engagement in the politics of
science”, Social Studies of Science, 26, 2, 1996, pp. 393-418.
83. B. Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, op. cit., and Politics of nature: how to bring the
sciences into democracy, op. cit.; T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit.
84. B. Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, op. cit.
85. S. Jasanoff, “Beyond epistemology: relativism and engagement in the politics of
science”, op. cit.
86. T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit., ch. 5.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 47
in offices, in laboratories, through agents and institutions. This analysis can be done by means of ethnographic or ethnomethodological observation and description, and by discourse analysis. In this observation, the researcher should try to identify the nodes and relations in the
network, how boundaries between science and policies are drawn and
redrawn, and finally the network mechanisms that co-produce policies
and knowledge. 87 This is a first direction in which the social study of
environmental controversies can proceed. A very interesting but controversial example is the research and policy negotiation concerning
climate change. This will be briefly described in section 6.
5.2.2 The production of environmental controversies
Consider following excerpt from Mary Douglas’ Purity and Danger,
and substitute the word “dirt” by “pollution”:
[W]e are left with the old definition of dirt as matter out of place. This is a very
suggestive approach. It implies two conditions: a set of ordered relations
and contraventions of that order. [...] Where there is dirt there is system.
Dirt is the by-product of a systematic ordering and classification of matter,
in so far a ordering involves rejecting inappropriate elements. This idea of
dirt takes us straight into the field of symbolism and promises a link-up with
more obviously symbolic systems of purity. 88
This citation was originally written to describe the cultural construction of purity and impurity, but can easily be extended to pollution,
and even other environmental controversies. To denounce environmental degradation, one needs to come up with a model of how the
environment should be; to describe climate change implies describing
how the climate should be; to argue that Sub-Saharan forests are endangered by “savannisation”, one needs an idea of the “natural” state
of the forest.
These models, descriptions and ideas of how the environment, the
climate or the forest should be, need to be taken with great caution.
Bird formulates it in a radical way: “Should we believe everything the
science of ecology has to tell us about our relations with nature? Or
should we examine the social construction of ecology itself ... and find
87. Ibid., ch. 6.
88. M. Douglas, Purity and danger: an analysis of concept of pollution and taboo, Routledge,
London, 2002 [1996], p. 44; emphasis mine.
48 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
out if we would want the kind of world that ecology would construct
for us if it were to win political hegemony in the sciences?”. 89
Bird’s stance risks to reject any form of knowledge that ecology
could provide us about the biophysical world. As said earlier, PE and
STS scholars should adhere a moderate social constructivism, rejecting
the relativist defeatism that there is no hope of distinguishing better
from worse explanations, but nonetheless accepting the importance of
discourse and representations. The social study of environmental controversies should analyse and de-construct the network by which the
environmental problem and accompanying discourse is produced. In
such a network there is place for human (i.e. social) actors and non-human actors (knowledge about the biophysical reality).
The discourse about how nature is supposed to be is particularly
strong in the sphere of environmental protection or environmentalism:
the perfect Nature is presented as “wilderness in balance”, from which
humans are absent. Political ecologists, as described in section 2, have
already paid considerable attention to the material and socio-political
consequences of environmental protection policies. As an extension,
the social study of environmental controversies could pay more attention to the construction of the problem and the accompanying discourse, rather than focusing exclusively on the deterministic relation
between environmental protection policies and socio-economic consequences. Anyhow, this evolution from structuralist to post-structuralist explanations is already in the making, as explained in the section 2
about PE.
Again, it should be emphasised that an account of nature and environmental controversies as being “produced” by a “network”, does
not imply resignation. The production model does not imply that degradation should be accepted or that it is inevitable.
5.2.3 Public involvement in science: the way forward?
“How much is a songbird worth?”, is the title of an article by Funtowicz and Ravetz. 90 In principle arguing against “normal” economic
science (“normal” in a Kuhnian sense) and its tendency to commodify
89. E. A. R. Bird, “The Social Construction of Nature: Theoretical Approaches to the
History of Environmental Problems”, Environmental Review, 11, 4, 1987, p. 262.�
90. S. O. Funtowicz and J. R. Ravetz, “The worth of a songbird: ecological economics
as a post-normal science”, Ecological Economics, 10, 3, 1994, pp. 197-207.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 49
irreplaceable environmental goods such as an endangered songbird,
these two scholars sustain that normal economic science cannot control environmental issues in the same way as Adam Smith described
the cloth markets, since uncertainties in scientific knowledge, whimsicality of global environmental policies, and ethical content cannot be
ignored where the environment is concerned.
Funtowicz and Ravetz call for a new “post-normal” science, that
should not be structured to deliver “truth” but “quality”. “The principle of quality enables us to manage the irreducible uncertainties and
ethical complexities that are central to the resolution of issues in postnormal science. It entails the democratization of knowledge by an extension of the peer-community for quality assurance”. 91 The new postnormal science that they sketch is advanced as a model for (ecological)
economics, but it can be generalised to other environmental sciences. It
is a concept similar to what other scholars call “public ecology”. 92
First, the new post-normal science should inherently be able to manage uncertainties. Especially in the field of the environment, uncertainties are large, complex, and not entirely understood. This aspect
of environmental science has been described in the premises of this
Second, Funtowicz and Ravetz insist that the post-normal science
should focus on the production of quality rather than truth. 93 What
Funtowicz and Ravetz call quality explicitly comprises ethics and
morality. Up till now, usually it are subject-specialty peers that assess
the truth value of scientific statements. But the more often science is
used in policy, the more it is important that laypersons such as judges,
journalists, scientists from other fields or just citizens, should be effective participants in the dialogue. This extension of the peer permits to
maintain the quality of the scientific output or policy decisions.
Third, the post-normal science should be a dialogue between all parties, in which all parties accept the plurality of perspectives. Since the
science is riddled by uncertainties and inherently partial (as described
in the premises) neither the positivist scientist can claim absolute monopoly for its own perspective. Instead, they should share a common
91. Ibid.
92. D. P. Robertson and R. B. Hull, “Public ecology: an environmental science and
policy for global society”, Environmental Science & Policy, 6, 2003, pp. 399-410�.
93. S. O. Funtowicz and J. R. Ravetz, “The worth of a songbird: ecological economics
as a post-normal science”, op. cit.,�������������
pp. 203-204.
50 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
commitment. The unity among the partners in the dialogue does not
derive from a shared knowledge base, but from a common commitment to resolve a specific, complex policy issue.
The second and third aspect – public participation and plurality in
knowledge – are also proposed as solutions in Robertson and Hull’s
public ecology, and in Forsyth’s critical ecology.
As far as I am aware, such a negotiation platform including scientists,
policy makers and other stakeholders, has been developed in the sector of water and is known as Integrated Water Resource Management
IWRM. Some scholars have criticised IWRM, and participative science
in general, for the overly naive trust in “Habermasian communicative
rationality” – the idea that the consensus-bringing force of argumentative speech is inherent in human social life. Critique mainly comes
from the Foucaultian angle that claims that consensus is achieved by
means of struggles for power, not by rational argumentation. 94
Indeed, the extension of legitimacy to participants other than scientists opens up a whole range of opportunities for science and society,
but it also generates a series of practical concerns. These need to be explored in future research, in which STS and PE can have a crucial role.
“STS has the potential to redraw the disciplinary boundaries in academics, but more importantly, to open science to the rest of society”. 95
6 A case study: climate change
The importance of science in our modern society is difficult to underestimate, not only in economic terms as mentioned above in the
section about STS, but also for its impact in social structures and in
all sorts of policies. In recent times this is demonstrated well by the
research on “humanly induced climate change”. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), founded in 1988 by the United
Nations and the World Meteorological Organization, has brought together hundreds of scientists, from different disciplines and countries,
94. L. Mehta, The Politics and Poetics of Water. Naturalising Scarcity in Western India,
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2005; V. S. Saravanan, G. T. McDonald and P. P. Mollinga,
“Critical review of integrated water resources management: Moving beyond polarised
discourse”, Natural Resources Forum, 33, 2009, pp. 76-86.
95. S. Fuller and J. H. Collier, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the End of Knowledge. A New
Beginning for Science and Technology Studies, op. cit., p. ix.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 51
to assess climate change and its consequences. The IPCC does not do
research, but it collects “established knowledge” and periodically publishes three types of reports: the biophysical status of climate change,
the estimated impacts, and proposals for mitigation. The latest report
on the biophysical status was written by 600 contributing authors and
reviewed by another 620 experts. 96 The IPCC explicitly requires that
the scientists involved in researching climate change are not involved
in the policy writing – the latter being the principal work of the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC.
The IPCC is emblematic of the status of science in our society. On the
one hand, these few hundred scientists are extremely powerful since
they have in their hands the knowledge that in the near future might
have huge impacts in economy, society, politics, international relations, and so on. To give an idea, the economic cost of climate change
mitigation and adaptation policies is estimated to lie between 1-4% of
the world’s GDP. 97 This cost does not even include any social, moral
or humanitarian costs. In spite of – or maybe thanks to – this huge
power, there seems to be a high degree of agreement within this scientific community on the core assertions of climate change. Hence, they
present empirical data and proofs that are almost irrefutable.
On the other hand, the IPCC, and climate research in general, is also
very vulnerable, due to the high interests at stake and due to its growing weight in politics. The scientists and the knowledge are being attacked from various sides. 99 The worst form is “brownlashing”, a tactic
to slander the credibility of science and scientist, by all possible means.
This can include the enlargement of particular aspects of the data or
theory in order to invalidate the whole, the dissemination of empirical data of doubtful quality, or the suggestion that the climate change
96. IPCC, Climate Change 2007. The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group
I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,
97. J. C. van den Bergh, “Safe climate policy is affordable - 12 reasons”, Climate Change,
2009 (http://www.springerlink.com/content/g268187031m504u5/).
98. Nonetheless, this cost is believed to be much lower than the economic costs of the
“doing-nothing-strategy”, which could reduce the world’s GDP by 20% (ibid.)
99. D. Demeritt, “The construction of global warming and the politics of science”,
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 91, 2, 2001, pp. 307-37; T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology, op. cit.; S. Yearly, Nature and the environment in science and technology
studies, op. cit.
52 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
theory is the fruit of a plot. Such a tactics became notorious in the
context of tobacco law suits.
More sensible criticism is pronounced by right-wing politics, arguing that the power that scientists have obtained to influence policies
can turn out to be self-sustaining: the more scientists consolidate their
role as impartial policy-advisors, the more money will flow to research.
Moreover, since almost all experts in climate change are connected to
the IPCC, a standard peer-reviewing of the results is almost impossible. In fact, even climate scientists have denounced that the peer-reviewing is too hermetic and that there is no space for dissident voices,
even from within the scientific community. 101 According to Pielke, if
the IPCC wants to continue to be able to cope with sceptics, it needs to
reform its rules.
Critiques have also come from the political left. They argue that
the current dominant approach in climate change research serves the
interests of a western, technocratically inspired “environmental colonialism” that reinforces the already very unequal north-south power
relations. 102 Global environmental policies are pushed for by western
scientists, western NGOS, western activists, etc., but the effects of the
environmentalist agenda is felt most in the Global South. The vast
majority of natural reserves, for instance, is situated in tropical, third
world countries. 103 Climate change mitigation policies, such as reforestation projects or emission trade, risk to curb even further the freedom of third world countries.
Demeritt formulates a more subtle but not less fundamental critique, from the perspective of STS. 104 He does not believe that climate
research straightforwardly and unidirectionally determines climate
politics, as suggested by most scientists. Rather, the climate research itself is influenced by policy concerns. The very idea that the knowledge
will serve policy implementations, shapes and frames the problem
100. The British newspaper The Guardian recently made public that the e-mail traffic
between climate change scientists had been hacked, presumably to discover such a collusion theory. See L.
Hickman and J. Randerson, “Climate sceptics claim leaked emails are
evidence of collusion among scientists”, The Guardian (Friday, 20 November 2009).
101. R. A. Jr. ���������������������������������������������������������������
Pielke, “Major Change Is Needed If the IPCC Hopes to Survive”, Yale
Environment 360 (http://e360.yale.edu).
102. V. Shiva, “The greening of the global reach”, in W. Sachs (ed), Global ecology: A
new arena of political conflict, Zed Books, London, 1993.
103. R. P. Neumann, Making Political Ecology, op. cit.
104. D. Demeritt, “The construction of global warming and the politics of science”,
op. cit.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 53
formulation. Demeritt retraces the history of climate modeling and of
several scientific controversies related to the modeling to unmask such
“tacit social and epistemic commitments” embedded in the practice of
climate modeling. Also Pielke thinks that the reports of IPCC are clearly influenced by policy concerns, especially those of Working Group III
on mitigation strategies. 105 He argues that the IPCC emphasised emissions trading over other mitigation strategies, largely endorsing the
approach of the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
With the Climate Convention in tatters after the Copenhagen meeting last
December, we are now experiencing the consequences of the IPCC’s policy
myopia and deviation from neutrality, as there are essentially no alternative
approaches to climate policy suggested by the IPCC report. It had placed all
of its eggs in one basket. 106
Forsyth criticises climate change research for being conceptualised
in narrowly technical and reductionist science, in which numerical
modeling is extended towards prediction of future “risk”. The risk
concept in such a models is very linear and deterministic. Other ways
of assessing and coping with risk are overlooked. Forsyth mentions
the work of Sen and applies it to environmental problems. Sen’s concept of “access”, determined by “entitlements” and “endowments” to
resources, is multidimensional and explains better how vulnerable a
group is to environmental hazards. 107 In the linear risk model, the vulnerability of a group is exclusively reduced to biophysical change.
We can conclude that humanly induced climate change and the
work of the IPCC are extremely interesting for the social study of environmental controversies. The tacit socio-political aspects in the framing of the problem have already been described by Demeritt 108 but the
broader science-policy-environment interdependence needs further
research, especially since the future climate policies, that will pretend
to draw on the “irrefutable” data from IPCC, will have far-reaching
effects that will alter the livelihoods of billions of people living all over
the world. Research into this global environmental controversy can
105. R. A. Jr. Pielke, “Major Change Is Needed If the IPCC Hopes to Survive”, op.
106. Ibid.
107. A. Sen, Poverty and Famines: an Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Clarendon
Press, Oxford, 1981.
108. D. Demeritt, “The construction of global warming and the politics of science”,�
op. cit.
54 / STS and Political Ecology in dialogue
part from the premises that were described in section 5. Such research
into the science-policy complex is timely, in order to secure that the
policies that come out of it are adequate and that they do not exacerbate existing unequal power relations.
7 Conclusion
This article has first explained what the research interests and methodologies of PE and STS are. Then it has demonstrated that both disciplines share a similar commitment and research culture, which makes
them very apt for interdisciplinary research. Such research is needed in
the context of environmental controversies, in order (i) to unravel the
intertwining of science and policies, (ii) to show that environmental
controversies are produced by a network, and (iii) to investigate how
public participation and multiplicity in viewpoints could improve the
production of environmental knowledge and policies.
Such a social study of environmental controversies inclines towards
social constructionism. This stance is by some external observers
viewed as relativistic and, worse, it runs the risk to play into anti-environmentalists’ hands. However, the aim of the social study of environmental controversies is exactly the opposite. When STS and PE scholars
take pains to demonstrate the human factor in knowledge production,
or the partiality and situatedness of all knowledge, or that science and
politics are inevitably intertwined, they do this for two good reasons.
First, they want to assure that scientific explanations address all
underlying forces at work in environmental controversies. Orthodox
environmental science pays excessively more attention to biophysical
causes than to the economic, social and political forces at work, while it
has been shown that not even environmental science itself is apolitical and
asocial. Adopting environmental science without acknowledging the
political and social factors in it, undermines our ability to understand
environmental problems and controversies. As Latour writes: “Science
studies have been accused of politicizing Science, whereas they have
done precisely the opposite: they have depoliticized the sciences by
putting an end to the kidnapping of epistemology by epistemology
police.” 109 Thus, by including economic, social and political forces at
109. B. Latour, Politics of nature: how to bring the sciences into democracy, op. cit.
STS and Political Ecology in dialogue / 55
work, STS and PE scholars strive for a better and more complete understanding of environmental problems and controversies.
Second, STS and PE scholars try to avoid that policies inspired exclusively by orthodox (and thus partial) scientific knowledge would
impose unfair restrictions on the livelihoods of (the weaker) people.
Indeed, if social, political and economic processes are not taken into
account, the policies based on orthodox science risk to aggravate or
create new unfair social, political and economic processes. This concern for fairness is characteristic of both STS and PE: on the one hand
it recalls the old PE thesis that costs and benefits of environmental
change are unevenly distributed, and on the other hand it appeals to
the social commitment of STS’ Low and High Church.
To sum up, whether the environmental controversy is about climate
change, about GMOs, about deforestation or land degradation, STS
and PE can join forces in the untying of the Gordian science-policyenvironment knot, in order to make the problem understanding more
complete and in order to avoid unsound policies that would create or
aggravate unequal power relations.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
(disorders of sex development): shifting
terminology and shifting meaning
Daniela Crocetti
Hermaphrodite \Her*maph”ro*dite\, n. [L. hermaphroditus,
so called from the mythical story that Hermaphroditus, son
of Hermes and Aphrodite, when bathing, became joined in
one body with Salmacis, the nymph of a fountain in Caria:
cf. F. hermaphrodite.] (Biol.)
An individual which has the attributes of both male and female, or which unites in itself the two sexes; an animal or
plant having the parts of generation of both sexes, as when a
flower contains both the stamens and pistil within the same
calyx, or on the same receptacle. In some cases reproduction
may take place without the union of the distinct individuals. In the animal kingdom true hermaphrodites are found
only among the invertebrates. 1
The term “hermaphrodite” has its origins in western discourse in
the Greek philosophical and biological tradition. Aristotle pondered
the hermaphrodite as the philosophical origin of humankind before its
subsequent division into the sexes. For Aristotle, the hermaphrodite
was a useful philosophical concept in considering the social placement
of man in the world; at the same time, the hermaphrodite was also
considered one of the many physical variables in the taxonomy of the
human species. 2 The history of the discourse surrounding hermaphroditism has implications for changing conceptions of social gender roles
and their flexibility. Changing views of the taxonomy of the gendered
body play a parallel role.
In this article I will address how contemporary medicalization of
DSD (Disorders of Sex Development) and intersex evolve and separate from the history of hermaphroditism. 3 DSD/Intersex syndromes
. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1993.
. W. D. Ross (������
ed.), The Oxford Translation of Aristotle, Clarendon press, Oxford, 1912,
v. 5, trans. A. Platt.�
. In is important to clarify that the terms hermaphrodite and pseudo-hermaphrodite
in clinical usage generally are signpost of a certain level of out datedness of the author,
58 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
are contemporary diagnostic categories largely based on genetically
defined pathology, in which bodies deviate from the statistical norms
of XY males and XX females in phenotypic development. The term
“intersex”, adopted in the early twentieth century, directly highlights
identity issues surrounding sex and gender while DSD terminology
focuses on the medicalized aspects of the various syndromes. DSD was
coined in 2006 and has been rapidly replacing Intersex as dominant
medical terminology, though there are still patient groups that oppose
the new terminology, asking that “disorder” be replaced with “divergence”. 4
Many contemporary doctors and scientists who work with DSD,
also adopt the linguistic separation of sex and gender, along theoretical lines developed by feminists and identity politic theorists, in which
sex has a biological/genetic origin and gender has social performative
role. This is one of many clear indications of how social debates have
effected the development of medical theory and practice. 5
The assertion that scientific theory and social theory overlap and
affect each other has been a hard won axiom in the development of
contemporary social theory. Social theorists (Donna Haraway, Judith
Butler) have elaborated the idea of gender as a social performance,
extending Bourdieu’s theories of social habitus and Mauss’s theories
of techniques of the body. At the same time, biology has become
increasingly organized and specialized, expanding on the genetically defined dual sex biological model. Diagnostic and descriptive
techniques regarding DSD have become increasingly accurate and
detailed, as evidenced by research on topics ranging from genetic
markers to hormone levels. Yet scientific papers that discuss clinical
treatment of DSD still generally focus on the issue of gender assignment as the fundamental problem. The handling of gender assignment is just the tip of iceberg in the bioethical debates surrounding
DSD treatment and definition.
One of the aspects that will be discussed in this article is the infilwhereas hermaphrodite is occasionally used by patient advocates in a tongue-in-cheek
manner to highlight the historical prejudice imbedded in the term.
. E. ������
Reis, Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex, John Hopkins University
Press, Baltimore, 2009, p. 153.�
. This linguistic distinction between sex and gender is not always present in other
branches of medicine and biology. Furthermore the adoption of such terminology does
not indicate an awareness or agreement with the social theories that lead to the change
in terminology.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 59
tration of social theories about the body in the contemporary and historical medical discourse. However, I think it is important to remember that medicine is a social practice that often combines the theoretical platforms of nature and nurture, culture and biology instead of
choosing one over the other. Current publications on the treatment of
DSD patients, perhaps due to the force of the contemporary debate,
indicate the willingness of some practitioners to reevaluate earlier assumptions about role of medicine as an enforcer of the naturalness
of gender.
Whereas it is important to watch out for biological reductionism and
determinism, which can lead to theoretically problematic assertions
such as one-to-one genetic markers for behavioral traits, it is equally
important not to rely on cultural reductionism in thinking about the
body, sex and gender. Anthropologist Carol Worthman has raised criticisms about the focus taken by anthropology and critiques of science.
Worthman states:
Mutual antagonisms generated through debates over theorization of sex
and gender in biological and cultural anthropology, respectively have obscured this common central problem of assessing significant difference…
Overwhelming numbers of conceivable differences raise the question of
which ones come to matter, physically, experientially, and societally. 6
Each expert group that addresses DSD has its own preferences as
to what difference from the norm are important objects. A discussion
of the development of both social and biological theories of gender
and sex is necessary. The ways that biological discoveries affect how
we think about the body, such as genetic language of sex difference,
and the ways that cultural perspectives frame these “discoveries”,
such as giving meaning to these physical differences as in the case of
the medicalization of DSD, overlap to create current medical practice.
It is important to remember that within both biological and social
discourses surrounding DSD and the gendered body, there is a debate; between expert and lay knowledge, between canonic and cutting edge knowledge, and about what level and type of difference is
. C. Worthman,������������������������������
“Hormones, Sex, and Gender”, Annual Review of Anthropology, 24,
1995, pp. 609-610.
60 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
I draw on theoretical paradigms from gender theory and disability
politics that discuss the social equation of perceived difference with
error and monstrosity. An outline of the social and medical history of
the gendered body is useful in order to highlight the similarities and
differences embedded in the contemporary genetic paradigm of DSD
treatment and diagnosis. I will address some of the changes and issues
in the genetic paradigm itself. My work draws on publications and
interviews with patients, researchers, and medical practitioners that
serve to illuminate the co-habitation of different treatment paradigms
in the DSD discourse.
It is important to remember that while DSD has been accepted as a
change in terminology by some patient rights groups (including the
founding group, Intersex Society of North America, that now exists
only as an internet support, replaced by the Accord Alliance in March
2008), 7 it is highly contested by others (particularly the French/Canadian group Organization for Intersex International). The advocates of
DSD state that the new terminology creates the possibility to address
the problematic issues of medicalization and leave behind the debates
about gender, following disability theory discourse. The advocates of
Intersex terminology state that seeing as the problematic medicalization usually is informed by the gender debate, DSD terminology linguistically erases the possibility to question biologically gendered categories.
Seeing difference
Two of the most striking aspects of the contemporary discourse surrounding DSD are the importance and variability of definition (both
social and biological), and the invisibility of the public discourse. This
can be seen in the definition of the various pathologies, the way genetic
discourse is utilized, the lack of public discourse about DSD/Intersex,
and the often conflictual relationship between medical and patient
Since DSD treatment is a specialized discipline, it is at times difficult
to distinguish the dominant paradigm from expert knowledge shared
by only the most updated in the field. For instance, the use of the ter. Available online at http://www.isna.org/.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 61
minology of hermaphrodite and pseudo-hermaphrodite can be indications of continuing adherence to an out-dated paradigm. This older
model generally uses gonads and genes as indication of “true” sex and
gender. Equally out-dated are diagnostic models that rely solely on the
social constructionist paradigm of John Money, in which social conditioning trumps biology in gender role determination.
DSD was adopted as terminology in a groundbreaking 2006 medical consensus conference in Chicago, in which medical practitioners
met with patient advocates for the first time in an official manner.
“Intersex” 8 is a medical term that was adopted by patient advocates
to counter the negative weight of the terms hermaphrodite and pseudo-hermaphrodite. The taxonomical separation into male and female
pseudo-hermaphrodite was adopted in the nineteenth century. Historian Alice Dormurat Dreger delineates this historical change:
The classification system for hermaphroditisms presented in 1876 in the
Handbuch der pathologischen Anatomie by Theodor Albrecht Edwin Klebs
(1834-1913) functioned something like a constitution for the Age of the
Gonads. Klebs’s taxonomy, apparently the first of its kind, codified the
belief that the true sex should be based exclusively on the nature of the
I. True hermaphroditism (presence of ovaries and testes in one individual):
a)True bilateral hermaphrodism: one testicle and one ovary on each side of
the body.
b)True unilateral hermaphrodism: on one side an ovary or a testicle, on the
other an ovary and a testicle.
c)True lateral hermaphrodism: (also called alternates hermaphrodism) an
ovary on one side, a testicle on the other.
II.Pseudohermaphrodism (spurious hermaphrodism; “doubling of the external genital apparatus with a single kind of sexual gland”):
a)Masculine pseudohermaphroditism: presence of testicles and evident development of the feminine genital parts.
b)Feminine pseudohermaphroditism: presence of ovaries with some predominance of the masculine genital parts.
Note that one of the most significant results of Kleb’s system was that a being could appear almost entirely feminine internally and externally and still
be considered a true male by virtue of the possession of testicles and lack
of ovaries. 9
The age of the gonads references a conceptual shift elaborated by
historians such as Laqueur, Schiebinger, 10 Dreger and biologist Fausto. First used in medical literature in the early twentieth century.
. A. D. �������
Dreger, Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge MA., 1998, p. 145.
10. L. Schiebinger, “Skelettestreit”, Isis, 94, 2, 2003, pp. 307-313.
62 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
Sterling in which biology and medicine turned away from the “one
sex” model of the body of Galen and Greek philosophical heritage.
This theory claims that medicine mainly envisioned the male body,
and saw the female body itself as an aberration from the norm. I will
elaborate some of the debate surrounding this conceptual shift in the
next section.
Many scientific articles combine different eras of knowledge and
discourse. By era of knowledge I refer to different paradigms that envision the body, sex and gender, that are dominant at different historical moments. A good example is the article: “Ambiguous genitalia:
an overview of 17 years’ experience”, 11 that specifically questions the
researchers’ own techniques in practice, such as early genital surgery,
and combines DSD diagnostic terminology with that of pseudo-hermaphroditism. Sometimes the earlier explanative model seems easier
to apply than a more complicated updated model. This is an interesting problem in discourses surrounding the genetic aspects of diagnosis, where genetic determinism continues to play a shadow role. As
historian of biology Garland Allen states:
It will be intellectually and socially difficult to free genetics from the mechanistic, atomistic conception of the gene…Having tried in my own teaching of biology majors and pre-medical students to introduce the concept of
norm of reaction in place of the standard Mendelian gene, I can attest to the
much greater difficulty in conveying a more holistic, interactive concept of
the hereditary/reproductive process. 12
The diagnostic terminology surrounding DSD is genetically based,
which represents another complex paradigm shift in the medical discourse of the gendered body. DSD syndromes cover a range of diagnostic categories in which there is variation in either the genotype
and/or the phenotype that deviate from the standard sex chromosome
model. Genotype refers to the genetic coding, where as the phenotype
refers to the manifested organism, in a process which is described as
the expression of the genetic material. Genetically based diagnostic
terminology indicates the potential to be un-well, or pathological, with
11. Göllü et al., “Ambiguous genitalia: an overview of 17 years’ experience”, Journal
of Pediatric Surgery, 42, 5, 2007, pp. 840-844.�
12. L. S. �������������������������
Parker and R. A. Ankeny, Mutating Concepts, Evolving Disciplines: Genetics,
Medicine, and Society, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston, 2002, p. 38.�
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 63
a corresponding statistical probability to express symptoms. This introduces many individuals into the DSD category who would not have
been previously diagnosed as hermaphrodites.
DSD syndromes cover a range of diagnostic categories that involve variation related to sex and gender. DSD syndromes disrupt
the assumption that one’s biological sex will manifest not only in
a matching gender identity, but the same genitalia and secondary
sex characteristics. In western societies that allow for two social/
legal gender categories (male and female), the general contemporary trend has been to medicalize individuals diagnosed with DSD
through surgical, and endocrinological intervention towards less
ambiguous physical manifestation of gender. In many surgical environments it is still considered easier to create female genitalia than
the male version, due to the assumed ratio of function between the
two. It was said that “you can make a hole but you can’t build
a pole”. 13 This rational in the past lead to a higher frequency of
female sex assignment.
The most common DSD diagnoses are CAH (congenital adrenal
hyperplasia), AIS (androgen insensitivity syndrome), gonadal dysgenesis (which implies a mix of chromosomal material), 5-alpha
redutase, 17-beta HSD, hypospadias, XXY (Klinefelter syndrome)
and XO (Turner syndrome). Individuals with both fully developed
ovaries and testes are often still referred to with the older term hermaphrodite. What most people diagnosed with DSD experience at
some point in their lives is being told their genitalia or chromosomes
are inconsistent with their sex or gender. They may be told that this
needs to be fixed or cured, through surgery and/or hormones based
language the doctor chooses. This is a brief outline of how this is
medically depicted: 14
13. M. Hendricks,
“Is it a boy or a girl?”,� John Hopkins Magazine, 45, 6, 1993, pp. 10-
14. Wolffian ducts represent the male reproductive tract, and Mullerian ducts the
female reproductive tract in embryonic development. According to canonic embryonic
theory, male development is an active process and the female model is the default, which
mirrors Aristotle’s thesis in fourth century B. C., that man contributed the form of humanity through his semen, while woman contributed only brute matter. Recent research by
Anna Biason-Lauber shows that female reproductive embryonic development is also an
active process.
64 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
46, XY
+, low
46, XX
Congenital XX
but not
but not
but not
+/but not
Table 1. Medical treatments of DSD diagnoses. 15
Although the individual syndromes which form the modern day
category of DSD are each individually listed by the Italian Health
Ministry as rare diseases, thereby entitled to certain types of medical assistance, the syndromes together have a reported frequency that
ranges from 1.7% to 0.01%. 16 The Italian patient group, Klinefelter Italia Onlus, has requested that Klinefelter’s syndrome be removed from
the rare disease category, based on new statistics that site Klinefelter’s
ranging from 1:500 to 1:700, as evidenced by an increase in genetic
testing. The frequency of “true hermaphrodism” (individual with both
male and female genetic or reproductive material) is estimated to be
0.0012%. These statistical frequencies vary from territory to territory,
based on hereditary and disease category factors.
15. P. T. Cohen-Kettenis
and F. Pfafflin, Transgenderism and Intersexuality in Childhood
and Adolescence: Making Choices, Sage, Thousand Oaks CA., 2003, p. 23.
16. A. �����������������������������������������������������������������������
Fausto-Sterling, “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are Not Enough”, The
Sciences, Mar.-Apr. 1993, p. 53.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 65
There are two important questions to consider in relation to these
numbers. First, if a diagnosable degree of DSD is actually this frequent,
why are the syndromes themselves so removed from the public eye?
One is much more familiar for instance with albinism, which has a
frequency of 0.005%. 17
The second question is informed by the shifting character of hermaphrodism/intersex/DSD as a medical category. If true hermaphrodism forms such a small percent of DSD, where is the historical medical place for these other individuals (non-hermaphrodite medically
deviant bodies) that are now diagnosed with DSD? Historically the
medical category has expanded and contracted to include more or
fewer people based on the implications of contemporary social attitudes and medical definition. Obviously, if we consider genital and
gender variation as common, we must yet again revisit our definitions
of gender and the implications of said definitions.
The study of divergent bodies, hermaphrodites, anatomy and society
In considering the history of the concept of hermaphroditism 18 one
notices varied levels of historical social realty in action, from daily gender role and legal sex status, to biological definition of taxonomy and
function. Before genetics were involved in sex and gender determination there were obviously other methods, from behavior to genital
aesthetics, by which social gender was established. DSD treatment is
informed by both advances in medical technology and social theory,
however, its origins as a medical category lie in the medical interest
in the social issue of gender expression. The modern medical category
represents current social mores much as it has in the past.
Needless to say, gender determination has significant legal and social implications. Most of the records we have of hermaphrodites up
until the 1600s are from social-legal disputes surrounding their legal
gender status, allowing or disallowing them rights to marry, attain
property and all the other gender based rights of citizenship. We also
have many accounts of non-biologically ambiguous women being legally prosecuted for cross-dressing as men. The fact that some of these
17. Ibid.
18. I use the term “hermaphrodite” when relevant to its historical context.
66 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
women were put to death for assuming a male legal status, highlights
the social gravity of maintaining gender differences.
In the nineteenth century medical science developed taxonomic
tools to ascertain one’s “correct” gender. This is the period that Dreger
defines as “the age of the gonads”, 19 in which there is heightened medical interest in defining differences between the sexes. Whereas current
DSD categories focus on genetic variation in regards to sex and gender,
the practice of treating the psychosocial issues through corrective surgery originate in this period and tend to medicalize this same historic
social issue of defining “true sex”.
The case of Herculine Barbin, made public through the publication
of her memoirs by Michel Foucault, was famous and much commented
on by medical practitioners of the period. Adelaide Herculine Barbin
was born in 1838, changed her civil gender status in 1860 and committed suicide in 1868. Adelaide in her diary describes a break with her
happy youth when she was diagnosed as a male pseudo-hermaphrodite. This is compounded by the loss of her female lover, the change of
civil status and the social hardships of being alone and unaccustomed
to the male working world. In contemporary practice, Adelaide would
probably have been allowed the choice to continue to live as a woman,
and lesbianism is no longer a criminal act in France. However, homosexuality is still indicated as a marker of potential mistaken gender
assignment in the treatment of DSD.
In his Question médico-légale de l’identité dans ses rapports avec les vices
de conformation des organes sexuels, presiding medical practitioner Auguste Tardieu reports:
The extraordinary case that remains for me to report indeed furnishes the
most cruel and painful example of the fatal consequences that can proceed
from an error committed at the time of birth in the establishment of civil
status. We are about to see the victim of such an error, who after spending
twenty years in the clothing of a sex that was not his own, at the mercy of
a passion that was unconscious of itself until the explosion of his senses
finally alerted him about the nature of it, had his true sex recognized and
at the same time became really aware of his physical disability, whereupon,
disgusted with his life, he put an end to it by committing suicide. 20
The account of both the doctor and Barbin are riddled with the social difficulties of gender identity, and social condemnation of possible
19. A. D. Dreger,
�������� Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, op. cit.
20. M. Foucault,
1980 Herculin Barbin, Pantheon books, New York, 1980, p. 122.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 67
homosexual behavior. The doctor attributes Herculine’s unhappiness
to the original gender assignment, whereas one can postulate Adelaide/Herculine’s unhappiness originates in being forced to change
civic gender category.
While hermaphroditism begins to be medicalized in the nineteenth
century through surgical interventions and speculation about hormones, creating the pathway to modern DSD treatment, there is still
little mention of physiological health issues. As the term medicalization
implies, this period highlights a shift of authority in gender determination from religious, societal and state structures to medical structures.
Different cultures and historical periods have developed laws and
social codes to handle the biosocial phenomena of sex and gender variation. In Purity and Danger, anthropologist Mary Douglas states that
anything that threatens the social fabric of the group is considered unclean and must be either removed or cleansed through social ritual. 21
The different social rituals developed in different time periods that reference hermaphroditism indicate the level at which gender differences
threatened the social fabric of the time.
Delving further into history we can observe two pillars of Western
society, the Judeo-Christian tradition and Greek science and philosophy. Varying interpretations of the Old Testament give different interpretations of gender variance and roles. “Early biblical interpreters
thought that Adam began his existence as a hermaphrodite and that
he divided into two individuals, male and female, only after falling
from grace”. 22 This is supported by the ancient Hebrew version of
Genesis. A point made by Trible and others is that at the time of creation in Genesis 2:7, ha-’adam, which has been conventionally translated
as “man”, “the man” (ha read as the definite article “the”), or “Adam”,
had no gender. 23 Gender comes into existence only with the creation
of woman in Genesis 2:22, following which, in 2:23, the “earth-creature” or “groundling” (suggested alternative translations of ha-’adam)
is sexually differentiated as “man” (ish), and woman as ishah. A note
can be added here on the word “rib”. Sarah Roth Lieberman points out
21. M. Douglas, Purity and Danger: an analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo, Routledge
and Kegan Paul, London, 1966.
22. A. Fausto-Sterling,
����������������� Sexing the Body, op. cit.
23. P. ���������������������������������������������������������
Trible, “Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretation”, Journal of the American
Academy of Religion,������������������
41, 1973, 30-48.�
68 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
that the Sumerian word “ti” means both “rib” and “to make alive”. 24
The double meaning may explain why Eve, who is called “mother of
all living” in Genesis 3:20, was created from Adam’s rib (an otherwise
very odd piece of male anatomy to chose). Unfortunately, in the Bible,
the association is lost because the Hebrew words for “rib” and “life”
are two different words with unrelated roots. 25
Whereas this contemporary historical linguistic debate illuminates
the origins of biblical interpretations of gender, modern society has
been conditioned by the later Christian translations from Greek. In 1
Timothy 2:11-13 we see that the early un-gendered version is erased,
and that gender difference is used to support gender dominance. This
mirrors Judith Butler’s theory that sex distinction is key to gender inequality. In this case Adam is redefined as the first male being, and
is considered superior to woman because he was created before Eve,
reflecting a certain irony, because animals were created before mankind.
Jewish religious texts reflected their contemporary cultural preoccupations about gender by outlining practical guidelines and regulations. The Talmud and the Tosefta discuss modes of conduct and inheritance of intersex people, reflecting female guidelines in some cases
(non-inheritance of their fathers estate) and male in others (prohibition
of shaving). 26 Yet again, this does not directly imply that intersexed
people had a comfortable position in ancient Hebrew society, but that
there was a social position allowed for gender variation which is lacking in the modern legal structures. We must keep in mind the distinctions between social regulation through legal structure, regulatory social practices that dictate behavior, and the process of medicalization
that conceptualises not only the role of the body in society but the right
of certain bodies to exist in society. For example, currently in Australia
there is a move to include intersex as a third legal gender category,
however, among the opposition is an AIS group that is not interested
in being socially defined intersex.
We are familiar with the reoccurring mythical image of hermaphro24. S. R. Lieberman, “The Eve Motif in Ancient Near Eastern and Classical Greek
Sources”, PhD diss., Boston University, 1975.
25. See C. L. C. E. ����������
Witcombe, Eve and the Identity of Women (http://witcombe.sbc.edu/
26. A. Fausto-Sterling, The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are Not Enough, op. cit.,
pp. 20-25.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 69
dites in ancient Greek history. However, it is unlikely that the rate of
intersexuality was higher, or that they had a more comfortable place
in society.
In tracking the history of medical analyses of intersexuality, one learns more
generally how the social history of gender itself has varied, first in Europe
and later in America, which inherited European medical traditions. In the
process we can learn there is nothing natural or inevitable about current
medical treatment of intersexuals. Early medical practitioners, who understood sex and gender to fall along a continuum and not into the discrete categories we use today, were not fazed by hermaphrodites. Sexual difference,
they thought, involved quantitative 27 variation. Woman were cool, men hot,
masculine women or feminine men warm. Moreover, human variation did
not, physicians of this era believed, stop at the number three. 28
Aristotle defined hermaphrodites as a sort of twin in which there
wasn’t enough material to produce the second child, yet he argued that
the heat of the heart determined which of the two possible sexes was
represented. Both Aristotle and Plato were interested in the primordial
myth of Hermaphrodites, separated to create the two genders. However, Aristotle was much more concerned with the “natural” superiority
of the masculine quality than with the possibility of ambiguity.
The female always provides the material, the male that which fashions it,
for this is the power we say they possess, and this is what it is for them to be
male and female […] While the body is from the female, it is the soul that is
from the male. 29
Attitudes towards gender role and hermaphroditism where not necessarily related to biological visions of the body. The pre-republican
Roman state viewed intersexuals as a negative prophetic sign and often had them put to death. Later, in Pliny’s time, intersexuals were destigmatized and achieved the right to marry. Galen, the major anatomist of the Greek tradition, active in the second century A.D., argued
for the conceptual category of an intermediate sex. However the most
significant aspect of his biological theories that prevailed well into the
seventeenth century was that the female genital anatomy was simply
the inverse of the male. He compiled much of the knowledge obtained
by previous writers, and furthered the inquiry into the function of or27. In this case quantitative refers to number of reproductive chambers, whereas it
could be argued that the heat model represents qualitative difference.
28. A. Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body, op. cit., p.�����
29. W. D. �����������
Ross (ed), The Oxford Translation of Aristotle, op. cit.
70 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
gans by performing sections and vivisection on animals. His collection
of observations, based on animal anatomy, became canonic anatomy
for 1,500 years. Hampered by religious restrictions similar to those that
anatomists experienced under the Catholic Church, which prevented
the dissection of human bodies for centuries after him, Galen assumed
that anatomical structures in animals were the same as in humans.
During the middle ages the conceptual model of the continuum of
the similarity between male and female anatomy prevailed. The uterus
was seen to have seven reproductive chambers, six of which produced
males and females, while one produced hermaphrodites. 30 Through
the Renaissance period the Church continued to have final authority in
issues of medicine and science. Evidence of hermaphrodites in the middle ages comes through the debate on baptism, in which a child with
deformities was considered monstrous and could not be baptized. 31
Genitalia difference was seen as direct result of fornication with the
devil. In adulthood the Church focused its energies on defining the
correct gender to facilitate marriage and hereditary issues.
It is important to reaffirm that hermaphrodism was not yet conceptualized as a medical problem for the individual but as a social problem tied to gender, sin and social status. Modern medical DSD categories such as Klinefelter’s syndrome and CAIS (Complete Androgen
Insensitivity Syndrome) almost certainly went unnoticed because the
definition of such diagnoses is based on the genetic discrepancies, not
gender or genital ambiguity. It is possible that these individuals, who
would now be diagnosed with DSD, suffered from hormone imbalances or increased rates of gonadal cancer. However, without the aesthetic genital difference that can occur in either PAIS (Partial Androgen
Insensitivity Syndrome) or CAH (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia),
they would not have been identified as even pseudo-hermaphrodites.
Through the Renaissance period the methodology to establish gender in cases of ambiguity is inconsistent, and one sees an increased tendency to dismiss the possibility of ambiguous legal and social statuses.
In the 1600s in France cross-dressing was illegal. 32 In a case in Italy in
1601, the Church officially declared the birth of a child by a male soldier a miracle, yet permitted his wife a divorce without imposing that
30. A. Fausto-Sterling,
����������������� Sexing the Body, op. cit., p. 34.
31. M. Shildrick,
“Transgressing the law with Foucault and Derrida: some reflections
on anomalous embodiment”, Critical Quarterly, 47, 3, 2005, pp. 30-46.�
32. A. Fausto-Sterling,
����������������� Sexing the Body, op. cit., p. 35.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 71
the soldier change his legal status to that of female. 33 What emerges is
a lack of consistent philosophical or medical establishment of gender,
accompanied by the legal and social mandate, however, that one maintain a consistent uni-gender presentation.
Whereas female reproductive structures were often still conceptualized as internalized male organs, and described through comparison
with male anatomy, we begin to see an increased precision in terminology, the beginnings of a gendered biological discourse, with a focus on
the distinction of the functions of the reproductive organs.
The internal distinction between the male and female body up until
the 16th century was vague at best. This brings to light an interesting
aspect of the history of social perception of the hermaphroditic body as
a public event up until the “discovery” of the gonads. By public event
I mean the interpretation of gender based on external genitalia and
behavior, instead of internal organs and/or genes.
Thomas Laqueur argues that despite the inclusion of a third sex in
debates about the physical nature of man, the dominant model in the
western world was a “one sex” model, not male and female, but male,
with any exemption organized around it. The “discovery” of difference
of the gonads in a precise quality (type of tissue, productive cycles, although not yet hormonal secretion) shifted the arena of the discourse
from external to internal.
Sometime in the eighteenth century “testicle” could stand alone to designate
unambiguously the male gonad; it no longer carries the modifier “masculine” or “feminine”. “Ovary”, not “female stones” or “testicle feminine”,
came to designate its female equivalent. Moreover, the overtly political language of some earlier anatomical descriptions – Zacchia’s description of a
beneficium 34 of the clitoris as leading to a false diagnosis of hermaphrodism,
for example – gave way to the more clinical, organ-centered language of
nineteenth century medicine […] 35
Laqueur has been criticized for ignoring previous historic anatomical texts that directly discussed the role of differences in the female
anatomy. These texts were among the first to advocate the relationship
between reproductive biology and gender role, in which the uterus
takes first position. This not only gave rise to centuries of uterus based
33. Ibid.
34. Beneficium means enlargement.
35. T. Laqueur,
��������� Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge MA., 1990, p. 161.
72 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
diseases, but argued that women were not the inferior model, but were
weaker and less “hot” in some aspects in order to facilitate their duty
to reproduce. Laqueur responds to this criticism by highlighting that
paradigms take a long time to change, and that the canonization of a
deterministically established two-sex model arrived much later than
its introduction by a handful of anatomists in the early modern period. 36
Medical authority (independent of religious authority) over the
body arises in the 18th century as Foucault elaborates in The birth of
the clinic. 37 Up until then, medical texts continued to expound different theories of the origin of gender differentiation, without being able
to establish gender as having pure biological origins. Alice Domurat
Dreger defines the period between 1870 and 1915, “the Age of Gonads”, because of the increased medical interest in establishing everyone’s “true sex”. The new century saw the abandonment of the term
“natural philosopher” in favor of “scientist” 38 and Biology begun to
define itself as a study in its own right, independent of the larger category of the natural sciences.
Anatomy had finally made its way into the body and was developing models based on the human body instead of the animal models
of Galen that had been the guidelines for the western world for more
than a millennium. And importantly, gynecology was establishing itself as a specialized medical discipline (to the exclusion of female midwife practitioners).
Up until this period the term “hermaphrodite”, coupled with cases
of “mistaken sex”, had dominated the conceptual market. As we have
seen earlier, social structures dictated that one adopt a gender role and
stick to it. In addressing the new medical interest in hermaphrodites,
one must remember that despite the enormous advances in identifying
the uterus and ovaries little was still known about their functioning. If
the understanding of normal anatomy contributes to the understanding and definition of the pathological and vice versa, we must wonder
what the conceptual models were for defining normality.
Victorian England was witness to the obsession with the role of the
36. T. Laqueur,
“Sex in the Flesh”, Isis,��������������������������
94, 2, 2003, pp. 300-306.
37. M. Foucault, The birth of the clinic: an archaeology of medical perception, Tavistock,
London, 1973.
38. S. Schaffer, “Scientific Discoveries and the End of Natural Philosophy”, Social
Studies of Science, 16, 3, 1986, pp. 387-420.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 73
female reproductive anatomy in hysteria and other mental disturbances. In the same way that the anatomist/surgeon John Hunter (17281793) reflects political/social opinion by naming physical abnormalities monstrosities, the rise of gynecology is riddled with strange social
opinions about the nature of gender and often the woman’s role in
respect to her organs. It becomes harder to find a place to insert ambiguity. As highlighted in the research of historian Chandak Sengoopta
prominent gynecologist Rudolf Virchow stated:
The female is female because of her reproductive glands. All her characteristics of body and mind, of nutrition and nervous activity, the sweet delicacy
and roundedness of limbs ... the development of the breasts and non-development of the vocal organ, the beauties of her hair and the soft down on
her body, those depths of feeling, that unerring intuition, that gentleness,
devotion and loyalty — in short, all that we respect and admire as truly
feminine, are dependent on the ovaries. Take the ovaries away and we get
the repulsive, coarsely formed, large-boned, moustached, deep-voiced, flatbreasted, resentful and egoistic virago. 39
This ideological investment in the determinism of the internal reproductive organs in the creation of gender overlaps with the heightened study of hermaphrodites. The term hermaphrodite expanded
socially to include homosexuals and gender behavior variants such as
feminists (and perhaps female doctors), while at the same time it contracted medically. In seeking to assign a correctly fixed gender, medical
practitioners began to develop systems of categorization that included
male and female pseudohermaphrodism and/or spurious hermaphrodism. This reflects to some degree the modern diagnostic model of
DSD, where the “true” sex is represented by some combination of internal and external biological and social factors.
Here we enter into a new level of the medicalization of gender. With
the new medical ability to distinguish ovarian and testicular gonadal
tissue, the norms for establishing true legal gender switched from approximation of genital appearance to the identification of the sex of
the gonadal tissue. This new definition is similar to the contemporary
genetic definition, as in most cases (but not all) of DSD the genetic sex
corresponds to the sex of the gonads, rather than the phenotype (genitals and secondary sex characteristics) and gender of the person.
Although the medical theory changed, in case histories we see that
39. C. Sengoopta,
“The Modern Ovary: Constructions, Meanings, Uses”,� History of
Science, 38, 2000, p. 428.
74 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
doctors continued to argue amongst themselves as to the practical
guidelines to establish the “true sex” of the individual. A person with
the modern category of AIS might have been allowed to continue her
life as a woman despite her testicular tissue, while others argued that
the testicular tissue defined gender completely. Given the complication of performing diagnostic tests, often involving total removal of the
gonad, many intersex individuals probably went unnoticed by medical doctors.
At the end of the 19th century, surgical technology as well as biological knowledge underwent great advances and the first experiments in
genital modification began. One begins to see case studies, not just of
diagnosis as in the case of Adelaide Herculine Barbin, but of operations performed to either liberate the phallus from the clitoral hood
or reduce the phallus to a clitoral form, and the repositioning of the
urethra. In the case studies there is little mention of the patients’ desire to modify their genitals, nor of their following satisfaction. There
is also little mention of apparent physical health problems related to
being in some way hermaphroditic. What is discussed in case studies
is the need to establish clear guidelines for gender determination and
the enforcement of said guidelines. Many case studies reference court
orders that the individual adapt to the new medically ordained gender, creating grounds for divorce or obviating legal repercussions for
homosexual activity. 40 The assumed need for medical compliance to
social norms of the dichotomous sex/gender system still forms part of
the bioethical debate in DSD treatment today, combined with a continued lack of follow up research on patient satisfaction.
In Western society hermaphrodism has conceptually moved from
being a monstrosity associated with evil or danger, a biological anomaly representing social deviance, to a physical disease category. However, there is still debate surrounding gender assignment and when
and how to “adjust” a patient towards one gender category or another.
This has been highly influenced by the studies on gender identity conducted by the psychologist John Money in the 1950s.
Money was among the first to propose that a child should be raised
according to their phenotypical gender instead of their gonadal gender, or in the case of a boy with a mistakenly reduced phallus, accord40. T. M. Caffaratto, L’ermafroditismo umano. Storia-clinica-medicina legale, Minerva
Medica, Torino, 1963.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 75
ing to the gender best reflected by the genitals. Money therefore advocated surgical intervention to promote the establishment of a strong
gender identity early in life. 41 This socially deterministic model, combined with a stereotype ridden image of gendered behavior, lead to
decades of medical protocol that sought to “correct” anatomical difference through surgery, in order to promote that psycho-social health of
the patient. However many patients have questioned the psychological health benefits of altering a functioning body. Following disability
theory, it has been argued that it is precisely the negative attention and
modification of a young body that leads to psychological discomfort.
There is increasing interest expressed by medical practitioners to involve patients and families in these choices.
On the diagnostic level, the advent of genetics has allowed for an increased level of precision, to the point where modern DSD diagnostic
categories are defined within a vocabulary of genetic pathology. Genetic determinism, intended as the belief that genes code for the organism’s entire nature, has been largely discredited in favor of evolutionary and interactive paradigms. However, the different things people
understand about genetics plays a role in the understanding of DSD.
The study and development of genetic technology is fertile ground
for a contemporary historical analysis of the pathological body and its
intersections with public and scientific opinions. In the case of DSD,
genetic discourse makes strong links between variance and un-health.
One need only mention eugenics, the social ideology that attributed
negative social value and personality disorders with physical attributes
such as blindness and physical disabilities.
Eugenics advocates selective breeding to avoid the proliferation of
undesired physical or social traits that were theorized to be hereditary
even before the discovery of DNA. Sir Francis Galton, one of the first
eugenic theorizers was Charles Darwin’s cousin, both of whom contributed to the conceptualization of a unit of heredity, later called the
41. A. D. �������
Dreger, Intersex in the Age of Ethics, University Publishing Group, Maryland,
1999, p. 111.�
76 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
In contemporary use, genetic illness can mean many different things,
from having the same general health problems as your relatives, to the
presence or lack of genes, to the presence or absences of genetic expression. Every day there are new articles published that declare the discovery of the gene for social and culturally defined behaviors such as
homosexuality, shyness, alcoholism and depression as well as the gene
for illnesses such heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s
disease. Many endocrinologist and geneticists dismiss claims for the
genetic basis of complex behavior categories such as those mentioned,
and clarify that in most cases of physical pathology genetic testing represents a probability of manifestation, not a certainty. Genetic theory is a
developing science, and the discourses of cutting edge research, public
understanding and medical understanding overlap and divide.
The bio-ethical debates surrounding the vocabulary of genetic determinism touch many issues that are related to DSD/intersex. Among
these issues are disability politics, pre-natal testing, selective abortion,
reproductive responsibility, reproductive autonomy, personal identity,
gender identity, behavior genetics, race and disease, but also dominance, penetrance and expressivity in genetic vocabulary. 42 Disability
activists argue that the discourse of genetic determinism dismisses the
validity of difference, and encourages passive eugenics through prenatal testing and abortion.
In a much-publicized case in Naples on the 11th of February 2008, 43
for instance, the prenatal DNA testing results described Klinefelter’s
as a severe genetic illness, which is informed by the conjunction of the
belief that genes express uniformly and the belief that physiological
deviance is equal to illness. When I asked Emi Koyama, intersex activist of the USA and Japan, what she thought about the case in Naples,
she responded: “Generally my response to this sort of cases is that we
need to build a society where children born with various disabilities
and deformities would not face such harsh lives, and where families
with such children are well supported”. 44
In much of Western society, the type of support that disabled peo42. Dominance intended as the increased likelihood of one gene expressing instead
of another, as in eye color, penetrance intended as the “weight” of a gene, how likely it is
to express, Expressivity intended as the probability a gene will express. See Parker and
Ankeny, Mutating Concepts, Evolving Disciplines: Genetics, Medicine, and Society, op. cit.�
43. La Repubblica, February 11, 2008, pp.4-6.
44. E. Koyama, email response, 13 February, 2008.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 77
ple and their families request has not arrived. Intersex activists argue
that, until there is a social shift that includes a change in the medical
discourse surrounding physical variation, it will continue to be hard to
live as intersex, not because of the syndromes themselves, but because
of how they are treated and interpreted.
Similarly, intersex activist Esther Morris’s observation that “not having a
vagina was not my problem; having to get one was”, can be paraphrased
to say: not having a vagina was not a disability; the social expectation that
she needed to get one in order to live happy and productive life marked her
body disabled. 45
We thus return to a discussion of the discourse of pathology and
genetics. Medical practice draws on both pathology theory, variance
from the statistical norm as un-health, to the symptomatic model, in
which disturbances are manifest and observable in the patient. As
we have seen, in many DSD syndromes the physiological difference,
based on genetic diagnosis, manifests as a psychosocial issue related to
gender rather than a physical health risk. Parents of DSD individuals
state that this discursive model, which focuses on pathology defined
by genetic variation as opposed to the presence of physical health risk,
has a drastic impact on their understanding of the severity of the diagnosis assigned to their child.
The fact that we generally accept that XY means male and XX means
female is direct evidence of how quickly and directly the discovery of
DNA has worked its way into the casual linguistics of gender. Contemporary genetic research illustrates the social divide in accepting genetically deterministic definitions of the body and pathology. On one
side we have the development of epigenetics, which investigates environmental and situational effects on genetic expression. On the other
we have research grants that fund research based on the deterministic
conceptual model that equates the presences of a gene with the manifestation of a precise characteristic such as a behavior or illness.
To understand why the genetic deterministic model is debated in
scientific research as well as social theory it is interesting to briefly
look at the development of the gene as a conceptual model and the
development of terms such as dominance, penetrance and expressivity
in genetic dialectics.
45. E. Koyama,
������� “Intersex Initiative”, keynote speech presented at Translating Identity
conference held at University of Vermont in February, 2006.
78 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
The concept of the gene has undergone significant changes since its
conception in the past century. The story of genetics as a sub discipline
of biology starts with the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s research on
plant heredity at the end of the 19th century. Historians such as Garland
E. Allen maintain that many contemporary uses of the term “gene” in
both scientific and lay usage mirror many of the same connotations
and implications of the original Mendelian concept. 46 He links this to
the attempt to redefine biology as a “hard” experimentally-based science and the adherence to a philosophy of mechanistic materialism in
the development of the discipline itself.
Peter Portin divides the history of genetics into three periods.
1. the period of the ‘classical gene,’ based on Mendel’s original … (19001930);
2. the period of the biochemical or developmental gene… (1930-1955); and
3. the period of molecular genetics, beginning with the discovery of the
structure of DNA and continuing through the Human Genome Project
(HGP) …concerned with the molecular structure of the gene and its functioning in the transcription and translation (1955-present). 47
One could add a fourth period of Evo-Devo (Evolution-Development) and Epigenetics (environmentally influenced), both of which
re-shift the focus of genetic study to embryonic development, and the
impact of internal and external environment factors (such as environmental changes) on gene expression.
In the era that Mendel’s research was rediscovered we see biology
shift from a descriptive discipline that is concerned with comparative
anatomy and taxonomy to an experimentally based science. At the
same time there a the paradigm shift from evolution by special creation to Darwin’s theories of natural selection. Allen maintains that the
shift toward experimental biology was facilitated by younger researchers’ interests in embryological differentiation and development. 48 Yet
he also maintains that this attempt to remodel biology as a “hard” experimental discipline was modeled not after the experimental physics
of the early 1900s but after the classical positivist model that was can46. L. S. �������������������������
Parker and R. A. Ankeny, Mutating Concepts, Evolving Disciplines: Genetics,
Medicine, and Society, op. cit., pp. 11-13.�
47. P. Portin, “The concept of the gene: short history and present status”, Quarterly
Review of Biology, 68, 1993, pp. 173-174.
48. L. S. �������������������������
Parker and R. A. Ankeny, Mutating Concepts, Evolving Disciplines: Genetics,
Medicine, and Society, op. cit., pp. 15-17.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 79
onized at the time in textbooks. He states that this encouraged adherence to an atomistic, mechanistic model as opposed to a holistic model.
He defines these new trends in biology, especially in the United States,
through a summary of mechanistic materialism in which; parts are distinct from the whole, the whole must be studies through a break down
of its parts, there are no “emergent” properties in the whole that come
from the association of its parts, systems change over time only due
to external factors. He sums it up by stating: “Finally, the mechanistic worldview is basically atomistic, viewing phenomena in terms of a
mosaic of separate, interacting, but ultimately independent parts”. 49
By 1912 many biologists had accepted the Mendelian model, which
fit directly into the mechanistic model due to its particulate, atomistic
nature. However, originally the Mendelian gene concept was heuristic, not described as an entity. Plant breeder Johannsen, who coined
the term “gen” or “gene” in 1909, wrote “No hypothesis about the nature of this ‘something’ should therefore be constructed or supported”.
Morgan states in his 1933 Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
There is no consensus of opinion amongst geneticists as to what the genes
are-whether they are real or purely fictitious-because at the level at which
the genetic experiments lie it does not make the slightest difference whether
the gene is a hypothetical unit or whether the gene is a material particle. In
either case the unit is associated with a specific chromosome, and can be
localized there by purely genetic analysis. 50
In 1911 Johannsen introduced the analytic separation of genotype
and phenotype, which as we have seen is at the crux of defining gender in intersex cases. This concept was furthered by R.A. Fisher who
adopted it into statistical population model. Although criticized as an
oversimplification, this model provided a rigorous basis to evolutionary theory. “A species or a population became an aggregate of genes,
interacting randomly, much as do atoms or molecules in an idealized
gas”. 51
The rise of molecular genetics has seen many changes in the conceptualization of the gene. Genes are no longer seen as Mendelian discrete
entities, but they have been given material structure, at first simplistic,
49. Ibid., pp. 16-17.
50. T. H. Morgan, “The relation of genetics to physiology and medicine (Nobel Lecture)”, Scientific Monthly, 41, 1935, pp. 5-18.�
51. L. S. �������������������������
Parker and R. A. Ankeny, Mutating Concepts, Evolving Disciplines: Genetics,
Medicine, and Society, op. cit., p. 28.
80 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
now interactive. Allen summarizes the co-existence of the “classical”
mechanistic model with new theory:
Today, we have ample evidence for the actual interaction of genes and gene
products, various “genes” or DNA segments coding for several domains of
a single protein [...] along with a variety of regulatory mechanisms, so that
an understanding of how genotype may be transformed into phenotype appears more attainable than at any time in the past.
However, the old mechanistic materialist notions of the gene still persist in
a variety of ways in both the professional scientific, and especially popular,
literature about heredity. And nowhere is this more prominent, ad perhaps
more dangerous, than in research on the genetics of human behavior and
personality traits that has increased in frequency and boldness of assertion
on the coattails of the Human Genome Project (HGP). 52
Allen illuminates a series of issues within this conflation of models, from practical concerns about the definition of genetic illness and
medical coverage of preexisting conditions, to the difficulty of teaching
a non mechanistic model of genetics within the generally mechanistic
paradigm of biology. I would like to bring our attention back to the
conceptual model of genotype/phenotype and the medicalization of
genetic variance named genetic illness.
Allen points out the imbedded contradictions in the paradigm by
stating: “that embryologists have known for virtually a century that
development is not a mere unfolding of invariant form”. 53
Other historians such as Douglas Allchin, Manfred D. Laubichler,
and Sahotra Sarkar have addressed how the development of terms such
as “dominance”, “penetrance” and “expressivity” seek to reconcile the
mechanistic materialist model with the variance in actual genetic expression. Certain definitions of genetic or hereditary illness have taken
into account the probability factor that a genotype may give a certain
phenotype, while other cases, such as obesity, may create conflicting
levels of definition. As we can see, different social factors may lead to
the expression of a genetic tendency towards obesity, and seeing as
obesity is a relatively recent disease category, there are still conflicting opinions on where the boundaries of physical pathology (physical health risk) overlap with the psycho-social issue. There are several
things to consider in respect to genetic illness given the development
of the gene paradigm for each specific case that I have not addressed in
52. L. S. �������������������������
Parker and R. A. Ankeny, Mutating Concepts, Evolving Disciplines: Genetics,
Medicine, and Society, op. cit., p. ��
53. Ibid., p. ���
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 81
this discussion: is the definition of genetic pathological based on difference or suffering, is this suffering social, physical and/or psycho-social
in nature and, what is the level of variance between genotype/phenotype relevant in defining a syndrome?
In the development of the discipline of endocrinology, an analysis
of the physical health of intersexuals emerges for the first time. The investigation into hormonal imbalances, the developmental process and
internal processes provided the backbone for conceptualizing DSD as
pathological defined as unhealthy instead of pathological defined as
different. Given the variety of syndromes included in the DSD category, there is a huge variation of potential health risks on a hormonal
level. However, Emi Koyama of the Intersex Initiative (among others)
states that most intersex individuals are medicalized at an early age
surgically (for potential psycho-social problems based on the genital
differences) and not followed on an endocrinological level. This suggests that treatment is not always focusing on actual physiological
health issues.
In order to place DSD discourse in actual medical practice, I have
carried out a series of interviews with doctors in specialized centers
in Italian hospitals. One doctor reports that in his experience the two
most common syndromes in his region of Italy are CAH (Congenital
Adrenal Hyperplasia, 1/13,000) and AIS (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, Complete 1/13,000, Partial 1/130,000). In both cases he would
recommend the individual be raised as a female. CAH represents one
of the few DSDs that can have life threatening health ramifications,
sometimes leading to a fatal salt loss soon after birth. He states that
for this reason neo-natal screening is performed in families with a history of the syndrome. Postnatal screening has been routine in many
regions since 1976. CAH implies a “masculinization” of the genitals,
creating in an XX individual the external masculine genitalia with often fully functioning ovaries and uterus (in the case of XY the only
“abnormality” is high testosterone levels and possible salt imbalance)
and is therefore assigned the female gender based on her ability to give
birth. These individuals generally have stable female gender identity.
However CAH gender identity was put under much scrutiny due to
82 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
atypical gender behavior and the high occurrence of homosexuality.
One must report the legal gender of the child within ten days after
birth, after which it is difficult and complicated to change a child’s legal gender. The treatment usually involves a surgical modification of
the genitalia and hydrocortisone therapy, even when the risk of salt
imbalance is not present.
AIS (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome) designates, as the name implies, a non-metabolism of androgens as a masculinizing hormone. An
individual with complete AIS will develop female secondary sex characteristics, a vaginal canal without a uterus and internal male gonads.
Many people with AIS are diagnosed when either their gonads herniate, when they fail to menstruate, they are discovered to be infertile or
to possess a shortened vaginal canal. They will often have their gonads
removed and be put on hormone therapy and perhaps have surgery to
lengthen the vaginal canal.
The removal of the gonads before puberty is based on research that
associates higher risks of cancer in gonads with mixed tissue, yet in
this case mixed tissue is not present. The testosterone produced by
the gonads is metabolized as estrogen and provides female secondary
sex development, therefore the removal seems to be a psycho-social
choice. Among the people I spoke with, it seems there is a increased
level of diagnosis, many individuals had family members who were
not diagnosed as AIS but were infertile and displayed the same characteristics of “le belle donne” (the beautiful women) tall, without body
hair and acne.
Some of the individuals that I spoke with who had been diagnosed
with AIS were told of the medical diagnosis many years after their gonads had been removed. Their medical experience and surgery were
not instigated by their own discomfort. The Italian AIS patient group
advocates for informed, non-alarmist disclosure, re-evaluation of early
gonadectomy, vaginal dilation as first line intervention, and de-stigmatization of the syndrome through more public discussion.
People with partial AIS have often “ambiguous” genitalia at birth
and therefore are likely to be treated with surgery at a young age. The
gender choice of the doctors in the case of PAIS is usually female, based
on the opposite rationale from CAH: that is, aesthetic rather than reproductive. In the case of “ambiguity” the aesthetic will be assisted
by plastic surgery, the down sizing of the clitoris, creation of a vaginal
passage and occasionally of labia. A doctor may see a different need
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 83
for surgical reduction depending on whether they use the rigid statistical average of 0.345 centimeters for infant female clitoris length or
the more elastic average of 0.2 to 0.85. 54 The surgical reduction of the
clitoris usually has the long-term effect of reducing sensation and rendering the future adult non-orgasmic (as discussed in cases of female
genital mutilation in Islamic practice). Patient groups are increasing
advocate the use of vaginal dilation instead of more invasive surgical
techniques (that often require follow-up surgery).
In one of few available follow-up studies, a group of operated
women were reported to have a reasonable level of sexual satisfaction,
while also reporting to be unable to achieve orgasm. 55 Although claims
are made that surgery continues to be perfected (yet again with little follow-up research), many children will have to undergo repeated
surgeries to reopen their vaginal passage. In the case of partial vaginal
passage dilation, various techniques can be used, some of which are
less invasive than others. New research that attempts to assess longterm patient satisfaction is inconsistent in results.
Hypospadias and micro-phallus are not genetically defined and refer largely to aesthetic differences. Surgery to reposition the urethra
has often the need to be repeated (as does enlargement or creation of
the vaginal passage) and can lead to previously unexperienced urinary
tract infections. Recently surgeons have been further developing penile
reconstructive surgery, before which, even in cases of micro-phallus or
hypospadias children would occasionally be reconstructed to female
form. A phallus is seen as having to be at least eight centimeters. The
main difference between a phallus and a clitoris, besides the recommended length, is the meatus, the erectile tissue, which is the another
concern in surgical processes in either direction. There is also evidence
that penile size at birth does not correlate to size after puberty.
5-alpha reductase is noted to be common in the Dominican Republic, referred to as “guevedoche” (penis at twelve), where it was not
particularly medicalised. 56 A child will be raised as a girl until puberty,
at which point, responding to an increased level of hormonal activity, the body takes on male secondary sex characteristics. Because it is
present as a conceptual category in the macrocosm, it can be acceptable
54. A. Fausto-Sterling,
����������������� Sexing the Body, op. cit.
55. Lesma et al., “Feminizing genitoplasty: psychsexual outcomes”, abstract for International meeting on Anomalies of Sex Differentiation, Promoarch, Rome, 2006.
56. A. Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body, op. cit.
84 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
to choose either gender after the change as long as one chooses, while
in the microcosm of the family there may be pressures in one direction
or the other. In the United States, if noted, the child is usually operated
on at birth and given a male gender assignment. The use of increased
genetic evaluation since 2000 in certain regions of Italy has reveal some
people diagnosed with PAIS are actually genetically 5-alpha reductase. In all cases, most modern doctors advocate the use of a medical
team consisting of an endocrinologist, a surgeon, and a therapist, yet
most also admit that these resources are not always available locally.
And perhaps more importantly, “the cognitive or general psychological development of affected children has hardly been studied “. 57
I would like return briefly to Klinefelter’s syndrome. In 1942, Klinefelter 58 and colleagues identified this new syndrome. It is often identified
by a low sperm production and small testicles in men. Although it is
diagnosable based on genetic testing, it still often goes un-noticed due
to the lack of significant aesthetic difference and physiological health
issues. One can say it is a syndrome born through the technological
discoveries of DNA and genetic testing, although obviously what we
are talking about is a re-naming within the new epistemological construct of the body.
Klinefelter’s syndrome has been associated with a lower IQ and
learning disabilities, although largely through its categorical association with Turner’s syndrome (X,O) which betrays high levels of learning disabilities, as they are both classified as endo-cellular hermaphrodism due to the missing or additional chromosomes. The low level of
testosterone can result in uninhibited long bone growth, therefore the
individuals are usually tall and can develop osteoporosis. One of main
medical concerns has been the psychosocial issue of a feminised personality (not gender identity) and possible homosexuality, or feminisation of the male phenotype body seen in terms of the proportions body
fat versus muscle. Sometimes one is treated with androgens. Among
doctors I have interviewed in previous work, the general opinion is
that Klinefelter’s syndrome does not present a major health risk.
Referring back to the 11 February case in Naples, diagnosis such as
a severe genetic illness in the case of Klinefelter’s syndrome is there57. P. T. Cohen-Kettenis
and F. Pfafflin, Transgenderism and Intersexuality in Childhood
and Adolescence, op. cit.
58. T. M. Caffaratto, L’ermafroditismo umano. Storia-clinica-medicina legale, op. cit.
From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD / 85
fore problematic. Where it is possible that an XXY individual will have
a lower IQ than their family members, there is not consensus as to
whether this is statistically relevant compared to the general population. Aside from discussing the merits of certain treatment protocols
in adult life, how a diagnosis is communicated directly affects how
potential parents will see the child and whether they decide to keep it.
There is interesting research that indicates a lack of consistency in diagnosis description from field to field and country to country, and that
that information can affect pregnancy termination rates. 59
The missing part of this history I have presented in this paper, unfortunately, are the voices of those diagnosed with DSD and their interpretations of the diagnosis. The lack of information, or misinformation
that inhibits informed consent by the parent and the child, has been a
significant issue in the bioethical debate surrounding intersex/DSD. In
1620, the Scottish medical student John Moir summed up the problems
of this subject that seems still to lead to a lack of discussion in present
day: “a consideration of the genital members is very difficult, and everything should not be revealed particularly with youths, because sin
makes the subject of generation diabolical and full of shame, and a
discussion might excite impure acts”. 60
Moreover what is discussed by patients is often not the pain of
the syndrome but the pain of the treatment, the implied shame and
silence, and the overall medical experience – the way in which it is
handed from one doctor to the next. This is documented through interviews in works such as Intersex in the Age of Ethics by Alice Dorumat
Dreger and Lessons from the Intersexed by Suzanne Kessler. 61 Having
one’s body treated as a medical emergency, medicalized, will inherently lead to questioning its validity. Concurrent with the change in
terminology from intersex to DSD in 2006, many individual syndrome
patient groups have been created in Italy, which seems to indicate that
the change in terminology will be accompanied by new treatment protocols that will address these issues. In fact, the Italian DSD patient
groups mirror many of the considerations and concerns discussed in
59. S. �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Hall, T. M. Marteau, C. Limbert, et al., “Counselling following the prenatal
diagnosis of Klinefelter syndrome: comparisons between geneticists and obstetricians in
five European countries”, Community Genet, 4, 2001, pp. 233-238.
60. J. Moir, Anatomical Education in a Scottish University, 1620: An Annotated Translation
of the Lecture Notes of John Moir, Equipress, Aberdeen, 1975.
61. S. Kessler, Lessons from the Intersexed, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick,
N.J., 1998.
86 / From Hermaphroditism, to Intersex and DSD
this paper. Interestingly, their tactics involve collaboration with university hospitals and key medical figures, using medicalization itself
as a tool. Within the medicalized paradigm as expressed by the patients, there is hope to shed centuries of stigma and fixation on gender
assignment, shifting research and care protocols towards the problems
expressed by those directly involved – the diagnosed.
Crime, Race, and National Identity
from Liberal to Fascist Italy
Massimiliano Pagani
Cesare Lombroso’s criminal anthropology, developed between the
1870s and the 1890s, is probably the best known Italian criminological theory of all times. Considered “overwhelmingly significant for the
development of criminology”, this theory inspired research on criminal rates and the Italian national security system in the years that followed the unification. 1 Scholars who investigated the reasons behind
the international success of criminal anthropology have put forward a
list of “intellectual feats” such as: 1) criminal anthropology represented a powerful synthesis of previous approaches to the study of crime;
2) it promoted the medical model as the frame within which criminal
. As fa as the English literature is concerned, see J.
A. Davis, Conflict and Control. Law
and Order in Nineteenth-Century Italy, Macmillan Education Ltd����������������������������
, London, 1988; ������������
J. Dunnage,
The Italian Police and the Rise of Fascism. A Case Study of the Province of Bologna, 1897-1925,
Praeger Publisher,�����������������������������������������������������������������
Westport, 1997; S. C. Hughes������������������������������������
, “Fear and Loathing in Bologna and
Rome the Papal Police in Perspective”, Journal of Social History,������������������������������
1, 1987, pp. 97-116;�����
continuità del personale di polizia negli anni dell’unificazione nazionale italiana”, Clio,�����
3, 1990, pp. 337-364��; Crime, Disorder and the Risorgimento. The Politics of Policing in Bologna,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,��������������������������������������������
1994; and M.
Barbagli and L. Sartori, “Law
enforcement activities in Italy”, Journal of Modern Italian Studies,��������������������������
9, 2, 2004, pp. 161-185��.
A part from Wolfgang’s contribution to the series of monograph on the Pioneers in
Criminology, in 1961 (M. E. Wolfgang,
“Pioneers in Criminology: Cesare Lombroso (18351909)”, The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science, 52, 4, 1961, pp. 361-391��)
a biography of Lombroso in English language has not been published yet. A limited
number of works deal with specific aspects of his theory. Within this group, see M. S.
Gibson��, Born to Crime. Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological Criminology, Praeger,
Westport, 2002 and “Cesare Lombroso and Italian Criminology: Theory and Politics”, in
R. F. Wetzell and P. Becker (eds.), Criminals and Their Scientists. The History of Criminology
in International Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2006, pp. 137-158;����
G. Horn��, Social Bodies,�������������������������������������������������
Princeton University Press, Princeton,����������
1994 and The Criminal Body.
Lombroso and the Anatomy of Deviance, Routledge, London,���������������������
2003; N. H. ��������
Rafter, The Criminal
Brain. Understanding Biological Theories of Crime, New York University Press,��������������
New York and
London, 2008�����������
; D. Pick��, Faces of degeneration. A European disorder, c. 1848-c. 1918, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1989.�������������������������������������������������
The complete edition of Lombroso’s masterpiece,
L’uomo criminale, had to wait until 2006 to be translated in English, The Criminal Man, M.
S. Gibson and N. H. Rafter (eds.), Duke University Press,��������������
Durham, 2006�.
88 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
behavior could be completely understood; 3) it could produce “blueprints” that offered governments new ways of dealing with deviants;
and 4) it turned criminology into a “full-fledged science”. 2
These reasons, however, do not explain why the synthesis, the
medical model, the blueprints, and the full-fledged science developed
by Cesare Lombroso received so much attention by professionals
and political elites. 3 This paper suggests an explanation inspired by
a case study on the development of Italian scientific policing. Strongly
influenced by Lombroso and directed for years by Lombrosians like
Salvatore Ottolenghi and Giuseppe Falco, the Rome School of Scientific Police represented the most successful institutional incarnation
of Lombroso’s theory. The history of this institution can explain both
criminal anthropology’s success under the liberal governments, and its
debacle during the fascist regime.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Lombroso’s biological approach to crime provided practical solutions to major political issues
like the southern brigantaggio, the rising political unrest, and the outburst of anarchist terrorism. In 1902, Lombroso’s scientific policing
promised solutions to these problems, while also promoting an effective standardization of bureaucratic procedures across different national institutions. More than that, scientific policing promoted by the
Rome School was a trustworthy interpreter of the cultural movement
that had supported the unification of the country. The understanding
of crime as a form of biological deviance, and the technologies devel-
. N. H. Rafter,
�������� The Criminal Brain. Understanding Biological Theories of Crime, op. cit.,�
p. 84.
. A part from Wolfgang’s contribution to the series of monograph on the Pioneers
in Criminology, in 1961 (M. E. ����������������������������������������������������
Wolfgang, “Pioneers in Criminology: Cesare Lombroso
(1835-1909)”, The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science, 52, 4, 1961, pp.
) we cannot find a biography of Lombroso in English language. A limited number
of works deal with specific aspects of his theory. Within this group, see M. S. Gibson��, Born
to Crime. Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological Criminology, Praeger, Westport, 2002
and “Cesare Lombroso and Italian Criminology: Theory and Politics”, in R. F. Wetzell and
P. Becker (eds.), Criminals and Their Scientists. The History of Criminology in International
Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2006, pp. 137-158;�������������
D. G. Horn��, Social
Princeton University Press, Princeton,����������
1994 and The Criminal Body. Lombroso and the
Anatomy of Deviance, Routledge, London,���������������������
2003; N. H. Rafter,
�������� The Criminal Brain. Understanding Biological Theories of Crime, New York University Press,����������������������������
New York and London, 2008��;
D. Pick��, Faces of degeneration. A European disorder, c. 1848-c. 1918, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 1989.�������������������������������������������������
The complete edition of Lombroso’s masterpiece, L’uomo criminale,
had to wait until 2006 to be translated in English, The Criminal Man, M. S. Gibson and N.
H. Rafter (eds.), Duke University Press,��������������
Durham, 2006�.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 89
oped to detect it, were indeed closely related to the defense of a liberal
model of society.
The very factors that promoted Lombroso’s scientific policing under the liberal governments, turned into a problematic heritage after
1922. Bereft of a clear racial content and promoting a conception of
human nature that contrasted with the fascist ideal of the “new man”,
Lombroso’s theories were hardly functional to the projects of social
engineering devised by the fascist regime towards the end of the 1920s.
This new orientation had major implications for the development of
techniques and practices like anthropometry and scientific policing.
If the former was reshaped in accordance to the new “constitutional” practices, the latter was gradually sidelined in favor of new police
The “Triste Primato”
The image of Italy emerging from the parliamentary debates on national security soon after the unification is the portrait of one of the
less civilized countries in Europe, a position that became known as the
triste primato (sad primacy). 4 Among those who participated to these
debates, some argued for a social explanation based on industrial and
social backwardness, pointing at indicators such as the high rate of unemployment, the massive internal migrations of day-laborers, the rates
of illiteracy, and to the insufficient political representation of large portions of the population. Far from questioning the dimension of this
problem, others suggested a different reading, and a prompt solution.
Pointing out that Italy was the only country in Europe, with the exclusion of the Ottoman Empire, where police did not used scientific
identification techniques of criminals, influent members of the Italian
professionals who dealt routinely with crimes and criminals claimed
that high rates of criminality and scientific deficiencies were strictly
connected. Divided into three main different and non-cooperative
corps, the Public Security, the Carabinieri, and the Municipal Police,
the agents of the Italian police forces were renowned for their propen. The definition is in C. Lombroso, Sull’incremento del delitto in Italia e sui mezzi per
arrestarlo, Fratelli Bocca, Torino, 1879; see also Davis Conflict and Control. ��������������
Law and Order
in Nineteenth-Century Italy,� op. cit., ch. 12, where the paternity is attributed to Turati 1882
publication on crime and social disorder.
90 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
sity to bribery, their connections with criminal organization, and their
poor training. Arguments in favor of the modernization and professionalization of the Italian police came especially from the leader of
an influent criminological movement called “criminal anthropology”,
Cesare Lombroso. 5
An alienist known for his studies on deficiency diseases, Cesare Ezechia Marco Lombroso (1835-1909) had a long experience with working
in asylums. His studies suggested the presence of an anthropological
hiatus separating civilized people from criminals and the mentally ill:
“I insisted that we should study lunatics as we would a special variety
of the human race, noting the skin, the form, the skull, and particularly
the functions, sensibility, etc”. 6 This idea of the criminal as a member of
a human sub-species enjoyed a particular fortune in the aftermaths of
the political unification of Italy. The government had to face strong resistances to the unification process, especially in the southern regions,
where the Italian army was engaged in ten years of civil war. War diaries written by northern officials during the southern campaign reveal
almost invariably their perception of being stranded in an uncivilized
country, inhabited by savages who fought, talked, and lived “like animals”. 7 Letters and official reports of the protagonists of the southern
campaign such as General Farini, depicted southern Italy as even more
“barbaric” than Africa, and southern caffoni (peasants) as animals. 8 In
1861, the first Lieutenant-General of Sicily, a Piedmontese, wrote in a
tone typical of a colonial ruler: “I doubt very much that the character of the people in Kabylia is more ferocious than that of the Bedou. Lombroso first promoted Italian scientific policing in Sull’incremento del delitto in
Italia e sui mezzi per arrestarlo, op. cit. Salvatore
Ottolenghi inaugurated the first course on
scientific policing at the Royal university of Siena in 1897, and remained a fierce promoter
of a modernization of the Italian police until his death in 1934. An account of the Italian
admiration for the English bobby is in S. C. Hughes “����������������������������������������
Poliziotti, Carabinieri e ‘Policemens’:
il bobby inglese nella polizia italiana”, Carte e la Storia,��������������������
2, 1996, pp. 22-31�.
. C. Lombroso�������������������������������������������������������
, “Criminal Anthropology: Its Origin and Application”, Forum,�����
1895, pp. 33-49��������������������������������
; quoted in D. M. Horton
(ed.), Criminology. The Literature of 19th Century
Criminological Positivism,
���������� Copperhouse,������������������������������
Incline Village, 2000,
p. 67.
. For a general account see J. Dickie, “Una parola in guerra: l’esercito italiano e
il «brigantaggio» (1860-1870)”, Passato e Presente, 26, X, 1991, pp. 53-74; D. Adorni, “Il
brigantaggio”, in L. Violante (ed.), Storia d’Italia. Annali. La criminalità, vol. 12, Einaudi,
Torino, 1997, pp. 281-319; S: Lupo, “Il grande brigantaggio. Interpretazione e memoria di
una guerra civile”, in W. Barberis (Ed.), Storia d’italia. Annali.
Guerra e pace, vol. 18, Einaudi,
Torino, 2002, pp. 463-502. An exemplar of the letters from the southern campaign is general
Farini’s to Cavour, where South-Italy is depicted more ‘barbaric’ than Africa, and southern
caffoni (rough peasants) animals compared to Bedouins; quoted in Muzzioli (1993: 10).
. In G. Muzzioli, Modena, Laterza, Bari, 1993.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 91
ins in this part of the island”. 9 The war on southern briganti (bandits)
brought to massacres of civilians and the systematic use of unconstitutional procedures and “special laws”. “The more brigantaggio could be
put outside the juridical space, the easier it was to legitimate the exceptional measures chosen to suppress it”. 10 Lombroso’s theory provided
a scientific way of getting precisely this result.
Lombroso’s Anthropological Reading of Criminals
In 1859, Lombroso volunteered as a doctor in the army, and in 1862
he spent a whole year in Calabria engaged in the fight against the “fierce
plague” of brigantaggio. Far from being marginal, this experience was
a milestone in Lombroso’s career, triggering the notion of atavism in
occasion of the autopsy of a leading brigand, Vilella. Lombroso noted
the presence of an “enormous median occipital fossa in place of the occipital median spine which occurs in the interior of the skull”, a feature
missing in the superior apes that he had studied in 1895. “I instantly
realised that the criminal must be a survival of the primitive man and
the carnivorous animals”. 11
Lombroso explained the presence of such a primitive character introducing his theory of atavism. Echoing other influent hypothesis
like Morel’s degeneration theory and Lucas’s hereditary transmission
of criminal characters, Lombroso assumed that the growth of the individual could be affected by both internal and external causes. These
causes could block the normal development of an individual to one of
the precedent levels of human evolution; they would thus manifest
“primitive” physical and mental characteristics, such as an abnormal
degree of aggressiveness, a lack of moral sense, and an unusually high
pain tolerance.
. Quoted in P. D’Agostino, “Craniums, criminals, and the ‘cursed race’: Italian
anthropology in american racial thought, 1861-1924”, Comparative Studies in Society and
History, 44, 2, 2002, p. 321.
10. R. Martucci, Emergenza e tutela dell’ordine pubblico nell’Italia liberale, Il Mulino,
Bologna, 1980, p. 64.
11. C. Lombroso, “Criminal
Anthropology: Its Origin and Application”, op. cit.; also
in F. ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Brown, “An Historical and Clinical Study of Criminality with Special Reference to
Theft”, Journal of the ��������������������������������������������������
Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology,������������������
21, 3, 1930, pp.
. Lombroso referred to this event in many publications, generating contradictory
descriptions thus generating the “Vilella Myth”, in R. �������
Villa, Il deviante e i suoi segni. Lombroso
e la nascita dell’antropologia criminale, Franco Angeli, Milano, 1985.
92 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
Lombroso did not define the mechanism of hereditary transmission
exclusively in biological terms. Largely in response to the critiques to
the first edition of L’uomo delinquente (1876), he argued for the integration of Haeckel’s law of recapitulation into his theory of atavism,
pushing the outbreak of the degeneration event within the fetal development, but without limiting it to childbirth. The propensity to crime
was rather the resultant of both occasional and primary actions, like
the predisposition to an illness. The fetus developed a set of behavioral potentialities due to his parents’ deviant behavior and habits as
well as to social and climatic conditions. Their actualization, however,
depended on the child’s subsequent experiences.
Lombroso’s inclusion of environmental influences in the hereditary
process had a clear Lamarckian imprint, and can be related to previous Italian readings of Darwin such as that by Canestrini. 12 In fact,
Lombroso’s theory of atavism was not inspired directly by Darwin, but
was rather rooted in the phrenological tradition, and in a specifically
Italian rendering of the concept of evolution. 13 Atavism was the cause
of every form of ordinary crime, from robbery to homicide, and also of
forms of social and political activity, from political demonstrations to
anarchist bombing. In two small books written in the 1890s, Il delitto politico e le rivoluzioni in rapporto al diritto (Political crime and revolutions
in relation to the law) and Gli anarchici: psicopatologia criminale di un
ideale politico (Anarchists: psychopathology of a political ideal), Lombroso made explicit references to the political situation in Italy. 14 For
12. A convincing account of the peculiar reading of Darwin by Lombroso is in G.
Pancaldi, Darwin in Italy. Science across cultural frontiers, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1991 and in R. Villa, Il deviante e i suoi segni. Lombroso e la nascita dell’antropologia
criminale, op. cit. According
to Rafter, Lombroso’s evolutionism took the form of a synthesis
of evolutionary thoughts that mixed together Lamarck, Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, Haeckel,
phrenology, and Paolo Marzolo. (N. H. Rafter,� The Criminal Brain. Understanding Biological
Theories of Crime, op. cit.)���������������������������������������������������������������
Marzolo in particular, the anthropologist Lombroso considered
the “Darwin of Italian anthropology”, in his L’uomo bianco e l’uomo di colore, Tip. F. Sacchetto, Padova, 1871, is the main inspiration to Lombroso’s focus on criminal forms of
communication. An inspiration to a sixteen years old Lombroso, Marzolo stressed the
link between psyche and language, a link Lombroso put to good use later on in his studies of prison palimpsests.
13. A leading advocate of the Italian biological approach to race, Giuseppe Viola, advanced a similar interpretation already in 1932. In his La costituzione individuale, Bologna,
Cappelli, 1932, Viola traced back the origin of both the constitutional school and of Lombroso’s criminal anthropology to “Gall and Lavater [as well as to] the sixteenth-century
physiognomists, who were more than a few, and most of all to Della Porta”.
14. C. Lombroso and R. Laschi, Il delitto politico e le rivoluzioni in rapporto al diritto,
all’antropologia criminale ed alla scienza di governo, Fratelli Bocca Editore, Torino, 1890;
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 93
Lombroso, human societies are instinctively conservative. The organic
and human development can only move slowly, being the result of
powerful frictions caused by both outer and inner events. It followed
that any abrupt and violent acceleration in the transformation of social life is unnatural. Such accelerations are only rarely justified by the
needs of an oppressed minority, and most of the time they have to be
considered as antisocial events – indeed as crimes. 15
Lombroso’s sympathy for the Socialist Party did not prevent him
from taking position against the Associazioni di Mutuo Soccorso (Associations of Mutual Assistance), one of the most successful self-organized forms of welfare at the end of the nineteenth century. 16 In 1876,
he wrote:
The irruption of modern civilization, together with a real forgery of freedom,
imposed political laws and new forms of popular government. It favored all
kinds of sodalizio (popular association) and the constitution of political and
administrative enterprises, or of association of mutual assistance. What happened in Palermo, Livorno and Ravenna shows how short is the distance
between those innocent and magnanimous enterprises and crime. 17
Such a statement echoed the anxiety of government officials about
popular forms of association like the Consociazione Repubblicana Romagnola (Republican Consociation of Romagna), a “union of more than
200 associations of mutual assistance, cooperatives, and cultural, recreational and more properly political associations”, 18 which were seen as
C. Lombroso, Gli anarchici. Psicopatologia criminale di un ideale politico, Claudio Gallone
Editore, Milano, 1894.
15. C. Lombroso and R. Laschi, Il delitto politico e le rivoluzioni in rapporto al diritto,
all’antropologia criminale ed alla scienza di governo, op. cit.
16. Bulferetti explains this apparent inconsistent behaviour recalling that Lombroso
was a member of the moderated and bourgeois branch of the socialist party in Turin,
and that in the 1899 political election the party was ready to sign a formal ally with the
liberal bourgeoisie with whom they shared common interests. The same rejection for the
militaristic turn of the Crispi government in 1898, that chose to repress the popular rally
with the help of the army, according to Bulferetti, places Lombroso within the moderated
political stream of the socialist party in Turin. �������������������
See L. Bulferetti, Cesare lombroso, UTET,
Torino, 1975.
17. C. Lombroso, L’uomo delinquente studiato in rapporto alla antropologia, alla medicina
legale ed alle discipline carcerarie, Hoepli, Milano, 1876, pp. 132-133.
18. M. Ridolfi, Il circolo virtuoso. Sociabilità democratica, associazionismo e rappresentanza
politica nell’ottocento, Centro Editoriale Toscano, Firenze, 1990, p. 171. ������������������
Association of Mutual Assistance appeared in Italy around 1860s. Most of them had limited relations with
political parties, representing more in a way for the bourgeois class to occupy the social
and political niches left by the aristocracy committed with older regimes. Mostly the Associations provided financial help and sanitary assistance to members of the working class,
guided by elements of the same social class in charge of the municipalities. In a few cases,
94 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
“the real engine of socialist enrolment”. 19 Lombroso’s approach to the
problem of anarchism is in many ways exemplar. In Il delitto politico, he
described anarchists mainly as tipi delinquenti (criminal types), 20 while
in his 1894 Gli anarchici they were insane individuals abnormally characterized by morphological stigmata easily recognizable through the
application of criminal anthropology. Such a conception offered the
government the possibility to dismiss new forms of social and political
activity as mere criminal activities. In 1878 a prefect reporting from
Modena wrote that he did “exclude the internationalists from the political parties” because they aim “at the destruction of the status quo,
at the massacre of wealthy citizens, and at the expropriation of their
goods”. They should therefore be considered as criminals, and dealt
with through the Penal Code. 21
The Science Behind
There was at least another feature of Lombroso’s theory that made
criminal anthropology politically interesting. Lombroso described the
human nature as essentially rigid, making men similar to old dogs that
cannot learn new tricks. Moreover, he emphasized criminal tendencies over racial features, which could support policies of isolation and
though, especially after the 1870s, they became a way for working class leaders to forge
the core of future labour unions. In particular, the camera del lavoro (labour chamber), an
institution founded to help workers defend their rights to work, was the most successful
attempt to link the socialist movement, with a strong support by city workers, and the
working class in the countryside. For an account on the Association of Mutual Help in
Italy after the national unification see M. Ridolfi, Il circolo virtuoso. �������������������������
Sociabilità democratica,
associazionismo e rappresentanza politica nell’ottocento, op. cit. and G. Azzi, Modena 1859-1898.
Condizioni economiche, sociali, politiche, Modena, 1970.
19. ASM rel. Pref. 1899, quoted in G. Azzi, Modena 1859-1898. Condizioni economiche,
sociali, politiche, op. cit., p. 281.
20. C. Lombroso and R. Laschi, Il delitto politico e le rivoluzioni in rapporto al diritto,
all’antropologia criminale ed alla scienza di governo, op. cit., p. 250.
21. ASM – Rel. Pref. gab. 221, II sem. 1878; quoted in G. Azzi, Modena 1859-1898.
Condizioni economiche, sociali, politiche, op. cit., p. 256. ���������������������������������
According to Richard Bach Jensen
criminal anthropology played a primary role in the Italian war against anarchists at the
end of the nineteenth century. The adoption of “a policy towards miscreant anarchists
that was congenial to that advocated by such criminal anthropologists [...] allowed the
government to reframe the whole question of anarchist assassination attempts, defusing
and diminishing their impact by looking at them basically as the deeds of the mentally
unbalanced, juvenile delinquents, and common criminals rather than of social reformers
or political activists”, in R. B. Jensen, “Criminal anthropology and anarchist terrorism in
spain and italy”, Mediterranean Historical Review, 16, 2), 2001, pp. 31-32.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 95
elimination of trouble-makers without engaging with the problematic
notion of an Italian race. 22
Lombroso’s theory was perceived by most as scientifically wellgrounded. Among the main resources used by Lombroso was the work
of the Belgian astronomer and mathematician Alphonse Quételet. In
the second half of the nineteenth century, Quételet had imported statistical analysis from astronomy into the study of society creating what
he called “social mechanics”. According to the Belgian scholar, the
regularities emerging from mortality rates, human heights, and chest
measurements cross-tabulated with sex, age, occupation, geographical
region and clustered around a set of average data would eventually
form the figure of what he called l’homme moyen (the average man).
To this extent, Quételet imported from astronomy the curve of error
distribution, giving it a new reading. In evaluating several measures
of actual phenomena, astronomers relied on the normal distribution of
the results. This distribution was represented by a mean value and a
standard deviation. Whenever the individual measurements clustered
around the mean value, the average was considered reliable. Quételet
applied this concept to social phenomena, “transforming mean into
real quantity” 23 and turning “real people [into] the flawed replicates of
the average man”. 24
According to Quételet, since both physical and moral human characters were natural features, the distribution of their individual occurrences took place according to the laws of nature, and gathered
homogenously around a characteristic value formed by the binomial
distribution. Since, he wrote, “all individuals come from an original
common mould”, the set of measuremtents form ordered clusters that
are subjected to the theory of probability. 25
22. The vision of man as an old dog, actually a shoal in an aquarium, is clearly exposed
in C. Lombroso, “���������������������������
Educazione anticriminale”, Archivio di psichiatria, scienze penali ed antropologia criminale per servire allo studio dell’uomo alienato e delinquente,�����������������������
1891, pp. 364-65��.
About Lombroso’s difficulties in accepting a racial approach to crime, see C. Lombroso,
L’antisemitismo e le scienze moderne, L. Roux e C. Editori, Torino, 1894, pp. 34-40.
23. I. ���������
Hacking, The Taming of Chance, Cambridge University Press,������������������
Cambridge, 1990,
p. 107.
24. T. M. Porter, “The mathematics of society: Variation and error in Quetelet’s statistics”, British Journal for the History of Science, 18, 1985, p. 67.
25. A. M. J. L. Quételet, Anthropométrie ou de l’homme, J. Baillière & Fils, Paris, 1871,
pp. 14-15.
96 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
Once the data regarding a population were placed on the axis of a
graph, then, and the number of individuals who show those characteristics was placed on the other, the numbers collected formed a normal
curve of distribution; the Gaussian bell shown in figure 1.
1. Quételet’s normal distribution of natural characters, in A. M. J. L.
Quételet, Anthropométrie ou de l’homme, op. cit.
Data such as those presented by Quételet raised interest well beyond the world of science and academia. A police clerk with a family
background in anthropology, Alphonse Bertillon was the head of the
Service d’Identité Judiciaire in Paris when he presented his system of anthropometric criminal identification at the 1885 International Congress
of Criminology in Rome. Using Quételet’s curve of normality as well
as the idea of man emerging from that figure, 26 Bertillon proposed a
system of individual identification that took almost literally many of
Quételet’s suggestions. In 1871, for example, the Belgian statistician
had emphasized the link between the physical harmony of the body
and the moral status of the individual. Drawing on cases from the history of art, Quételet argued for a link between “the delicacy and regularity of body traits”, and the rationality of one’s way of thinking. 27
Quételet focused his attention on specific “body traits”, like arms and
26. See A. Sekula, “The body and the archive”, October, 39, 1986, pp. 3-64, and C.
Valier, “True crime stories: Scientific methods of criminal investigation, criminology and
historiography”, British Journal of Criminology, 38, 1, 1998, pp. 88-105.
27. A. M. J. L. Quételet, Anthropométrie ou de l’homme, op. cit., p. 377.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 97
heads, and the way their measures varied between individuals and at
different ages. 28
Bertillon followed the hint and developed a system of identification
that translated the physical identity of a man into a formula based on
a set of measurements (height, arms length, trunk height, head length
and width, right ear length and width, left foot, left middle finger, left
little finger and forearm length). This digitalization turned Quetelet’s
physical-ethical link into a police practice of identification, inspiring
the structure of the modern criminal files and archives. At the 1885
Congress in Rome, Bertillon emphasized the direct connection between
Quételet’s binomial law and his own methods, comparing his innovative practice to that of Paul Broca, “who had steered anthropology in
a medical direction”, and had introduced quantification through his
statistical craniology. 29
At the same congress Lombroso praised bertillonage as the “practical side of anthropology”, and showed how one could use Quételet’s
binomial distribution and Bertillon’s anthropometry as the basis for a
new kind of criminal anthropology. A constant aspect in Lombroso’s
academic production was the search for reliable statistical data. Since
1881, he could rely on surveys carried out by assistants and colleagues
like Enrico Ferri and Brancaleone Ribaudo. These works grounded
Lombroso’s “anthropology of deviance” primarily in military anthropometry. 30 Around the turn of century, for example, Ridolfo Livi based
his Antropometria militare on three thousand military anthropometric
cards, which contained anthropometric data of about the twenty-four
percent of the male population between twenty and twenty-five year
old. 31 Although the military medical officers who carried out the mea28. Ibid., p. 58.
29. C. Valier, “True crime stories: Scientific methods of criminal investigation, criminology and historiography”, op. cit., p. 99.
30. B. Farolfi, “Antropometria militare e antropometria della devianza (1876-1908)”,
in F. Della Peruta (Ed.), Storia d’italia. Annali. Malattia e medicina, v. 7, Giulio Einaudi
Editore, Torino, 1984, pp. 1181-1219. E. Ferri, L’omicidio nell’antropologia criminale (omicida
nato e omicida pazzo), con atlante antropologico-statistico, Bocca, Torino, 1895; B. P. Ribaudo,
Studio antropologico del militare delinquente, Bocca, Torino, 1894. ����������������������������
For an overview see also S.
Patriarca, Numbers and Nationhood. Writing statistics in nineteenth-century Italy, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1996.
31. R. Livi, Antropometria militare: risultati ottenuti dallo spoglio dei fogli sanitari dei
militari delle classi 1859-63, eseguito dall’Ispettorato di sanita militare per ordine del Ministero
della guerra, Tip. Voghera Enrico, Roma, 1896; and Antropometria militare: risultati ottenuti
dallo spoglio dei fogli sanitari delle classi 1859-63, eseguito dall’Ispettorato di sanita militare per
ordine del Ministrero della guerra, Tip. Voghera Enrico, Roma, 1905.
98 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
surements had used inhomogeneous measuring techniques, Lombroso and his followers considered the final results to be consistent. In
1910, Salvatore Ottolenghi (1861-1934), a physician and former assistant of Lombroso at the University of Turin, also highlighted the key
role played by the binomial distribution of natural characters. 32
The Race of Criminals
The Società italiana di antropologia e di etnologia (Italian Society of Anthropology and Ethnology) was the key site for the Italian racial debate in the 1880s. One of the peculiarities of the Italian debate, when
compared to the international controversy between polygenists and
monogenists, was the multidisciplinary approach shared by most
scholars. 33 Within the society, Paolo Mantegazza discussed the problem of race with orientalists and philologists like Angelo de Gubernatis, ethnologists like Franco Pullè, psychologists like Enrico Morselli,
craniologists like Luigi Pigorini, as well as with Cesare Lombroso and
the anthropologist Giuseppe Sergi. 34 They all shared the common aim
of investigating and defining the alleged Italian race. What did actually a Sicilian and a Piedmontese have in common? To what extent
could history support to the idea of an Italian race?
Giuseppe Sergi, one of the founders of the society, was the author
of one of the main racial theories discussed in Italy at the time. He
refuted the quantitative approaches to the classification of races, such
as those based on the cephalic index. Instead, Sergi proposed a morphologic approach, in which the shape of the skull would be the main
differentiating character. His qualitative approach, together with the
primacy given to the skull, was similar to Lombroso’s semeiotic analysis. But Lombroso needed also numbers, hence the relatively minor
role played by Sergi in shaping Lombroso’s theory of the criminal. 35
32. S. Ottolenghi, Trattato di polizia scientifica. Identificazione fisica applicata alla medicina
e alle funzioni di polizia, v. 1, Società Editrice Libraria, Milano, 1910, p. 391.
33. A. Smedley, “Science and the idea of race: A brief history”, in J. M. Fish (Ed.), Race
and intelligence. Separating science from myth, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers,
Mahwah NJ, 2002, pp. 145-176.
34. F. De Donno, “La razza ario-mediterranea”, Interventions: International Journal of
Postcolonial Studies, 8, 3, 2006, pp. 394-412.
35. Gibson��������������������������������������������������������������������������
sustains the incompatibility of their theoretical positions framing them
within the international debate. As a result, the historian labels Sergi as a polygenist and
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 99
In fact, Sergi distinguished two main races, the Euroafrican or Aryan
and the Euroasiatic or Italic, abandoning Blumenbach’s grouping of
five. 36 Based on two primary skull forms, the elliptic and the spherical, this theory discriminated between mesocephalic and brachicephalic skulls and identified the Italian race in one of the varieties
that composed the Euroafrican race, namely the Mediterranean race.
Lombroso rarely talked of races in such terms. 37 Describing the
natural phenomenon of crime, he founded his analysis on statistics
à la Quételet – limited by definition to a geographical distribution of
physical characters within a population, independently from its racial
composition. For Sergi, on the contrary, individual profiles should
be perceived only in the context of a set of inherited racial characters, an assumption that run against the very notion of the “average
man”. When applied to criminal identification practices, Lombroso’s
approach faced problems similar to those that John Garson, head of
the British Anthropometric Office, would experience a few years later.
In 1900, Garson gave a talk at the Royal Anthropological Institute of
Great Britain and Ireland. At that time, anthropometry was in open
competition with Galton’s fingerprinting as the official British criminal
identification technique. Replying to a specific question, Garson had
to admit that the anthropometric measurements should either show
racial characteristics and be of use to the ethnologist, or they should
show individual peculiarities and therefore be of value to the criminologist. They certainly could not do both things at once. 38
Lombroso as a monogenist. M. S. Gibson, Born to Crime����������������������������������
. Cesare Lombroso and the Origins
of Biological Criminology, op. cit., p.113.
36. In 1795 Johann Friedrich Blumenbach proposed “the most influential of all racial
classifications” of human kind in five main groups: Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian,
American, and Malay. One of the first classification, that according to Gould strongly
influenced Blumenbach’s, had been advanced by Carolus Linneus who divided men in
Asiaticus, Africanus, Europaeus and Americanus, on the basis “on physical features, but
also [...] geographical locations”. S. J. Gould, The mismeasure of man, Penguin, London, 1997,
p. 401; see also A. Smedley, “Science and the idea of race: A brief history”, op. cit.
37. The only clear exception is represented by the comparison between African and
European people mainly in C. Lombroso, L’uomo delinquente studiato in rapporto alla antropologia, alla medicina legale ed alle discipline carcerarie, op. cit.; still, this distinction fade away
whenever Lombroso deals with crime in the various editions of L’uomo delinquente.
38. On Garson’s opposition to Galton’s fingerprinting see S. A. Cole, Suspect identities:
A history of fingerprinting and criminal identification, Harvard University Press, London,
2002. Garson’s talk is in J. G. Garson, “The metric system of identification of criminals, as
used in great britain and ireland”, The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain
and Ireland, 30, 1900, pp. 161-198.
100 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
Especially after the third edition of L’uomo delinquente, Lombroso
talked of natural phenomena in term of normal and abnormal degrees,
framing the analysis within Quételet’s binomial law, and using the
graphical distribution represented by the bell curve. Lombroso was
aware of the geographical limitations of this approach and he calibrated the scale of his analysis accordingly. When he spoke of the “savage
man” in the first edition of L’uomo delinquente he spoke of tribes – native American, African, and Indian – all deep-seated in their territory
and without clear biological distinctions. 39 Sometimes he made distinctions within a single race – intended as a population geographically
distributed on a territory – like when he spoke of Bedouins, who “are
honest and industrious tribes, but many are parasitic, known for their
impulse to adventures, their thoughtless courage, their need for constant mobility, their lack of occupation, and their tendency to steal”. 40
Then Lombroso isolated certain individuals within a single tribe,
and focused his attention on them.
Among the Hottentots and the Kafirs there are savage individuals, unfit for
any kind of job, who lives off other people’s resources, [...] Similar data let us
sense the importance of race for crime. Unfortunately, as far as the civilized
world is concerned, the data that could support such a demonstration are
scant and uncertain. We know that the majority of the thieves in London are
sons of Irish immigrants; that the most skilful thieves in London are born in
Lancashire. In Russia, according to Anutshin, Bessarabia and Cherson have
the highest criminal rates, if we exclude the capital; […] crime goes from family to family. 41
Race, however, played always a marginal role in Lombroso’s scientific explanation of criminal behavior. In the end, the criminal was
linked to his territory and his cultural roots, bound by the limits of
application of Quételet’s binomial law. Families seemed to be the main
actors in Lombrosian analysis. Families influenced by the geographical, geological, and historical background of Italian cities, 42 or like the
“rapacious Berber and Semitic tribes” that migrated to Sicily where
“anatomic type, customs, politics, and morals still show an Arabic
mould”. 43
39. C. Lombroso, L’uomo delinquente studiato in rapporto alla antropologia, alla medicina
legale ed alle discipline carcerarie, op. cit., p. 123.
40. Ibid.
41. Ibid. emphasis added.
42. Ibid., pp. 123-124.
43. Ibid. �����������������������������������
in “Tre mesi in calabria”, Rivista Contemporanea, 35, 121, 1863, pp.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 101
The same shift from race to families and from blood to culture can
be found whenever Lombroso spoke of Jews and Gypsies. When discussing the former, he easily mixed up biological explanations, such as
the Jews being considered a Semitic race, 44 with historical justifications
– as when he described their crimes as a reaction to “the exclusion
from every job and public assistance, the backlash against persecuting
and armed races”. 45 His description of the Gipsies lacked any biological connotation. In this case, the “vivid representation of a whole race
of criminals” was explained in terms of culture and customs. 46
The same integration of geographical and biological definitions of
race could be found in the subsequent editions of L’uomo delinquente.
In the third and the fourth edition, Lombroso offered his reader a personal rogue gallery, with photographs of criminals from various countries. Lombroso did not make racial distinctions between Americans,
Germans, and Italians, and considered the national groups as homogenous groups in Quételet’s sense. Moreover, in extending his connection between mental deficiency and criminal behavior, he stated that
it was comparable to “the case of cretins”, where “the morbid replaces
the racial characters”. 47 In another edition (1896), he articulated his position in relation to Sergi’s racial theory. In a section dedicated to the
importance of cranial capacity as a reliable detector of criminal behavior, he conceded that Sergi was right in saying that:
the “individual variety” cannot be defined on the basis of the deviation of
the individual skull capacity from the average capacity in that region. It
should rather be detected on the basis of the differences between the capacity of the individual skull and the capacity of the average skull of that same
variety in the same region. 48
399-435, where Lombroso first revealed his theory of the enduring presence of Semitic
people in the Southern regions, his description of the racial melting pot progressively
focused to the family level, supported by strong cultural evidences more than physical
44. C. Lombroso, L’uomo delinquente studiato in rapporto alla antropologia, alla medicina
legale ed alle discipline carcerarie, op. cit., p. 128. Few
years later, in his L’antisemitismo e le
scienze moderne, op. cit.,������������������������������������������������������������������
Lombroso easily spoke of Jews as a mixture of Aryans and Semitic
populations, extending then his cultural reading of the “nature” of Jews and eventually
rejecting a biological definition for the Judaic race.
45. C. Lombroso, L’uomo delinquente studiato in rapporto alla antropologia, alla medicina
legale ed alle discipline carcerarie, op. cit., p. 126.
46. Ibid., p. 127.
47. C. Lombroso, L’uomo delinquente in rapporto all’antropologia, alla giurisprudenza ed
alle discipline carcerarie, 4 edn, Fratelli Bocca Editori, Torino, 1889, p. 254.
48. C. Lombroso, L’uomo delinquente in rapporto all’antropologia, alla giurisprudenza e alle
discipline carcerarie, 5 edn, vol I, Fratelli Bocca Editori, Torino, 1896, pp. 154-155.
102 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
This point of view turned the hierarchy between biological and
geographical conception of race upside down, rejecting Quételet’s approach to crime statistics as merely not racist in a pure biological sense.
Despite this admission, Lombroso clearly stated that Sergi’s discovery
didn’t generate “any real practical application in criminal anthropology”. 49
Other examples in favor of the inconsistent use of racial terminology in Lombroso can be easily found. This include his adoption of a
geographical conception of race, a kind of lay and popular conception, that allowed Lombroso to use Quételet’s statistics in his study
of criminals. 50 However, the Italian elites were ready to welcome this
approach to the question of race and the problem of deviant behavior.
After the unification of the country, the political problem of forging
the national identity of the Italian people was extremely urgent, and
biological racial differences did not seem to offer a useful solution. On
the contrary, flexible conceptions like the one that emerged from Lombroso’s work provided more interesting possibilities. In this respect, by
promoting a cultural conception of race strongly rooted in the Italian
cultural tradition, Lombroso and other members of the Italian Society
of Anthropology and Ethnology like Paolo Mantegazza were able to
offer to national politicians new and powerful scientific tools. In the
end, to quote Paolo Mantegazza, on earth “we can find neither races
nor species, but only families”. 51
The Foundation of the Scientific Police
At the turn of the century Lombroso found himself in the position to
advance his solution to the “triste primato” problem. In the 1890s Europe burst into flames of anarchy: between March 1892 and June 1894
eleven explosions rocked Paris. In June 1894, the French President Car49. Ibid., p. 156.
50. Lombroso’s court testimonies are exemplar in this respect. He often condensed
racial arguments in a brief overture that when he began to unravel the causes of the
criminal behaviour made room to pure criminal anthropological data like abnormal
physical traits and family issues. In the end, the criminal remained an individual, not a
sample of a race.
51. P. Mantegazza, Fisiologia del piacere, Treves, Milano, 1890, p. 521. A similar reading
of nineteenth-century Italian racism is in R. Maiocchi, Scienza italiana e razzismo fascista,
La Nuova Italia, Firenze, 1999.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 103
not was stabbed to death. In 1897 the Spanish Prime Minister Canova
met the same fate, and a murder attempt was made against the Italian
King Umberto I. Railroad stations, cafés, stock exchanges and institutional buildings became targets of violent attacks. Terrorists moved
in small groups and were almost undetectable through traditional
police methods. Many governments approved specific anti-anarchy
laws between the 1880s and the 1890s. Mostly these laws limited the
use and ownership of explosives, and proved useless against enemies
who could easily cross national borders and could count on the protection of a few safe havens. 52 It took the murder of Empress Elizabeth of
Austria, on September 10, 1898, to prompt international cooperation
against what was then seen as a common enemy. Between November
24 and December 21, 1898 an anti-anarchist international conference
was held in Rome. 53
For the Italian government this was an opportunity to implement a
plan of modernization of the national police corps. Experts of criminal
behavior directly related to Lombroso’s criminal anthropology had indeed denounced the many problems of a system of national security
that they considered technically and culturally inadequate. In particular, the investigation methodologies were considered backward and
in need of a scientific turn. 54 Renowned police officers like Giuseppe
Alongi, and Emilio Saracini, and government officials like Francesco
Leonardi asked for the adoption of a rational and centralized organization of the police information systems, and of scientific methodologies
in criminal policing in their articles in Rivista di polizia scientifica, and
in Manuale del funzionario di sicurezza pubblica e di polizia giudiziaria. 55
Others, in La Rivista di discipline carcerarie, referred clearly to Lombroso’s theory as a basis for modernization. The occasion to take a further
step occurred in 1894, when the Crispi administration inaugurated a
campaign for the rationalization of the national security system. This
campaign included a plan for the modernization of the Italian police
in line with the liberal belief in the positive social by-products of an
52. R. B. Jensen, “The International Anti-Anarchist Conference of 1898 and the Origins
of Interpol”, Journal of Contemporary History,�������������������������
16, 2, 1981, pp. 323-47�.
53. Ibid.
54. By “basic scientific culture” they meant the acknowledgement of the tenets of
criminal anthropology.
55. Francesco Leonardi, appointed in charge of the political branch of the national
security in the 1880s, became chief of the Police during the Giolitti era, at the beginning
of the twentieth century.
104 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
efficient bureaucracy. 56 The Crispi administration enrolled the most
influential experts and organized a team around Francesco Leonardi.
Among them were Cesare Lombroso and Salvatore Ottolenghi. 57
The 1898 conference against anarchism contributed importantly to
support the Lombrosian plan for the institution of an Italian scientific
police. The conference offered Lombroso and Ottolenghi the chance to
present their project to the highest political authorities. The plan required a radical change in the structure of the national security, which
had been thus far characterized by a distributed network of isolated
and almost autonomous nodes, the questure. Each questura kept cabinets where information about criminals were filed. Such a procedure
involved neither scientific identification techniques nor a central repository where all the files would be stored together. In such a context,
the moving of a criminal from a city to another was comparable with a
complete change of identity. Furthermore, the lack of resources and expertise in the questure caused embarrassing gaps in the archives, with
personal files not being updated properly by inadequately trained
agents. 58 Ottolenghi’s system required a massive political intervention,
a new form of training for agents, a more efficient management of the
information system, more rigid identification practices, and a new system of communication between the archives.
Previous attempts to reform the criminal national policy, like that
inspired by the work of Abele De Blasio in 1892, had made it clear how
strong was the resistance within the police forces to any form of modernization. 59 Even the 1898 decision to adopt Bertillon’s portrait parlé as
56. G. Melis, Due modelli di amministrazione tra liberalismo e fascismo, Libreria dello
stato, Roma, 1988.
57. G. Tosatti, “La repressione del dissenso politico tra l’età liberale e il fascismo.
L’organizzazione della polizia”, Studi storici, 38, 1997, pp. 217-255�.
58. Complaints about the low cultural level of Italian police officers are a popular
belief at the time. ������������������������������
See, for instance, G. Alongi, Manuale di Polizia Scietifica ad uso di Medici,
Periti, Avvocati, Magistrati, Funzionari della pubblica sicurezza, studenti, scrittori, giornalisti,
Società editrice Sonzogno. ���������������������������������������������������������
Milano, 1898. Administrative police work has always been
a heavy burden to carry for police officers. Ministry of Interior’s circulars promulgating instructions for a correct filling out of the criminal individual cards are a frequent
refrain in the communication between questure and Police General Administration. See,
for instance, the correspondence between the Milan questura and the prefecture in ACS
- Fondo Prefettura Gabinetto Serie I, b. 170.
59. De Blasio set up an anthropometric office at the Naple questura, an experiment
that lasted only for a period of trial as reported by G. Falco,� Identità. Metodo
scientifico di
segnalamento e identificazione, Tipografia delle Mantellate, Roma, 1923, and “Il gabinetto
di Polizia scietifica di Napoli’, Bollettino della scuola superiore di polizia e dei servizi tecnici
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 105
the international standard in criminal identification techniques, 60 had
been a failure. 61 Four years later, however, in the context of a broader
reorganization of the state bureaucracy, Francesco Leonardi, general
director of Public Security, decided to push through a project for the
centralization and rationalization of the police administration. Leonardi asked Salvatore Ottolenghi to design a basic file to facilitate and
optimize the personal records of offenders in every questura,. Ottolenghi worked on the pre-existing criminal biographic file – an eight pages
narration of the criminal’s biographical and juridical history – and
created a new, scientific cartella biografica dei pregiudicati (criminal biographic file), which included a simplified version of Bertillon’s portrait
parlé, and a full set of instructions for police officers.
Ottolenghi realized that this was his best chance to push for the
introduction of scientific methods of identification in police administration practices; hence, he designed the new document according
to the Lombrosian classification of criminal types. 62 The document
consisted in four sections, three of which were reserved to physical,
psychical, and biographic descriptions of the criminal. Taking into
consideration the low level of education of Italian police agents, Ottolenghi designed training courses in scientific policing reserved to a
few deputy commissioners and police officers. 63 The first lecture was
annessi, 24-25-26, 1937, pp. 165-67; see also A. Giuliano, Impronte digitali. �������������������
La Classificazione
Gasti, Tirrenia Stampatori Giuliano,
Torino, 2007.
60. The portrait parlé was a written summary of Bertillon’s eleven measurements in
the form of an oral description of the offender, together with other useful annotations of
body features like hair and eye colour, presence of tattoos, scars and so on.
61. Actually, on 4 July 1899 Prime Minister Pelloux promoted portrait parlé as the most
reliable method of identification of “villains in general and anarchists in particular.” (ACS
- Fondo PS - AAGGRR - Atti Speciali (1898-1943), b. 3, f. 16). Consequently, the government
adopted a strategy comparable to the one chosen by the Troup Committee in England
a few years earlier. In 1893, the adoption of fingerprinting at the core of British criminal
archives information was the issue at stake. The Committee, chaired by Mr. Charles E.
Troup, visited Bertillon’s laboratory in Paris trying to establish the degree of reliability
of the new criminal identification technique. IN 1898, the Italian government assigned
a similar mission to an expert police officer, Federico Mathieu, who went to Paris to attend a course at Bertillon’s lab. The officer visited also other crimininological facilities in
Hamburg, Vienna and Berlin. When he came back, the modernisation thrust had lost its
energy and the project was limited to the Rome questura. About Mathieu’s mission, see
also R. B. �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Jensen, “The International Anti-Anarchist Conference of 1898 and the Origins
of Interpol”, op. cit.
62. G. Falco, “Impronte digitali”, in D. Rende (ed.), Nuovo Digesto Italiano, v. 6, Unione
Tipografico - Editrice Torinese, Torino, 1938, pp. 842-845.
63. S. Ottolenghi, Polizia scientifica. Identificazione fisica e psichica, investigazioni giudiziarie. Quadri sinottici delle lezioni tenute nella scuola di polizia, Società Poligrafica Editrice,
Roma, 1907.
106 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
given in a room in Regina Coeli, Rome’s main prison. The courses
were soon be made compulsory for all police officers, and a small
laboratory was added to the lecture rooms. Teaching was based both
on theoretical modules and on practical workshops focused on the
physical examination of criminals. In 1904, the school was entrusted
with the identification of all the offenders arrested in Rome. At that
time, its practices were mainly characterized by the use of Bertillon’s
anthropometry and judicial photography. In 1907, the chief constable Giovanni Gasti introduced the Italian fingerprint system. At that
point, the school was ready to put into practice Lombroso’s project of
a new scientific policing. 64
Italian scientific policing emerged through a radical modification of
the national security network. The distributed network of questure had
to become a centralized network with Ottolenghi’s institution at the
center. The school developed expertise in three different areas: “identification”, with the creation of a casellario centrale (the central identification register) at the school and peripheral scientific laboratories in
the questure; “technical investigation”, focused on chemical, physical
analysis and on the scientific crime scenes investigations; and the “anthropo-psychological and biographic profiling” (APBP), the Lombrosian core, where the link between physical characters and psychological profiles was forged. 65
By the time the royal decree n. 2504 legally founded the Italian
School of Scientific Police (December 7, 1919), the institute was already in charge of more than five hundred posti di rilievo segnaletico e
dattiloscopico (fingerprint survey rooms) spread throughout the country. Every survey room was supposed to send individual cards to the
central register, providing the link between the school and peripheral questure that represented the branches of the centralized network.
Courses were regularly given to officers from the police, the carabinieri, the navy, the penitentiary and colonial police. Case studies were
64. Accounts on the history of the School are in G. Falco, “Salvatore Ottolenghi”, Bollettino della scuola superiore di polizia e dei servizi tecnici annessi, 22-23, 1934, pp. 3-16; F. Pasanisi,
“La scuola superiore di polizia. Dalle origini all’attuale sua organizzazione ed attività”,
Rivista di polizia, 1966, pp. 37-49; R. Paceri, La polizia scientifica: guida alle indagini tecniche,
Laurus, Firenze, 1978; Ministero dell’Interno, La polizia scientifica. 1903-2003, Laurus Robuffo, Roma, 2004; and A. Giuliano, Impronte digitali. La Classificazione Gasti, op. cit.
65. A ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������
filmed documentary on the activity of the school can actually be watched on
the internet. It is available at http://www.archivioluce.com (keyword “Polizia scientifica”,
director Basilio Franzina, last visited 9 September 2009).
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 107
published in the brand new Bollettino della scuola di polizia scientifica
(Bulletin of the School of Scientific Police), which gave the school international visibility. 66
Anthropologists in Uniform
Ottolenghi’s new scientific policing was clearly informed by Lombrosian criminal anthropology. If the APBP was explicitly Lombrosian,
the other two areas of action of the school were also shaped by similar
assumptions and aims. 67 Nothing was left unchanged, not even Bertillon’s portrait parlé, which, in the Italian version, reserved much more
attention to behavioral physical traits and stigmata like tattoos and
physiological twitches. 68 The Lombrosian reading of bodily characters
as possible signs of a specific psychological tendency made Ottolenghi
promote two different kinds of anthropometric measurements. The
first set of measurements was meant to be of daily use as a portable
description of the suspect, and included measures taken in his typical
posture, without recurring to any constrained and unnatural position.
The second was based on precise bertillonage measurements. According to Ottolenghi, only a trained eye could produce a reliable morphological description 69: the semeiotic approach to crime (lettura semeiotica) was now the terrain of a new expert group. 70
66. See reports on the activity of the School in Von Borosini (1913), Ottolenghi and
von Borosini (1913), Locard (1919) and Henry (1922).
67. Teaching�����������������������������������������������������������������������
programs can be found at ACS - Fondo Scuola Superiore di Polizia - b.
20 and b. 21.
68. Italian adjustments are in S. Ottolenghi, Trattato di polizia scientifica. Identificazione
fisica applicata alla medicina e alle funzioni di polizia, op. cit. Police
expert abroad reacted
suspiciously to these Lombrosian deviances. Edmond Locard, for instance, insisted that
“anything Lombrosians think they can know about the born criminal [...] the degenerated
it seems to me more an issue for the Sorbone than a primary class”, something different
from the technical expertise the scientific identification task required to carabinieri and
police agents. ��������������
In E. Locard, La police. Ce quelle est. Ce quelle devrait etre, Payot & Cie, Paris,
1919, p. 189.
69. “The eye can see only what the mind knows already; in the same way that a layman can look at the sharpest specimen through the microscope without understanding a
thing, nothing must be expected by an observer who isn’t familiar with the elements he is
expected to see before actually seeing them.” In
S. Ottolenghi, Trattato di polizia scientifica.
Identificazione fisica applicata alla medicina e alle funzioni di polizia, op. cit., p. 314.
70. Ottolenghi���������������������������������������������������������������������
was aware that overemphasizing the period of training could lead to
objections. On the one hand, he wanted to make the course compulsory to the formation of
the expert eye; on the other, he didn’t want to alarm institutions with exorbitant requests.
The result was a proposal of three month courses for the formation of the perfect scientific
108 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
The practice of fingerprinting was influenced by Lombrosian tenets
as well. The construction of the formula that described the set of ten
patterns, the Gasti formula, was emblematic in this respect. The Gasti
formula was the result of statistical studies on pattern distributions
that echoed the Lombrosian studies on abnormal characters among
criminals. The formula was then used to establish connections between
fingerprint patterns and criminal tendencies. The very structure of the
central identification register, based on alphabetic as well as fingerprinting order, was an expression of Lombroso’s focus on the criminal
rather than the crime. 71
Lombroso’s criminology also shaped the school’s “technical investigations”. This is visible, for example, in Ottolenghi’s ritratto parlato del
sopralluogo (crime scene portrait), a description of the crime scene carried out following rigid rules and using an appropriate terminology.
The correct method involved a topographical approach to the scene
carried out in a strictly ordered series of steps – description should start
from the outside and move to the inside of the scene, from left to right,
from top to bottom, etc. Identical to the topographical composition
of Ottolenghi’s portrait parlé of the suspects, its aim was to let officers
“see” the clues in the crime scene without being there. Strengthening
the similarities with the portrait parlé, the “crime scene portrait” played
also another crucial function: let the officer understand the personality
of the criminal through the studying of his modus operandi. The modalities chosen by the criminal to move and act on the crime scene offered
indeed valuable indications about the criminal’s psychology that, together with the criminal’s description and identification marks, were at
the basis of a complete understanding of the criminal’s “nature”. 72
It was the APBP, though, that represented the most distinctive feature of the Italian scientific police. Ottolenghi understood it as necessary to perform the ultimate task of a scientific detective: to grasp
detective, and one week only was considered enough to train “even an average IQ lad
[...] to corroborate an individual identification in few minutes”. Quoted
in L. Rusticucci,
L’impronta digitale nell’anagrafe civile e criminale, Cappelli, Bologna, 1927, p. 10.
71. The structure��������������������������������������������������������������������������
of the School’s central register suffered modifications only after 1925.
In that year it started reflecting the fascist focus on moral crimes by the constitution of
special sections of criminals as reported in the School’s Bollettino in 1928.
72. S. Ottolenghi, Trattato di polizia scientifica. Identificazione psichica e biografica e Investigazioni giudiziarie, v. 2, Società Editrice Libraria, Milano, 1932, pp. 363-364; and E. Giri,
“L’accertamento, la documentazione e il valore di tracce di reato nella moderna indagine
tecnica di polizia”, Bollettino della scuola superiore di polizia e dei servizi tecnici annessi, 29,
1939, pp. 97-115.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 109
the criminal’s “mind”. The four sections of the criminal biographic file
were to be written up in a two-step procedure. First, the anthropometric measurements were taken, along with the evaluation of the neural-muscular status, the level of pain tolerance, and the degree of lefthandiness. Then an in-depth interview should be carried out, and an
accurate study of the suspect’s personal history, which brought to the
ascertainment of their degree of social dangerousness. In Ottolenghi’s
It begins with the physical examination, similar to the one needed for a description, which is to ascertain anomalies and characteristics of the delinquent’s nature, and the very interesting marks of his life, like certain traumatic scars (from falls or wounds) or certain tattoos. The examination of
the wrinkles, and of the contractions of facial muscles, will disclose even
the slightest mimic reaction and special mental manifestations. Next comes
the psychological examination as to his intelligence, his senses, and his
volitional attitude by appropriate questions suggested by the special case,
which ought to provide a good opportunity for the manifestation of desires,
impressions and aspirations of the constantly observed subject, especially
while telling the story of his life and during his self-defense. 73
The Italian National Security Network (1914-1922)
The analysis of the scientific production of Ottolenghi’s school from
1914 to 1922 can give an idea of the impact the School of Scientific
Police exerted on the Italian national security network. This analysis takes into consideration figures emerging from criminal official
reports published by the Italian ministers as well as statistics published by the school itself. 74 A few indicators have been considered
of primary importance: the number of scientific laboratories active
within the questure, the production of individual cards, the number of
scientific crime scene investigations, and the amount of APBP. At the
basis of the sensible increase of scientific policing within the Italian
police system there are two facts: the increasing number of scientific
laboratories in the questure – from twenty-six in 1914 to thirty-three
in 1922; and twenty years of lectures and courses given to about 1,292
73. S. Ottolenghi
and V. von Borosini, “The Scientific Police”, Journal of the American
Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology,�������������������������
3, 6, 1913, pp. ��������
74. Figures are taken mainly from Ministero di grazia e giustizia, Statistica della criminalità per l’anno ... : notizie complementari alla statistica giudiziaria penale, Stamperia Reale,
Roma, 1909-1940; and statistics published in the School’s Bollettino.
110 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
students. As a result, Ottolenghi could proudly see a clear decline of
the “traditional fear of our personnel for novelties (misoneismo)”, that
Lombroso himself had considered the strongest factor of resistance to
innovation in police practices. 75 The figures concerning the conviction
rates due to the application of scientific methodologies were low, and
suggest a marginal but constant role of the school in police practices. Although the judicial activity remained almost at the same level
– with a maximum of 132,096 convicts in 1914, a minimum of 72,366
in 1918, and 127,989 convicts in 1922 – the percentage of sentenced
on the basis of a scientific identification presents a maximum of 1.8%
in 1914 decreasing to a minimum of 0.9% in 1920. This decline can be
explained by the negative trend in the production of individual cards
in the same period. 76 The production of individual cards went from
a maximum of 16,855 in 1914 to the minimum 8,110 in 1920, ending
with 8,675 cards in 1922. The overall amount of identifications carried
out by the school forms a curve with a maximum of 2,379 identifications again in 1914, a minimum of 794 identifications in 1918, and the
relative maximum of 1,313 identifications in 1922. The rate of recidivists identified by the school went from a maximum of 5.79% in 1914
to a 2.90% rate in 1922. The production of individual cards per scientific laboratory also suffered a negative trend, decreasing from the
maximum of 597 in 1914 to the minimum of 230 in 1920, and ending
with the slightly superior amount of 235 in 1922. Overall, the APBP
showed a quite different trend, revealing a constantly rising curve.
The number of convicts who underwent an APBP went from 135 in
1914 to a maximum of 174 in 1922, and showed only a flex in 1920.
The number of crime scene investigations went from 75 interventions
in 1914 to 186 in 1922.
Reading the official communications between the school, the Ministry of the Interior, and the questure, one can try to frame the figures
reported above within a broader and clearer picture. What emerges
from the correspondence is the almost undisputed political support
that Ottolenghi’s school enjoyed since its foundation. In particular, it
is worth noting the incessant political support offered by the Ministry
75. E. Saracini, I crepuscoli della polizia, Società industrie editoriali meridionali, Napoli,
1922, p. 164.
76. Such a justification is presented by Gibson in Born to Crime. Cesare Lombroso and
the Origins of Biological Criminology, op. cit.,�������������������������������������������������
but rejected by Giuseppe Falco, director of the
School after Ottolenghi’s death in 1934, in the 1937 School’s Bollettino at page 16.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 111
of the Interior to Ottolenghi in pressing the questure’s identification
offices to perform high quality identifications. Every time the head of
the school complained about the lack of collaboration and the poor
quality of individual cards, a ministerial circular would be sent to
the relevant questore. At least twenty-one important memoranda were
sent out for this reason between 1907 and 1920. Those communications were very specific and suggested complex technical improvements. In line with this action, on July 24, 1910 Senator Fani produced
a memorandum for magistrates about the correct behavior to keep on
a crime scene, not only promoting the “new methods of investigation”, but also describing in detailed every aspect of a crime scene
investigation, from the preservation of the “the so called prints” to
the anthropometric measurements to be carried out on the corpses
found on the scene. 77
Such an attention reveals the strict collaboration between the Ministry of the Interior and the School; a collaboration that lasted unchanged at least until 1922. Ottolenghi’s School was indeed functional
to the governmental policy of standardization of police practice and
their integration within the state administration. The government supported the action of the School through pressure upon prefects and
questori. In April 1918, the school was also entrusted with the organization of special courses reserved to soldiers and members of the public
administration. 78 The 1919 statute of the School provided even more
clues of its institutional role: the figure of the managing director was
described as that of an academic professor “with specific know-how in
scientific policing”, 79 a figure that not only guaranteed Ottolenghi his
seat, but assured a Lombrosian future for the school. The statute stated
explicitly that the scientific laboratories of the questure should send to
the School all the individual cards concerning the great majority of the
crimes contemplated by the 1889 Penal Code, a fact that finally placed
the school and its central identification register at the core of the national security network by law.
By contrast, around 1919 Lombroso’s influence had almost completely vanished in Italian universities, as criminal anthropology had
77. Quoted in L. Rusticucci, L’impronta digitale nell’anagrafe civile e criminale, op. cit., pp.
93-6, and E. Giri, “L’accertamento, la documentazione e il valore di tracce di reato nella
moderna indagine tecnica di polizia”, op. cit.
78. E. Saracini, I crepuscoli della polizia, op. cit., pp. 242-243.
79. ACS - Personale PS versamento 1963 - b. 200 bis.
112 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
been unable to make new proselytes among the younger generations.
In such a situation, the School of Scientific Police stood as the most vital
manifestation of Lombrosianism, and became the institution through
which Lombroso’s theories could still try to shape Italian society. 80 Ottolenghi and his staff were well aware of this situation, and pushed
for further developments in line with Lombroso’s original plan. Thus
Giuseppe Falco, an assistant of Ottolenghi at the School, proposed the
introduction of an individual document of identification for all citizens. He designed a card that contained a brief physical description
of the owner, a photograph, and a specific space for the print of their
middle finger. It was supposed to be the ultimate identification document, shaped by the criminal anthropological perspective. At the same
time, it was thought as the bridge to connect the preventive function of
the police to its ultimate target: a complete anthropological map of the
Italian population. 81 .
Shaping the Stock
One of the most characteristic aspects of Lombrosian determinism
was its rigid conception of human nature. Lombroso believed that
once the body was formed, the phase of puberty had passed, and the
“degenerative stigmata” had emerged, the physical and psychological development of the individual was settled once for all. Together
with the focus on criminals as individuals, this belief expressed the
idea of a country that could eventually emerge from its tumultuous
pubertal age. The generation that returned from the trenches of World
War I, however, had a radically different idea of the Italian nation, and
an altogether different conception of man. This generation “idealized
the disciplined cross-class comradeship of the front and became dis80. My reading of the development of the positive school in the twentieth century
roots back to a rich literature. Such tradition focuses on the application and divulgation
of Lombrosian tenets like the central role of atavism, the subdivision of men in types with
the consequent defence of the criminal man, the primacy of the morphological approach
to criminals embedded in the practices proposed by Lombroso and adopted in the School
of scientific police. There are authors, though, who do not accept such a restrictive conception and consider theoretical traditions like Pende’s biotypology a direct development
of Lombroso’s philosophy.
81. Quoted in L. Rusticucci, L’impronta digitale nell’anagrafe civile e criminale, op. cit.
Juan Vucetich in Argentina proposed a similar plan; see K. ������������������������������
Ruggiero, “Fingerprinting and
the argentine plan for universal identification in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries”, in J. Caplan and J. Torpey (Eds.), Documenting individual identity, Princeton
University Press, Princeton, 2001, pp. 184-196�.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 113
enchanted with post-war strife-torn civilian democracy”, 82 importing
the logic of war into the political and cultural life. The postwar myth of
the arditi, the special corps of the Italian army, backed a political turn
to forms of paramilitarism that exalted will over knowledge and discipline over science, rejecting the liberal conception of the state and of
human nature. Paramilitarism is indeed key to understand the emergence of an organic vision of the nation in Italy after World War I, and
the sudden success of the Fascist movement in 1922. 83 The new political elite needed a way to shape a population of civilians into an army
of soldiers, and they found a scientific support in the work of Nicola
Pende (1880-1970).
Nicola Pende was a well-know public figure in Italy at the opening of the 1920s, as he had written on the question of the purity of
the Italian stock in the journal La difesa sociale (The Social Defense). A
leading endocrinologist and a supporter of so-called neo-Hippocratic
medicine, Pende fostered a new branch of clinical studies that he called
“biotypology”. Like Lombroso and Ottolenghi, he worked on a scientific methodology that would allow him to discover the essence of the
individual personality; like them, he used anthropometric measurements to obtain useful data. Pende, however, was part of a scientific
clinical tradition that exalted the idea of the individual corporal harmony and aimed to heal patients rather than to detect and remove potentially dangerous individuals from society. Pende’s approach did not
limit itself to the analysis of the actual state of the individual, but offered a way to turn the full potential of the individual constitution into
a reality. He based his theory on the Aristotelian distinction between
potential and actual characters, and on the theorization of the fourfaceted nature of the individual “biotype” that were represented in
the “biotypological pyramid”, i.e. “the geometrical schema of the basic
components of everyone’s ‘integral biotypological profile’”. 84 According to this theory, the “structural-dynamic character of every individual biotype” rests on four different types of factors: hereditary, meteoric
post-conceptional, humoral, and dominant neuro-psychological. None
of these aspects were fixed at the time of the birth, and a few could be
82. M. Mann��
������, Fascists, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, p. 68.
83. Ibid.
84. C. Mantovani, Rigenerare la Società. L’eugenetica in Italia dalle origini ottocentesche
agli anni Trenta, Rubettino, Catanzaro, 2004, p. 228.
114 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
lead to their optimum by acting on the four facets of the biotypological
pyramid: morphologic, dynamic-humoral, intellective, and moral.
The potential role of Pende’s theory within the fascist demographic
policy was soon acknowledged by the political elites. In 1926 Pende
founded the Istituto biotipologico-ortogenetico (Biotypologic and Orthogenetic Institute) in Genoa and the municipality charged him with the
study of the constitution of the students of the local primary schools. 85
Pende claimed that he could make the children fulfill their full potential, and designed elaborated clinical tests that revealed their future
professional skills. It was this result that caught the attention first of
the local fascist authorities and then of the central government. By the
early 1930s, Pende’s project of population screening and social engineering interested the army, primary and secondary schools, corporations, and insurance companies. 86 Pende’s Institute became the core of
a network of other institutions that came to incarnate the fascist policy
of “human reclamation” (bonifica umana). These included
[t]he national centre of study of the human growth (crescenza) [...] the national organ for the reclamation and correction of all human constitutional
weaknesses, and the national college in charge of the cooperation of all the
others actual medical-sociological institutions that the State is going to create in order to improve Italian individuals and the Italian stock. 87
Other aspects of Pende’s research also attracted the attention of the
fascist authorities. The racial profile of the individual became one of
the hereditary factors of the biotypological pyramid. 88 His approach,
therefore, was not compatible with Quételet’s anthropometry and, con85. G. Vidoni, La biotipologia dello scolaro in rapporto alle sue attitudini professionali, Stab.
Tipogr. G. B. Marsano, Genova, 1927.
86. For an historical account of the relationships between the Fascist party and Pende
see C. Ipsen, Dictating Demography. The problem of population in Fascist Italy, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1996; and C. Mantovani, Rigenerare la Società. ����������������
L’eugenetica in
Italia dalle origini ottocentesche agli anni Trenta, op. cit. The adoption of Pende’s techniques
by the army is described in N. Pende, “Quozienti Biometrici e valutazione costituzionale
del soldato”, Nazione Militare, 4, 1937. The improvement of recruitment methodology is
in N. Pende, “Orientamento professionale, avviamento tecnico, e selezione scientifica dei
lavoratori”, Le opere e i giorni, 10, 1932, 1-12.
87. Quoted from “L’istituto biotipologico-ortogenetico di Genova”, Riforma Medica,
43 ,4, 1927, pp. 103-104.
88. As reported in the 1940s by an influential member of the fascist government, Giacomo Acerbo, Pende’s concept of race was perfectly in line with a racial policy that did not
limit the biological aspect, reducing human beings as “subjects of zoology”, but supported
the fascist approach to the race problem, “preserving the spiritual and ideal substance
of our stock“. In
G. Acerbo, I fondamenti della dottrina fascista della razza, Ministero della
Cultura Popolare, Roma, 1940. On
the complex dynamics behind the promulgation of 1938
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 115
sequently, provided sound theoretical reasons to dismiss Lombroso’s
criminal anthropology. Considered the institutional interests that orbited around Pende’s activities, and the social applications of his researches, the confrontation with Lombroso’s most influential institute
was in the order of things. The skirmish took the form of comments on
journals and books and regarded the Lombrosian argument par excellence. Pende claimed that the criminal tendency was a consequence of
the individual’s constitutional status, like any other kind of behavior.
Thus, being part of the individual constitution, the racial character had
to be taken in consideration even in anthropometric surveys. 89 Lombroso’s “anthropology of deviance” became a “constitutional anthropology” targeted to the creation of the “ethnic Italian type”. In order to do
so, in 1931 an interdisciplinary commission was established to plan a
“great anthropometric survey” on more than 400.000 soldiers. This was
an update of Livi’s work that finally could “took in consideration the
demands posed by both anthropology and constitutional theories”. 90
Pende considered an anthropometry deprived of any racial filter as
useless. As a consequence, even Ottolenghi’s criminal biographic file,
the most articulated expression of Lombroso’s approach to criminal
identification, was considered as a “mutilated and most superficial
biographic file”. 91 By the end of the 1920s Pende had became a very
prominent scientific figure. As his scientific career advanced, his relationships with prominent members of the fascist party grew stronger
– while Ottolenghi’s influence and the status of his forensic scientists
declined rapidly. On the background of the controversy between Ottolenghi and Pende, 92 Benigno De Tullio, former assistant of Ottolenghi
fascist racial policy and Pende’s role in it, see A. Gillette, “The origins of the ‘manifesto of
racial scientists”, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 6, 3, 2001, pp. 305-323.
89. N. Pende, Trattato di biotipologia umana individuale e sociale, Vallardi, Milano, 1939,
p. 90.
90. D. Balestra, “La preparazione dell’indagine antropometrica sugli iscritti in una
classe di leva in Italia”, in C. Gini (ed.), Atti del congresso internazionale per gli studi sulla
popolazione, v. 3, Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, Roma, 1934, p. 11. Due
to the turn of Gini’s
political furtunes, though, still in 1934, the “great anthropometric survey” amounted
to only one preliminary experiment involving 2,300 soldiers. On
Gini, see F. Cassata, Il
fascismo razionale. Corrado gini fra scienza e politica, Carocci Editore, Roma, 2006.
91. N. Pende, L’indirizzo costituzionalistico nella medicina sociale e per la politica biotipologica, Tip. Sociale,
Genova, 1926, p. 5.
92. Ottolenghi’s critiques root back to 1922 when Ottolenghi attacked the morphological section of Pende’s pyramid that used anthropometric measurements derived from the
constitutional school. In “L’analisi moderna della personalità umana in endocrinologica e
in antropologia criminale”, Riforma Medica, 38, 34, 1922, pp. 1039-1041, Ottolenghi openly
deemed such technique “incomplete and wrong” with respect to Lombroso’s, claiming
116 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
and the only School member who had joined the Fascist Party before
1932, introduced into the School Pende’s classification of human types,
which Ottolenghi considered as based on “incomplete and wrong anthropometry.” 93 Lacking a clear racial dimension, and still attached to
a strictly materialistic and static vision of man, Lombroso’s methodologies progressively became the symbol of the past individualistic liberal
society, and survived only in Ottolenghi’s School of Scientific Police. By
the 1930s also this Lombrosian stronghold would fall.
Enters the Fascist Police
The impact of fascism on scientific policing was characterized by
a twofold process. Until 1925, the Ministry of the Interior tended to
increase the use of policies of public control previously promoted by
the liberal governments. Instrumental to this goal was the criminal
biographic file, the Bollettino delle Ricerche (Bulletin of the Wanted), a
weekly publication of the most wanted criminals distributed to all the
police stations and designed to implement the use of the portrait parlé
as well as of mug shots. In 1924, the socialist member of parliament
Giacomo Matteotti was killed by fascist agents. After 1927, in the aftermath of the Matteotti crisis, a new policy of public control emerged.
During what scholars called the “consolidation” and the “consensus
period”, the regime promoted a model of the national security system
that was in open contrast to that of the past and, especially, to Ottolenghi’s project. This new model envisioned the constitution of a police
state founded on new police corps and parallel party institutions like
the special bureau against subversive political groups. In 1927, fascist
totalitarianism, well-expressed in Mussolini’s conception of an omnipresent state and in statements like “everything in the state, nothing
outside the state, nothing against the state”, 94 started to take shape. To
turn such a vision into reality, the government increased the number of
political prefects, replaced old liberals with trusted party members at
eventually that Lombroso’s “anthropo-psychological approach should be imposed to
endocrinologists not only with respect to the morphological section but for the psychological too”.
93. Ibid., p. 1040.
94. The famous motto is in Mussolini’s “ascension speech” published in Atti del parlamento italiano, Tip. della Camera dei deputati, Roma, 26 may 1927.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 117
the Ministry of the Interior, and promoted a new kind of police officer,
which was in clear opposition to Ottolenghi’s liberal conception of an
independent, politically autonomous scientific police. 95
The official foundation of three brand new corps was at the core of
the fascist national security policy. The political police, the border police force, and the paramilitary fascist milizia 96 were charged with the
task of preventing crime and protecting the national territory. 97 Prevention rested on the capillary control of the territory, as attested by
Mussolini himself: “nobody should dare to think that I do not know
what is happening in the country, even in the smallest village”. 98 A
network of shadow agents of the fascist secret police, the OVRA, together with a vast number of informers, dispatched detailed personal
information to the central office in Rome. 99 Here, personal files were
created and classified in a dedicated archive under the supervision of
the Political Bureau of the Ministry of the Interior, totally separated
from the archive managed by the scientific police. The files of political
criminals and those of common criminals were separated and managed according to different sets of rules. Repeatedly reorganized, in
1931 the political archive ordered dissidents in fourteen different categories, did not make use of a fingerprint ordering, and was based on
the type of crime committed rather than on the criminal tendency of
the offender. 100 Ottolenghi openly opposed the formation of a separate
archive for political criminals, repeating the Lombrosian motto that
“a vast part of political criminals is made by common criminals” and
95. Regarding the 1927 fascist reorganization of the Ministry of the Interior, and the
purge of prefects, see G. Tosatti, “Il prefetto e l’esercizio del potere durante il periodo
fascista”, Studi storici, 42, 2001, pp. 1021-40.
96. Voluntary troops founded in 1922 directly from the fascist squads and at the
political party’s disposal.
97. G. Cosmo, “I servizi di polizia politica durante il fascismo”, Il movimento di liberazione in Italia, 16, 1952, pp. 33-52.
98. In Atti del parlamento italiano, Tip. della Camera dei deputati, Roma, 26 may
99. Informers remained anonymous concealing their identity under nicknames, and
reported on everything and everyone.
100. ACS - Casellario Politico Centrale - b. 2162; also G. Tosatti, “L’anagrafe dei sovversivi italiani: origini e storia del Casellario politico centrale”, Le carte e la storia, 2, 1997,
pp. 133-50; and L. Verdolini, La trama segreta. Il caso Sandri fra terrorismo e polizia politica
fascista, Einaudi, Torino, 2003. Criminals
were ordered in very ambiguous categories like:
“dangerous”, “already with police records”, “expelled for political activity”, and in eight
different subcategories of political dissidents. (ACS - Casellario politico centrale - b. 2162)
A random analysis of more than one hundred personal files, revealed the absence of any
form of “scientific” contents in the individual files.
118 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
insisting that “from the psychological point of view [...] the legislative
separation of common and political crime is not objective”. 101
The scientific police and the OVRA had indeed two completely different approaches to crime. The toolbox of the OVRA agent was mainly
based on “observation and shadowing”, 102 on instinct – the empirical
“nose” praised by the chief of the police Arturo Bocchini as well as by
the commander of the OVRA Guido Leto 103 – which was miles away
from the scientific method invoked in the halls of Ottolenghi’s School.
The ideal policeman Leto and Bocchini had in mind was quite different
from the one Ottolenghi had been promoting since the beginning of the
century. They demanded blind obedience, fidelity to the fascist regime
and to authority in general, cameratismo (comradeship) – which was
the core of fascist lifestyle, and traditional methods in exercising police
control over society. 104 In this context, the scientific support became
“a debatable […] opinion”, 105 while the ultimate authority in criminal
matters remained to the Duce and the Fascist Party, turning the police
officer into “the direct executor of the state control”. 106 If for Ottolenghi
101. S. Ottolenghi, “Polizia e fascismo”, Bollettino della scuola superiore di polizia e dei
servizi tecnici annessi, 18, 1929, p. 162. In
the paper, Ottolenghi explicitly quoted statements
previously published that defended core principles that had inspired the structure of the
School’s criminal archive since the beginning. The original structure based on alphabetic
and fingerprint ordering changed only after 1925, when fascist concern for specific social
classes of criminals caused a reorganization of the archive with the addition of sections
dedicated to political and moral criminals as reported also in G. Tosatti������������������
, “L’anagrafe dei
sovversivi italiani: origini e storia del Casellario politico centrale”, op. cit.; and M. �����
Franzinelli, I tentacoli dell’Ovra. ��������������������������������������������������������������
Agenti collaboratori e vittime della polizia politica fascista, Bollati
Boringhieri, Torino, 1999. The
1929 paper is obviously not aggressively critical; Ottolenghi
managed to keep a good balance between a respectful approach to the regime and his
theoretical loyalty toward Lombroso.
102. The OVRA was the fascist secret political police. Quoted from Leto (1951: 48).
103. Guido Leto is considered the OVRA last commander. ���������������������������
See, for instance, M. Franzinelli, I tentacoli dell’Ovra. Agenti collaboratori e vittime della polizia politica fascista, op. cit.;
and F. Fucci, Le polizie di Mussolini. La repressione dell’antifascismo nel “ventennio”, Mursia,
Milano, 1985. Arturo Bocchini was the chief of the police from 1926 until 1940.
104. Bocchini’s ideal policeman is described in G. Leto, OVRA. Fascismo antifascismo,
Cappelli, Milano, 1951; and G. Dosi, Il mostro e il detective, Vallecchi, Firenze, 1973. As
as the fascist lifestyle and conception of repression is concerned, see E. Gentile, Fascismo.
Storia e interpretazione, Laterza, Bari, 2005; G. Neppi Modona and M. Pelissero, “La politica
criminale durante il fascismo”, in L. Violante (ed.), Storia d’Italia. Annali. La criminalità, v.
12, Einaudi, Torino, 1997, pp. 757-847; V. De Grazia and S. Luzzato (eds.), Dizionario del
Fascismo, Einaudi, Torino, 2005; G. Cosmo, “I servizi di polizia politica durante il fascismo”,
op. cit.; C. Senise, Quando ero capo della Polizia. 1940-43, Ruffolo Editore, Roma, 1946; and
G. Leto, OVRA. Fascismo antifascismo, op. cit.
105. G. Leto, OVRA. Fascismo antifascismo, op. cit., p. 26.
106. “Un esecutore immediato dell’autorità dello stato”, in Atti del parlamento italiano,
op. cit., 30 April 1926.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 119
crime prevention was primarily a matter of scientific understanding,
for Mussolini and the Fascist elite it was instead to be grounded on a
vast, capillary network of trusted agents and informants. 107
By dismissing scientific policing as inappropriate and out-of-date,
the fascist police marked a clear distinction not only from former liberal crime policy, but also from the approach defended by the National Social Party in Germany. Although a comparison between Fascist
and Nazi approach to crime is well beyond the scope of this work, the
role played by science and technology within the crime control policies of the two regimes is remarkably different. The Nazi government
turned to technology and science to prevent political opposition and
to police ethnic and political minorities in the second half of the 1930s.
Mathematical models designed by statisticians gradually reduced the
individual’s identity to one sprechende Zahl (talking number). Personal
files were collected in national archives, which allowed a centralized
control of the population over the whole territory of the Reich. This
plan for a complete “mathematization” of German society played a
key role in any Nazi policy of population control and was carried out
by Himmler, the Gestapo, and the Ordnungspolizei (the regular police).
The efficiency of the central archives relied heavily on the advanced
technologies of punch card machines. 108
The fascist government insisted on a rather different approach. Reporting the results of the visit of Arturo Bocchini to Himmler in 1936,
the OVRA high official Tommaso Petrillo openly criticized the intensive
use of science made by the Germans in police matters. Charged with
the analysis of the German techniques of identification and control, he
dismissed the use of graphs and tables as “merely statistical and theoretical”. As such, he concluded, “they are not embedded with the characteristic of practicality that should characterize a police technique”. 109
As a consequence of this attitude, in 1936, the only police institution
that made regular use of statistics and advanced criminal archives was
107. Introducing the technological instruments of the new fascist police, in his “ascension speech” Mussolini talked extensively of the new motor pool increased from 161 to
611 units; in Atti del parlamento italiano, op. cit., 26 May 1927.
108. See G. Aly and K. H. Roth, The nazi census. Identification and control in the third
reich, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2004.
109. Reported in R. De Felice, Storia degli ebrei italiani sotto il fascismo, Einaudi, Torino,
1993, p. 549. On Tommaso Petrillo see M. Franzinelli ), I tentacoli dell’Ovra. Agenti collaboratori e vittime della polizia politica fascista, op. cit.; and R. J. B. Bosworth (Ed.), The oxford
handbook of fascism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009, p. 229.
120 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
Ottolenghi’s School in Rome. The lack of political support, however,
was having serious consequences on the maintenance and use of the
criminal biographic files. Already in 1925, wishing to put an end to the
annoying problem regarding the correct way to fill out the biographic
file, Ottolenghi sent a questionnaire to all the questure asking for feedback and suggestions. Almost all the replies proposed a simplified version of the document in the direction of a mere collection of judiciary
information. The Ministry of the Interior supported this position and
asked for a simplification that eventually reduced the space and importance reserved to the most properly Lombrosian sections. 110 From
1926, the Ministry of the Interior stopped sending regular circulars
supporting the School complains against prefects and questori. Consequently, whenever problems in the identification procedures occurred,
the School was now forced to open a direct channel of communication
with each single questura. 111 After 1926, ministerial circulars mostly regarded crimes that were considered as highly offensive for the fascist
morality, such as sex-crimes against minors. Even in these cases, however, the orders concerned the transmission of individual cards to the
School, and did not contain any specific instructions about scientific
identification. 112 In 1926 the Minister of the Interior, Luigi Federzoni,
issued a circular that formalized the exclusion of the Lombrosian expert from court. In order to cut the average length of penal trials, the
minister ordered indeed “to banish from court any pseudo-scientific
investigation”. What he meant with “pseudo-scientific” became fully
clear in 1930, when the new penal code was published. Article 314 of
the new code stated that “expert testimonies carried out to assess the
offender’s degree of recidivism, their professional crime standards,
their tendency to crime, their characters and personalities, and in gen-
110. Questionnaire and replies were published on the School’s Bollettino and Giuseppe
Falco was entrusted of commenting on it. He could not help noting that many questure
still declared their faith in a conception of dangerousness that was “not based on the
physical and biographical constitution of the individual, rather on the so called ‘juridical position’ of the villain”; G. Falco, “����������������������������������������������������
Ancora sulla cartella biografica del pregiudicato”,
Bollettino della scuola superiore di polizia e dei servizi tecnici annessi, 14-15,�������������������
1926, p. 139. The
close was telling: “So, was the rewriting of the form really necessary? According to me,
it wasn’t indeed”: ibid., p. 140.
111. See Ottolenghi’s correspondence with m. p. Alfredo De Marsico in ACS - Fondo
Scuola Superiore di Polizia - b. 59, f. 685. On that occasion, Ottolenghi identify the 1923
circular by chief of the police De Bono as the last one supporting School’s viewpoints.
112. ACS - Fondo Scuola Superiore di Polizia, b. 1.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 121
eral their psychic qualities – independent from pathological factors
– cannot be admitted”. 113
The fascist regime was characterized by what has been defined the
“the revolutionary boost”, the “foundation of the new state centered
on a single party”, and the extension of the political sphere over the entire social life of the individual -what Emilio Gentile has called the politicità integrale dell’esistenza”. 114 Specific of the fascist regime was also
the anthropologic revolution that was supposed to shape the individual and
the mass in order to regenerate the human being. The new being thus created would be devoted with body and soul to the achievement of the revolutionary and imperial plans carried out by the totalitarian party, in order to
create a new supranational civilization. 115
Such a revolution was centered on the idea of the “new man”, a
citizen-soldier who fully embraced the collective ethics based on the
credere, obbedire, combattere (believing, obeying, fighting) motto; “an
ethics that exalted will over intelligence, faith over rationality, uniformity over individual initiative”; 116 an ethics that exacted the annihilation of the private into a public self. 117 Mussolini’s plan for the new
Italian empire, though, could not rest only on the promotion of the
citizen-soldier; rather it relied on its mass production. When the party
was put in charge of the managing the improvement of the stock, the
word “improvement” meant more a quantitative development than a
qualitative one. “Gentlemen, if we reduce in number we don’t found
113. M. Pisciotta (ed.), Il nuovo codice di procedura penale: annotato, con richiami alle leggi
vigenti e alle norme del codice abrogato. Disposizioni di attuazione e disposizioni regolamentari per
l’esecuzione del codice. Ordinamento
della Corte d’Assise, Hoepli, Milano, 1931, p. 318. It is difficult to assess whether the new code did actually succeed in excluding completely criminal
anthropologists from the court. The School promoted a series of peripatetic courses for
judges and lawyers during the 1930s. These courses, however, could hardly provide a
training comparable to that of a standard three-month course run by the School.
114. E. Gentile, La via italiana al totalitarismo. Il partito e lo Stato nel regime fascista, Carocci, Roma, 2008, p. 18.
115. Ibid.
116. Ibid., p. 52.
117. Of the same opinion is Berezin: “The Italian regime that governed Italy from 1922
to 1943 aimed to create new men and women, a new ethos, a new culture. In contemporary
parlance, the regime sought to forge new identities”; M. ���������
Berezin, Making the Fascist Self,
Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1997,���������
pp. 4-5.
122 / Crime, Race, and National Identity
an empire, we become a colony!” the Duce stated in his 1927 “ascension speech”. The 1931 World Population Conference in Rome was the
occasion to define plan this demographic strategy further. In order to
support the government with sound scientific data, the head of the
Central Institute of Statistics, Corrado Gini and the endocrinologist
Nicola Pende, founder of the Biotypologic and Orthogenetic Institute,
were put in charge of a population survey that combined statistics
with biotypological screening. To that end, as reported by historian
Victoria De Grazia, “[f]or nearly a year, with the aid of local officials,
a score of young researchers assiduously ranked correlations between
family size and morphological features such as pelvic size, body fat,
height, hormonal secretions, and hirsute upper lips”. 118 While Nicola
Pende’s biological engineering was charged with such a delicate task,
Ottolenghi’s approach, based on Lombroso’s science of man, was completely ignored.
The immediate relevance of Pende’s dynamic vision of the human
being was evident well before his involvement in the 1938 racial manifesto. In 1934, for example, a simplified version of Pende’s biotypologic
diary was adopted by the youth fascist organization (Organizzazione
Nazionale Balilla). 119 Two years before, the Genoa Biotypologic and
Orthogenetic Institute received the govern authorization to monitor
60,000 young men per year in order to develop a national policy of
social control based on individual propensities to work and fight. In
1936 the regime introduced the health card, undoubtedly influenced
by Pende’s theories, and made it mandatory for children as well as soldiers. Furthermore, in 1938, on the occasion of the Rome World Expo,
the Duce approved the creation of Pende’s Istituto di bonifica umana ed
ortogenesi della razza (Institute for Human Improvement and Racial Orthogenesis), endowed with the remarkable sum of ten million lire. 120
At the same time, the criminal identification techniques supported by
Ottolenghi and the School run into increasing problems. While Pende’s
health card was being made mandatory, the practice of fingerprinting
both in civilian and military areas proved extremely problematic. Even
apparent successes like the introduction of the identity card, which
118. V. De Grazia, How fascism ruled women. Italy, 1922-1945, University of California
Press, Berkeley, 1992.
119. C. Mantovani, Rigenerare la Società. L’eugenetica in Italia dalle origini ottocentesche
agli anni Trenta, op. cit.
120. C. Ipsen, Dictating Demography. The problem of population in Fascist Italy, op. cit.
Crime, Race, and National Identity / 123
included an area reserved to fingerprints, turned out to be disappointment for Ottolenghi, as party organizations’ documents enjoyed a
clearly superior status. 121
The development of Lombrosian scientific policing ended in the
1930s. As the regime’s totalitarian character fully emerged, Lombroso’s
vision of the criminal as an individual to be isolated or suppressed
represented an obstacle to Mussolini’s imperial policy, which required
the minimum amount of human waste. Under the new political and
social ideology, Ottolenghi’s scientific police was progressively seen as
the representative of an old – and suspiciously Jewish – culture. 122 Unable to provide a racial interpretation of criminal behavior that would
go together with an effective criminal identification technology, Lombroso and Ottolenghi’s plan for a medicalization of the criminal policing was progressively overtaken by Pende’s anthropology.
121. The 1921 institution of the Casellario Centrale degli Infortuni (Accident Central
Registry), a central archive promoted by the Legal Medicine Society of Rome that collected the personal information of workers who had suffered accident at work, can be
considered the only exception. Strongly supported by Ottolenghi, this registry was primarily devoted to detect simulators but relied ultimately on the introduction of a libretto
dell’operaio (the worker’s card) designed on the same paradigm of Ottolenghi’s personal
biographic form and to be filled in by the medico di fabbrica (factory physician). Such a
professional figure, and the annexed card never became a reality. Ottolenghi provided an
account of the registry in an article found within Gemelli’s archive in the Milan University
of the Sacred Heart. Entitled “La personalità fisico-psichica del lavoratore e le funzioni
del medico di fabbrica,” and deprived of any bibliographical information, this article can
be dated between 1932 and 1934.
122. A position expressed in J. Evola, Introduzione alla quinta edizione italiana dei «Protocolli» dei «Savi Anziani» di Sion, La Vita Italiana, Roma, 1938.
Innovation in Regional Context:
the case of Emilia-Romagna
Matteo Serafini
These days it sounds like a cliché to say that the contemporary economic situation is determined by international competition. 1 If the integration of the markets – i.e. the possibility to move from one to another more rapidly, and meeting with less economic and bureaucratic
difficulties – increases opportunities for trade and hence for profit for
individual productive units, this also implies an exponential increase
in competitive actors. The economic conditions in which firms may
produce will vary according to their location: the differences are not
just strictly economic like the cost of the labor force, tax concessions
and incentives, but also infrastructural, like the viability of communications, plant quality, and the expertise of the employees. Beside countries with a long history of industrialization, we have emerging economies, capable of competing with long-standing capitalist systems both
in traditional productive sectors and in those of more recent formation,
and where the more advanced scientific and technological know-how
is indispensable. So, we have old and new companies active at the international level, seeking to produce where they gain the most advantage, and to continuously improve their products together with their
market and production organization.
In response to these transformations, in the year 2000 the EU set
out the so-called “Lisbon Strategy”. This program of economic policy
planned to modernize the economies of the member states – and that
of the entire European Community – by 2010, turning scientific knowhow into the main resource for industrial production and services. To
. C. Edquist and L. Hommen (eds.), Small Country Innovation Systems. Globalization,
Change and Policy in Asia and Europe, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., Cheltenham, 2008.
126 / Innovation in Regional Context
some significant extent economic development was thus entrusted to
progress in knowledge, in primis scientific and technological. 2
As various reports monitoring the progress of this program have
indicated, 3 its objectives were not reached on schedule. The “Lisbon
Strategy” nevertheless remains the basic economic policy reference
point for EU member states in defining their development policies, as
Europe cannot compete with the emerging economies over production costs, neither it can rely exclusively on the production of “mature” goods. With the aim of understanding the new relation between
economics, science and technology, in the following pages we shall try
to see how one particular economic and productive system seeks to
adapt to changes imposed by such global dynamics. The Italian region
Emilia-Romagna is a useful example to shed light on many of the issues involved. A principal characteristic of its economic history has
consisted in a kind of production that today may be considered “mature”, i.e. of goods with a consolidated history behind them. Yet, some
industrial areas have managed to develop innovation and technical expertise that are recognized internationally. After World War II, this region underwent a social and economic growth that made it one of the
wealthiest areas of Italy and indeed of Europe. On the other hand, the
results it has attained are now being put to the test by global competition. By examining the specific features of this regional productive system, and the policies of development and innovation promoted by the
local public administration, we shall explore the connection between
production, science, and technology, and understand how some economic, social and political actors have turned to scientific and technical knowledge, and what their interaction means in a regional context
facing the effects of globalization.
The European Innovation Scoreboard 2007 (EIS 2007) measures the innovation performance of the country members of the European Un. The connection between economic production – of goods and services – and specialist knowledge, especially that of science and technology, is however held by economic
and technology historians like Joel Mokyr, intrinsic to the industrial economy from its
birth. See, J. Mokyr, Gifts of Athena: historical origins of the knowledge economy, Princeton
University Press, Princeton, 2002.
. Sapir et al., An agenda for a growing Europe, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004.
Innovation in Regional Context / 127
ion, 4 dividing them into four groups. The classification is based on the
Summary Innovation Index (SII), an index obtained from twenty-five
statistical indicators 5 grouped together into five different sub-groups,
using data acquired at the European and international level during the
three previous years – 2004, 2005 and 2006. 6 The innovative capability of the countries examined was analyzed in terms of: “innovation
drivers”, to measure the structural conditions necessary for innovative
potential; “knowledge creation”, to monitor the investment in research
and development; “innovation and entrepreneurship”, which examines the efforts made by firms to support innovation; “applications”,
which include information about the results obtained in terms of work,
business and added value in the innovative sectors; and finally, “intellectual property”, which indicates the results reached in successful
The report indicated a group of leaders, with the best results in almost all five of the sub-groups listed above. These were Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany and Great Britain, and four countries outside the EU, Switzerland, Israel, Japan and the United States. The prize
for the country with the best innovative capability, as measured here,
would go to Sweden, which is clearly ahead in its support for innovation, but which struggles to translate all the input into concrete innovation. Behind group one, we find countries with an above average
performance, i.e. Iceland, Ireland, Austria, Holland, France, Belgium
and Canada. In third and penultimate position, we find the “moderate innovators”, Estonia, Australia, Norway, Czech Republic, Slovenia,
Italy, Cyprus and Spain. These economies show an innovative capability near to or below the average. At the bottom of the classified countries we have Malta, Lithuania, Hungary, Greece, Portugal, Slovakia,
Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Latvia and Romania, all of them well behind
the rest and with performances below the average in all the SII subgroups. 7
. The report also analyses some economically important countries outside the EU:
the USA, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, and Turkey.
. See European Innovation Scoreboard 2007. Comparative Analysis of Innovation Performance, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2008, p.
35, table 6, for indicators, and annex c, pp. 43-50 for their definition and interpretation.
. There is a temporal gap between our understanding and the actual progress of the
observed subjects.
. For the SII of each country, see European Innovation Scoreboard 2007, op. cit., p. 7,
figure 1. For their results in the five sub-groups, ibid., p. 9, figure 2.
128 / Innovation in Regional Context
On the basis of the SII 2007 one may conclude – in terms of the geography of innovative capability – that the Central-Nordic zone of
Europe, with the exception of Norway, has the more innovative economies, whereas the Mediterranean area and Eastern Europe are the
most backward. Overall, the EU (SII = 0.45) between 2003-2007 has reduced the gap with the USA (0.55) and Japan (0.60), although it is still
significant. 8 At present, no country seems capable of passing from one
level to another, except for Luxemburg, which could shortly join the
leaders of innovation. Nevertheless, within the EU a process of convergence is occurring among the member states, due to an improvement
in the performance of the less innovative countries, and to a comparative decline in those more capable.
Before outlining the features of Emilia Romagna’s productive system and its innovative capacity, let’s take Italy into consideration to understand the national context of which the region is part. According to
the EIS 2007, Italy has an index of innovative capability below the EU
average (0.33) – with rather low results for the sub-group “innovation
drivers” and “innovation and entrepreneurship”, and performances
near to the average in the others. 9 Italy has a high level of innovative efficiency, i.e. it is well able to transform its innovative input into
output – as its performance on intellectual property and applications
shows. Its further development seems therefore linked to the increase
of inputs in its innovative dynamic. On this, we need to remember that
41% of the Italian innovators considered in the survey do not carry out
R&D intra muros, and hence innovate by replacing their physical capital, purchasing licenses to use new technologies, bringing up to date
the preparation of their personnel, or developing new market strategies. 10 Generally speaking, most small and medium size firms fit into
this category.
Emilia-Romagna is therefore situated in one of the most industrialized countries in the world, enjoying a high level of innovative efficiency, although a long way away from the performance of the most
innovative countries. It is high up in any calculation of wealth and
quality of life. It is among the European regions with a pro capite gross
domestic product (GDP) of more than 25,000 euros, 11 and comes thir. Ibid., pp. 15-18. See in particular figure 8 and 9 at pp. 17-18, and table 1 at p. 16.
. European Innovation Scoreboard 2007, p. 9, fig. 2.
10. Ibid., pp. 23-27. In particular: p. 25, fig. 11.
11. Europe in figures, Eurostat yearbook 2008, ���������������������������������������������
Office for Official Publications of the Euro-
Innovation in Regional Context / 129
tieth out of 268 European areas according to the estimate of added
value per inhabitant. The rate of employment – calculated as percentage of employed among people between fifteen and sixty-four years
old – is between 65-70%, while the rate of unemployment (data for
2005) was below 5% of the total workforce. 12 Although the economic
history of Emilia Romagna since the World War II cannot be reduced
exclusively to the industrial districts, the economic literature on the
region has highlighted how central this productive organization has
been to its success. Recalling Alfred Marshall and his “industrial atmosphere”, Becattini defined the industrial district “a socio-territorial
entity which is characterized by the active presence of both a community of people and a population of firms in one naturally and historically bounded area”. 13 Within the district, the action of a shared
corpus of values – between tradition and culture – matured in a group
of occupations, constructs competitive advantages that are not generated by a particular firm, and are made available to all internal actors.
Such were considered: the transmission of work skills from one generation to another; the development of a micro-supply network and
the division of the phases of work among the firms of the district; the
use of specialized machinery; the construction of a labor market able
to respond to the demand for skills.
Sebastiano Brusco in 1989 put forward his “Emilia model”, 14 according to which in the region there were districts that produced consumer
goods, others involved in the construction of investment goods, and
those of the tourist industry of the Adriatic Riviera. Within these, production was organized between a few firms selling finished products
and many firms – most of them small and medium enterprises – linked
to the former as micro-suppliers. Brusco underlined some of the basic
socio-political factors for the development and the functioning of these
pean Communities, Luxembourg, 2008��������������������������������������������������
, p. 504, map 13.1; Confindustria Emilia-Romagna,
Alla scoperta della ricerca industriale. Quello che i numeri non dicono, p. 8, tab. 1; available at
12. Europe in figures, Eurostat yearbook 2008, op. cit., p. 510, map 13.7 and p. 512, map.
13.9; Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna, Rapporto 2007 sull’economia regionale, p. 10, available
at http://www.rer.camcom.it/studi-ricerche/rapporto-economia-regionale.
13. G. �����������
Becattini, The Marshallian industrial district as a socio-economic notion, in F. Pyke,
G. Becattini and W. Sengenberger (eds.), Industrial districts and inter-firm co-operation in
Italy, International Institute for Labour Studies, Geneva, 1990, p. 38.
14. S. Brusco, Il «modello Emilia»: disintegrazione produttiva e integrazione sociale, in
S. Brusco, Piccole imprese e distretti industriali. Una raccolta di saggi, Rosenberg & Sellier,
Torino, 1989, pp. 247-291.
130 / Innovation in Regional Context
districts. If the institutions of the Italian state were not decisive for the
region, the room for action left free had been occupied by the local
authorities that administered the area, seeking to maintain the internal
equilibrium and contribute to the improvement of the quality of life.
On the other hand, the social fabric, made up of people with quite a
broad range of work opportunities, had cohered around a work ethic
based on commitment, passion, and honesty.
In the mid-1990s, Werner Sengenberger pinpointed some transformations that were having consequences for the identity of the districts
and that also involved Emilia Romagna’s industries. Among these
changes were the sub-contracting of certain levels of production outside the district; sub-contracting the supply of capital goods, also outside the district; the emergence of new kinds of entrepreneur and the
redefinition of the balance of power and collaboration; and a greater
industrial concentration, which encouraged innovation and attracted
capital. These transformations were linked to international economic
dynamics: “The decisive question is whether a system of endogenous
local production can survive in an economic environment characterized by global markets and global production led by trans-national
companies”. 15 Sengenberger saw innovation as the crucial element for
the future of the districts.
According to Bardi and Bertini (2005), 16 Emilia Romagna’s system
of production is indeed undergoing a transformation characterized by
the factors set out by Sengenberger, and strengthening its innovative
capability. The regional system went through an initial resource-based
phase, in which the economy was backward and the exploitation of
local resources central – corresponding to the centrality of agriculture.
The economy then became manufacture-based, thanks to a widespread
“culture of hard work, entrepreneurial flair, and cooperation”. 17 Finally, in the early years of the new century, the regional economy took on
knowledge-based contours. Symptomatic of this is the diminution of
the economic impact of traditional activities, attested by the increased
importance of medium and high-tech sectors; the growing importance
15. W. Sengenberger, “Quali opzioni per i distretti industriali”, Italian translation in
Il ponte, L,7-8, 1994, p. 45.
16. A. Bardi, S. Bertini (eds.), Dinamiche territoriali e nuova industria. Dai distretti alle
filiere. (V Rapporto della Fondazione Istituto per il Lavoro), Maggioli Editore, Rimini, 2005,
pp. 23-81.
17. Ibid., p. 14.
Innovation in Regional Context / 131
of the R&D sector and innovations (of product and process) for companies, with a greater involvement of the universities and research centers; the creation of advanced services for firms, requiring a high level
of professional skill; and the development of new innovative production systems.
At the micro-economic level, evidence of this shift is provided by
the subcontracting of some production phases, as well as the use of
capital goods from outside the traditional districts; the specialization
of production on the basis of international rather than strictly local requirements; the emergence of new entrepreneurial actors bringing a
redefinition of the balance of power in the area; industrial concentration, now aiming at innovation for which more capital is needed. After
the year 2000, in Emilia-Romagna, there has been an increase in the
number of medium-size firms better equipped than before, through
their production and organizational structure, to deal with the new
contingent situation, even if small companies still dominate the industrial landscape. R&D and investment in R&D have also increased, as
has the proportion of regional exports out of the total for Italy, so that
Emilia-Romagna has now become the country’s third exporting region.
In Emilia-Romagna the main areas of production are fashion, agriculture and food, construction and building, engineering and the innovative and professional services – for a total of 427,890 firms (2009). 18
The first three areas are the most traditional ones, and reached their
consolidated form in the 1990s. Today the textile and clothing industries are facing a crisis of competitiveness, the food industry is more
or less stable, and construction is a growth sector. Engineering and the
innovative and professional services are the areas with the greatest innovative potential, as they are based on highly specialized engineering
and advanced services 19.
How is innovation, essential to compete at the international level,
evolving in the region? The European Regional Innovation Scoreboard
2006 is a publication that measures the level of innovation attained by
208 European regions. The performance of the regions examined was
analyzed on the basis of seven statistical indicators, which aimed to
verify the numbers of the workforce having a third level qualification
18. As reported in Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna, Rapporto sull’economia regionale nel
1999 e previsioni per il 2000. �����������������������������������������������������������
The document is available here: http://www.ucer.camcom.gov.
19. Bardi and Bertini, Dinamiche territoriali e nuova industria, op. cit., pp. 29-61.
132 / Innovation in Regional Context
(the highest), the employment levels of manufacturing production and
services in the medium and high-tech sectors, the updating of work
skills, public and private expenditure in R&D, and the number of patents. 20 Focusing on human capital, on the technological level of regional industries, on the importance of research as the driving force behind
innovation, and on the ability to obtain concrete innovative results, the
ranking of the regions broadly coincides with the results obtained by
the member states: the regions of the more innovative European states
are generally also the most innovative. Emilia-Romagna is placed 81st,
the fourth Italian region behind Lazio (44th), Lombardy (71st) and Piedmont (73rd). Its strong points are the employment rate in medium and
high-tech manufacturing, and the number of patents deposited at the
European Patent Office (EPO). These data are confirmed by other European reports: in absolute terms, in 2006 the region was placed eighth
among the top twenty European regions for employment in the medium and high-tech manufacturing sectors – with a clear disproportion in favor of the former – and in 2002 with 786 non high-tech patents
(197 per million inhabitants) it was among the most prolific European
regions for patents. 21 It lagged behind in the amount of human capital
with high level of training, and private investment in R&D. 22
Just before the “Lisbon Strategy”, Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna 23
had analyzed the innovation performance of Emilia-Romagna on the
basis of R&D and technological capacity – inserting it in a broader
comparative dimension involving Italy and the EU. If we look further
back, also the technological balance of payments – i.e. “the flows of receipts and payments concerning transactions of technology not incorporated in physical goods […], in the form of rights to intellectual and
industrial property such as patents, licenses, know-how and technical
assistance” 24 – before 2000 showed a deficit for Italy (for 1992-1997 for
20. MERIT, 2006 European Regional Innovation Scoreboard (2006 RIS), January 4, 2007,
pp. 4-5, table 2, available at http://www.proinno-europe.eu/pdf/eis_2006_regional_innovation_ scoreboard.pdf.
21. Eurostat, Science, technology and innovation in Europe, Office for Official Publications
of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2008, p. 188, figures 7.11; Eurostat, Science
and technology in Europe, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities,
Luxembourg, 2006, pp. 44-45, table 3.5.
22. MERIT, European Regional Innovation Scoreboard (2006 RIS), op. cit., p. 9, table 5,
and pp. 16-23, Annex 1.
23. Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna, Rapporto sull’economia regionale nel 1999 e previsioni
per il 2000, op. cit., pp. 5-26.
24. Ibid., p.7.
Innovation in Regional Context / 133
operations over twenty million Italian Lire) and for the region (which
over the same period and for the same type of operation showed a favorable balance only in 1994 and 1996). Even calculating the number of
patents deposited at the EPO from 1979 to 1996 and taking into account
the number of inhabitants in 1990, Italy ranked among the areas with
the highest patent capacity only thanks to the northern regions, among
which Emilia-Romagna, with a medium to high capacity. These three
indicators saw Italy well behind many other countries, while EmiliaRomagna did not show signs of a performance very different from the
country as a whole, despite its good record for patents. 25
The report then analyzed investments per employee of regional
firms for 1989-1998: 26 their progress at constant values was uniform
varying within a range of between sixteen and twenty million Lire (i.e.
between approximately 8,263 and 10,329 Euro). The type of investment has also always shown the same scale of priority: plants, machinery, and equipment continued to account for over half the total
expenditure; factory buildings and other industrial constructions were
the second item of investment. Expenditure on training was low, and
that on R&D modest, though the trend was slightly improving. This
was because regional firms in the 1980s and first half of the 1990s had
activated strategies aiming primarily to develop economies of scale in
mature sectors: i.e. they sought to be competitive in production and
trade by adapting themselves to the demand available at the time. According to this model, it was more efficient to purchase technology
or research instead of investing in it. With the end of the 1990s, the
market changed rapidly, together with the quality of productive processes and goods obtained, imposing a change in perspective. The Ufficio Studi emphasized, however, that if the investment in research had
increased, it was sustained by firms only to the extent of 23.6%. Of this
amount, only 15% turned out to be directed towards the most innovative research, such as design and R&D.
Investments were thus directed primarily at strengthening productive capacity, and not so much towards innovation. The latter, between
1989 and 1998, was the prerogative of just a few medium size or large
firms, where anyway R&D expenditure never exceeded 0.7% of the
25. Ibid., pp. 5-8. The sources of Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna are ISTAT, Ufficio
Italiano Cambi and EPO.
26. Ibid., pp. 11-14.
134 / Innovation in Regional Context
turnover. Those manufacturing sectors most involved in R&D were:
means of transport (14% of total investment), engineering (12.8%),
and, surprisingly, leather-goods and footwear (11.8%).
In 1999, the conclusion was that “Emilia-Romagna firms [have] a
modest innovative capability, poorly nourished by investment choices
which aim to favor those productive areas whose benefits are evident
in the short term”. 27 One of the structural problems of the regional
production system determining this innovation performance lay in the
presence of a majority of small firms, which did not have the means to
carry out long term strategies – i.e. risky, heavy investment – and were
therefore forced to follow the cyclical economic trend.
Almost ten years later, Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna, 28 in collaboration with the regional government, referred to an ISTAT enquiry, for
which Emilia-Romagna was the second Italian region after Piedmont
on the basis of number of innovative firms, i.e. firms that over the period observed carried out “the implementation of a new or significantly
improved product (in goods or services), or process, a new marketing
method, or a new organizational method in business practices, workplace organization, or external relations”. 29 35.5% of regional firms
carried out innovation, 6% innovated their own products, 18% the production processes, and 11%, both processes and products. In addition,
with 161 patents per million inhabitants it stood among the top twenty-five European regions and in first place in Italy in terms of number
of patents deposited. The regional Chambers of Commerce carried out
research on the technological needs of the region, and the survey involved a sample of a thousand firms, of which 90% were small. This
research showed that the biggest group of firms tended to improve
what they had already, and so their innovation was mainly incremental rather than radical, whereas investment in R&D was strategic overall for a minority of the firms considered. This innovation dynamic
was common to the various productive sectors. At the same time, the
strategies differed: where innovation was incremental, investment
was in machinery and in collaboration at the local level with suppliers and clients; firms with a marginal level of incremental innovation
broadened their relationships of collaboration, and took part in fairs
27. Ibid., p. 14.
28. Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna, Rapporto 2007 sull’economia regionale, op. cit.
29. OECD, Glossary of Statistical Terms, available at http://stats.oecd.org/glossary:
“innovation” and “innovative firm”.
Innovation in Regional Context / 135
and conferences; finally, the most innovative firms created both external and internal networks founded on the knowledge or know-how
of their own personnel, and on R&D. This data seems to indicate that
around 2007 Emilia-Romagna’s firms innovated, but via mechanisms
basically not linked to research.
The main problems that the firms interviewed in 2007 indicated regarding their readiness to invest in innovation were two: they faced
risks that were just too high for their own capacity, and they had trouble finding qualified personnel. To these one should add their ignorance of what local institutions and universities were doing in terms of
innovation. All their problems were also linked to their small size, the
sample being representative of an industrial fabric where small and
medium size companies were the majority. 30
Analysis of the technological level of Emilia Romagna’s firms also
indicated that the productive sector continued to be specialized in low
or medium low technology. Both the firms working in manufacturing
sectors and those in services, examined through the Register of Firms,
were divided up on the basis of their technological and knowledge
levels. Of the manufacturing firms in business up until 2006, 48.6% operated at a low technological level, 27.7% at a medium low level, 18%
medium high, and 5.7% at a high level. There was a similar distribution for services: most firms (69%) operated at a low knowledge level,
23.3% at a high level in the services working for the market, 3.5% at a
high level working for high-tech production, and 4.2% in high-level
financial services. So, overall, the majority of firms operated in services with low knowledge content, and 31% of them in high knowledge
content services. 31
According to these findings, Emilia-Romagna’s productive system
was involved in increasing and improving its innovative capacity – especially in sectors where it already had technical competence – but this
development seemed on the whole to be independent from structured
research. Innovation in Emilia-Romagna thus appeared to be basically
incremental, stabilizing at medium technological levels, and characteristic of traditional regional production – as Eurostat shows, 32 aiming
to reveal the innovative performance of European regions on the basis
30. Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna, Rapporto 2007 sull’economia regionale, op. cit., pp.
31. Ibid., p. 13, table 1.5.
32. MERIT, 2006 European Regional Innovation Scoreboard (2006 RIS), op. cit.
136 / Innovation in Regional Context
of indicators measuring above all high levels of technology and radical
innovation. Understanding the innovation possibilities of Emilia-Romagna’s productive system probably means not simply recognizing
its specific features, but also that between this regional system and the
national context there are significant analogies – such as innovation
without research, a very low expenditure on R&D, a high proportion
of small and medium size firms, and a workforce with low-medium
training levels.
Science and technologies are developed all over the world, but the
degree of physical and financial mobility is not the same for all firms.
The weaker ones will seek to collaborate with technical and scientific actors which are closer both physically and financially, whereas
firms with greater capabilities will be able to range further afield in
the search for better knowledge and opportunities. An area’s system,
identified by its productive apparatus, the expertise and infrastructure
it contains for mobility and innovation, is more or less advantageous
for innovation both for resident firms and those outside. A question
already raised by Sengenberger in 1994 comes up again here, when he
asked himself whether in the global economy a margin of action did
not remain for public institutions in collaborating with firms “so that
local areas could become inviting and competitive”. 33 In recent years
the regional government of Emilia-Romagna – through its Assessorato
alle Attività Produttive, Sviluppo Economico e Piano Telematico [Department of Productive Activity, Economic Development and Telematic
Planning] – has set up policies to strengthen the innovative and productive capability of regional industrial sectors – taking into account
that the majority of firms are of small or medium size, and that the
region’s industry is characterized by so-called “mature” sectors. So,
how do the local authorities respond to the requirements of modernization and international competition that the area’s industrial system
has to deal with? We will be outlining an answer through the analysis of Emilia-Romagna policy, as well as a comparison with another,
33. Sengenberger, Quali opzioni per i distretti industriali, op. cit., p. 46. [is
this the reference?].
Innovation in Regional Context / 137
in many ways similar, regional industrial economy, that of the Veneto
–which is also a driving force of the Italian economy, but is led by opposing political groups. 34
With the reform of the Italian constitution of 2001, the regions received legislative powers for “scientific and technological research and
support for innovation for productive sectors”. 35 Emilia-Romagna’s regional government was the first to pass a law in 2002 on the Promozione del sistema regionale delle attività di ricerca industriale, innovazione e
trasferimento tecnologico. 36 With this measure it can promote or directly
carry out interventions aiming to:
a)develop the regional productive system towards industrial research,
technological transfer and innovation […] encouraging firms’ access, especially small and medium size firms, […] to the activities and structures
of regional, national and international research […];
b)transfer knowledge and technological skills and utilize the human resources of the universities, research centers and firms […];
c)coordinate development of a network of initiatives, activities and structures for research of industrial interest and technological innovation. 37
This law defined the legislative framework for policies adopted
through two other stages. In February 2001 a Protocol of Agreement was
signed between the regional administration, the regional agency for
area development and the research actors in Emilia-Romagna, i.e. the
regional government of Emilia-Romagna, l’ERVET S.p.A., the universities of Bologna, Modena and Reggio Emilia, Ferrara, Parma, the CNR
[National Research Council] and ENEA [National Energy and Environment Institute]. The institutions
agree to participate together in the consortium company ASTER for the promotion of shared activities […] aiming to:
• create and support a network for regional technological transfer […].
•Promote the realization of research projects and contracts, and technological transfer of strategic interest for the Emilia-Romagna regional administration, developed in coordination between the universities and the
research institutions that signed the protocol […].
34. Centre-right in the Veneto and centre-left in Emilia-Romagna.
35. Costituzione della Repubblica Italiana, art. 117.
36. Regione Emilia-Romagna, Legge Regionale 14 maggio 2002, n. 7 available at http://
www.ermesimprese.it/wcm/ermesimprese/canali/innovazione/Documentazione/Normativa/LR-ER-2002-7.pdf. The law was later modified through the Legge Regionale 22
dicembre 2005, n. 20.
37. The quotation reflects the modifications made from paragraph 1, art. 38 of the
Legge Regionale 2005, n. 20.
138 / Innovation in Regional Context
•Support action to valorize the results of research, also through the creation of a company. 38
If the Protocol of Agreement laid the institutional basis for collaboration between regional government and research organizations – whose
function was to realize the aims of the Regional Law 2002, n. 7 – these
aims were pursued with the Programma Regionale per la Ricerca Industriale, l’Innovazione e il Trasferimento Tecnologico (PRRIITT) [Regional Program for Industrial Research, Innovation and Technological Transfer]
approved in 2003. 39 The PRRIITT, i.e. the third platform of the Programma Triennale per le Attività Produttive 2003-2005 [three year program for
productive activities] aimed to “contribute to the consolidation of a
regional community of knowledge and innovation, consisting of actors
who in their respective environments operate to further innovation
and interact for the exchange and development of new knowledge”. 40
It intervened to stimulate company investment in R&D, support the
setting up of industrial laboratories by firms, promote high-tech entrepreneurial activities originating in research, transfer technological
knowledge to firms, construct a network of laboratories and centers
for industrial research and innovation in support of Emilia-Romagna’s
industries. 41
The first measure taken by the PRRIITT 2003-2005 was in two parts
– one addressed to the industrial research projects and pre-competitive
development, 42 and the other to the development of industrial laboratories activated by small and medium size firms. The second measure was functional to the start up of new “entrepreneurial and professional activities with considerable technological content”, 43 making
available the necessary programs and funding. The third measure engaged in the transfer of technological knowledge and skills, via contracts between firms and research institutions – aiming at the training
38. Regione Emilia-Romagna et al., Protocollo d’Intesa, 2001, available at http://www.
39. Consiglio della Regione Emilia-Romagna, Progr. n. 525, pp. 1-9, available at http://
40. Ibid., p. 12.
41. Ibid., p. 13.
42. “Attività di sviluppo precompetitivo” in Legge Regionale 14 maggio 2002, art. 2,
definition c.
43. Consiglio della Regione Emilia-Romagna, Progr. n. 525, op. cit., p. 15, attachment
Innovation in Regional Context / 139
of company employees, to the mobility of those carrying out research
towards firms and to analysis of technological brokerage. Finally, the
fourth measure superintended the creation – by research institutions
together with companies – of research laboratories and technological transfer, the setting up of centers for innovation and the services
necessary for their development. 44 From 2004 to 2007, twenty-seven
laboratories and twenty-four centers were operative, subdivided into
five areas (engineering, food industry, environment and energy, construction, life sciences) – in other words the High Tech Network [Rete
Alta Tecnologia]. In 2008-2009 several merged, becoming respectively
fifteen and eight. For the period 2010-2013 the construction of eleven
technopolis is planned to host the Network, which the regional administration aims to turn into the physical and strategic basis for further
collaboration between research system and regional industry.
The regional administration has also indicated the scientific and
technological needs this system will have to deal with – the research
most significant at the international level being interwoven with the
production specific to Emilia-Romagna’s economy, its patenting abilities and the potential of the regional research system (public and private). The priorities are: advanced engineering and mechatronics; ICTs
and connected services; advanced materials; food processes; genomics and biotechnologies; environment; energy; organizational systems
and work. 45
On taking the case of Veneto, for comparative purposes, we find
that it belongs to the group of European regions with the highest GDP
per capita, over 25,000 Euros. 46 Veneto’s employment rate stands at
between 65% and 70% of the population aged between fifteen and
sixty-four, whereas the unemployment rate is lower than 4% of the
workforce (data for 2008). 47 Even the estimate for value added to basic prices (125,467 million Euros) confirms the consolidated economic
capacity of the region. 48 This brief selection of parameters shows that
44. Ibid., pp. 14-15.
45. Ibid., pp. 26-36.
46. Europe in figures, Eurostat yearbook 2008, op. cit., p. 504, map 13.1.
47. Ibid., p. 504, map 13.1 and p. 512, map 13.9; Eurostat Regional Yearbook 2008, Office
for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2008, p. 83 map
6.1 and p. 88, map 6.5; Unioncamere Veneto, Relazione annuale 2008, p. 20; available at
48. Unioncamere Veneto, Relazione sulla situazione economica del Veneto 2007, table Cet03,
annex to the report: http://www.unioncameredelveneto.it/pubblicazioni/relaz_08/cet.
140 / Innovation in Regional Context
the Veneto occupies a high place in the European regional economic
This economic performance has been achieved thanks to a regional
industry consolidated in sectors that are today called traditional. Unioncamere Veneto singles out nine important productive sectors: the
food industry, the fashion industry, production in wood and furniture,
paper and linked production (among which publishing), the chemical
industry (rubber and plastic), the working of non-metalliferous metals, metals and their products, and the production of machine tools
and that of electric and electronic machines. 49 If there are similarities
between production in the Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, on the whole
there are similarities also in the difficulties they find themselves having
to deal with, as well as their strong points. As far as the expenditure for
services to firms and individuals goes, from 2001 to 2005 this sector increased by 14.4% in the number of firms – accounting for 26.5% of the
Veneto economy – while 18% of its activities is to be attributed to the
advanced tertiary sector. 50 This process has been made possible above
all through the externalization of activities that before were internal
to firms, and to the increase in the demand for services to individuals. The profile taking shape in the Veneto is that of a post-industrial
regional economy, though its deep manufacturing roots have not been
removed – a transformation also characteristic of Emilia-Romagna. 51
The Veneto has a high percentage of small and medium size firms. 52
Their majority status coincides with that in Emilia-Romagna, as does
the tradition of industrial districts: according to the latest ISTAT census
available (2001), twenty-two districts for the Veneto and thirteen for
Emilia-Romagna. 53 In 2007, Veneto firms had a turnover of 49.5 million
Euros of exports – i.e. 13% of foreign Italian trade, 54 just slightly higher
49. Ibid., pp. 124-134.
50. Ibid., p. 297.
51. Unioncamere Veneto, Il Veneto delle imprese. Evoluzione della struttura produttiva
2006, pp. 9-11; the document is available at http://www.unioncameredelveneto.it/pubblicazioni/pub8.htm.
52. Unioncamere Veneto: http://www.ven.camcom.it/pubblicazioni/relaz_08/str01_10/
53. ISTAT, 8° Censimento generale dell’industrial e dei servizi. Distretti industriali e sistemi
locali del lavoro 2001, ISTAT, Rome, 2004, p. 29, table 1.
54. Provisional data for the accounts to the first ten months of 2007 and to a statistical
correction on the basis of the progress of corrections “post 12 months” of the previous
Innovation in Regional Context / 141
than Emilia-Romagna’s 12.8%. 55 Exports are primarily in four kinds of
product, all to do with engineering: industrial machinery, metals and
metalwork, electrical and precision appliances, and motor vehicles and
other means of transport. 56
According to the Eurostat’s 2007 ranking, the Veneto occupied position 122. Its strong points lay in employment in medium- and hightech 57 manufacturing – with a clear majority of employment linked to
the former – and the number of patents deposited at the EPO. 58 The
weaknesses in the innovative system were seen in the lack of highly
trained personnel and in the low level of private investment in R&D. 59
Moreover, Veneto’s balance for the Technological Balance of Payments (BTP) in 2007 was 223 million Euros. Veneto’s BTP was in the
black only in the services with technological content, thanks basically
to technical and engineering consulting. 60 As with Emilia-Romagna,
its innovative system was behind its European competitors, and was
also characterized by an innovation to a great extent not supported by
R&D. From this picture of 2007, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna seemed
to share a very similar industrial economy in the past, and problems
in the present.
Since the early 1990s, Veneto’s regional government has introduced
some instruments for the financial support of research and innovation,
through agreements with the Italian government and through regional
planning. Some infrastructures have been created to link technical and
scientific research to industrial production, such as the partly publicowned company Veneto Innovazione S.p.A [Ltd.] and the scientific
parks GALILEO, VEGA and STAR at Padua, Venice and Verona respectively. These are coordinated in a structured and integrated policy
of innovation. To create a system to be able to stand up to global competition is for both Emilia-Romagna and Veneto a necessity they have
55. Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna, Rapporto 2007 sull’economia regionale, op. cit., p.
56. Unioncamere Veneto, Relazione sulla situazione economica del Veneto 2007, op. cit.,
pp. 20 and 203-206.
57. Eurostat, Science, technology and innovation in Europe, op. cit., p. 188, fig. 7.11. The
Veneto was sixth among the top twenty European regions.
58. MERIT, 2006 European Regional Innovation Scoreboard, op. cit., p. 9, table 5 and p.
20, annex 1.
59. Ibid., p.20, annex 1.
60. Unioncamere Veneto, Veneto Internazionale. Rapporto sull’internazionalizzazione
del sistema economico regionale 2008, Unioncamere del Veneto – Centro studi e ricerche
economiche e sociali, pp. 114-120.
142 / Innovation in Regional Context
to deal with, seeking to redefine the relationships within their socioeconomic systems.
With its Legge Regionale 2007, n. 9 [regional law], Veneto regional
government sought to construct a local system in which industrial production and techno-scientific research could advance in a structural
synergy – aiming for: “[…] innovation and the transfer of knowledge,
supporting and coordinating scientific research and technological development; […] the interaction between disciplines and their utilization for economic and social development and the improvement of the
quality of life […]”. 61 To achieve these aims “a regional system of innovation” has been organized, that will coordinate between specific
organizations within which the various actors of the area are represented, i.e. regional and national government institutions, universities,
trade organizations, and banks. These are linked with the regional government’s executive committee as follows: the committee for regional
direction expresses its opinion on the decisions of the regional government’s executive committee on innovation; the permanent regional
Observatory for scientific research, technological development and innovation monitors the progress of the issues in the region and assists
the regional government’s executive committee; the regional commission for the evaluation of potential economic transfer of public and
university research evaluates the “industrial and commercial potential” of the results obtained by universities and public research centers; the Veneto Innovazione S.p.A. – active since 1988 – has the job of
providing technical support to innovation policies. To carry them out,
this management structure has at its disposal two instruments. The
Piano Strategico Regionale [regional strategic plan] defines the general
objectives to be achieved in terms of research and innovation, in addition to indicating the typologies of the beneficiaries of the interventions by regional government, as well as the criteria of evaluation of
the projects to be funded and the resources to make available. Within
it, the decisions taken through other agreements and laws concerning
innovation are harmonized. The annual intervention measures adapt
the principles of the Strategic Plan to annual funding availability and
to the priorities to be pursued. 62
The first Piano Strategico Regionale (P.S.R.) was approved at the end
61. In Veneto’s Legge Regionale 2007, n. 9, art. 1.
62. Ibid., art. 4, comma [paragraph] 1; artt. 5-10;
art. 11; art. 12.
Innovation in Regional Context / 143
of 2007 for the period 2008-2010 and started from the considerations of
the regional actors, which concluded that:
a)An innovation system based simply on a (by now hypothetical) creativity,
and which does not structurally integrate itself within activities of R&D,
cannot be reproduced. It is therefore necessary “to absorb graduates and
researchers”, to promote medial professional figures with regard to research and industry and to strengthen those structures that can catalyze
innovation, such as scientific parks;
b)the creation of networks constructed on the basis of meritocratic choices is
required between firms;
c)the supply and demand of innovation need to be harmonized through a
regional direction;
d) the universities must evolve according to an entrepreneurial logic;
e) public demand must orientate innovation. 63
With the aim of supporting a long term and integrated innovation,
nine areas of intervention were singled out. Support was needed in:
industrial research and experimental development; training, new organizational methods and processes; feasibility studies and support
services for technological transfer; the industrial property of the small
and medium size firms; international collaboration; the development
of new high-tech entrepreneurial activities; the development of centers of innovation – of firms and research centers; the attraction and
training of human resources; the promotion of innovative action for
the public administration. The technical and scientific trajectories that
these interventions must support are determined by taking into consideration local, national and European priorities. The following sectors are singled out as decisive: life sciences; energy; sustainable mobility; agro-food and bio-technologies; ICTs; nanotechnologies; new
technologies relative to the made in Italy; innovative technologies for
the management of the cultural heritage. 64 The application of these
guidelines involves both the scientific parks of the region, and Veneto
S.p.A. In 2007 GALILEO, VEGA and STAR signed an agreement to
coordinate their actions: on its basis the regional government assigned
them specific tasks to connect technical and scientific research with
the entrepreneurial community. Veneto S.p.A. receives tasks centered
63. Consiglio Regionale del Veneto, Piano Strategico Regionale per la ricerca scientifica,
lo sviluppo tecnologico e l’innovazione -2008/2010, Deliberazione n. 73, Prot. n. 12959, 2007,
pp. 8-9.
64. Ibid., pp. 10, 14-15.
144 / Innovation in Regional Context
on the operative management of the P.S.R. and on the promotion of
regional policies of innovation. 65
What does this comparison tell us? First, that both regional governments have chosen an active role within the economic and innovation
dynamic. Through public policies, they seek to foster the interaction
between those who produce and those who possess and develop technical and scientific knowledge. Both regional governments shared the
aim of building up systemic relationships between the various actors
in their area who are capable to develop innovation processes. These
networks should be the response to the problematic questions over
their respective economic and industrial systems raised by global
competition: i.e. improve their production ability collaborating with
those who have new specialist knowledge. Their action has repercussions at the technical and scientific level, in that to construct research
structures, indicate the subjects to explore and provide funding affects
the ability and activities of the regional technical and scientific community itself. In addition, the action of these administrations probably
means that the communication and collaboration between firms and
the institutions engaged in technical and scientific research have until
recently run into difficulties, regarding which regional governments
have played the role of mediators. The knowledge once referred to
has changed, the places of its production and the people who possess
it likewise, as well as those who can thus transfer it to the units that
produce. All this makes the firms’ search for skills more uncertain and
costly and, by altering how they speak and whom they speak to, imposes a transformation in relationships.
In both cases, the aim is to construct a system of relations in which
economic, political-institutional and technical-scientific actors participate. In this effort, both regional governments defined a legal framework, allotted public financial resources (European, national and regional) to the construction of these systems, organized bureaucratic
apparatuses responsible for their management and singled out infrastructures for industrial research. If Veneto regional government has
operated more on the definition of management organizations – the redefinition of the tasks of Veneto S.p.A. (comparable to the redefinition
of ASTER Cons.p.A.) and the setting up of a Committee of Direction,
an Observatory and a Commission for the evaluation of potential for
65. Ibid., pp. 16-19.
Innovation in Regional Context / 145
economic transfer – Emilia-Romagna has operated more at the level of
technical and scientific infrastructures to deal with a deficit which was
not a feature in Veneto. The role of the High Tech Network [Rete Alta
Tecnologia] in Emilia-Romagna corresponds approximately to that of
Veneto’s three scientific parks.
The policies considered are therefore significant of two related features: the traditional system of regional economic and industrial relations face the problem of redefining itself by taking into account actors
that may turn out to be decisive to compete in international markets.
The small and medium size firms, which make up the most significant
part of these area systems – and also of the whole of Italy – are not able
independently to appropriate for themselves and by themselves those
competitive advantages that they lack structurally, and which require
new external and internal relationships. Echoing Marshall, we could
say that the regional administrations are seeking to bring up to date
the industrial atmosphere of these industrial systems via the introduction of new actors, new knowledge and new practices to make it work
again. It follows that the real protagonists of this change can only be the
firms themselves, the universities, and the public and private research
centers, and that the definition of a regional system of innovation will
depend primarily on their choices. It is hence reasonable to think that
the needs and the objectives of today will have to overcome the force of
inertia represented by the behavior and the habits of the past.
The idea of a Regional Innovation System (RIS) appeared for the
first time in the early 1990s. 66 Asheim, Coenen, and Svensson-Henning
put forward a classification of RIS according to three general typologies. 67 The first category is the “territorially embedded RIS”, where
innovation is dependent mainly on limited learning processes, without any considerable involvement of knowledge organizations (such
as universities and research centers). These networks of innovation are
66. P. Cooke, “������������������������������������������������������������������
Regional innovation systems: Competitive regulation in the new Europe”,� Geoforum, 23, 3, 1992, pp. 365-382.
67. B. T. Asheim, L. Coenen, M. Svensson-Henning (eds.), Nordic SMEs and Regional
Innovation Systems. Final Report, Nordic Industrial Fund – Center for Innovation and
Commercial Development, Lund, 2003.
146 / Innovation in Regional Context
considered endogenous, because they generally originate in a pre-existing cluster (regional or local) of small and medium size firms, characterized by a reciprocal exchange – they learn from each other and
compete through cooperation – and supported by organizations committed to the improvement of their technological and organizational
abilities (such as the service centers). The three authors, in giving a
concrete example, actually cited Emilia-Romagna. 68
In section two, we saw that, after the World War II, one of the main
driving forces behind Emilia-Romagna’s industrial system was the
consolidation of industrial districts. Within these, small and medium
size firms competed and collaborated at the same time, via a local
system of micro-supplying that encouraged specialization and coordinated work. There was a local labor market through which knowledge and expertise were developed and transmitted – both from one
generation to the next and between the companies of the district. The
economic relationships were supported by firms lying closely together
and by a homogeneous society, and promoted by left-wing local administrations who emphasized “cooperation”. Moreover, the statistical analyses examined seem to indicate, on the one hand, that the level
of workers’ training and investment in R&D are two critical points of
Emilia-Romagna’s economic system; and on the other, that the productive strategies of the 1980s and 1990s encouraged innovation of an
incremental kind, oriented towards adaptation to the demands of the
market. It would therefore seem that institutions like universities, research centers, or the R&D sectors within the firms themselves did not
play much of a role in developing innovation abilities in the regional
industrial system.
Asheim, Coenen, and Svensson-Henning argue that this typology
of RIS can be developed into a second one – the “regional networked
innovation systems”. Even in this case, the firms and the organizations
supporting them are linked to a specific region and characterized by
local and interactive learning processes. These systems are, however,
more programmed through the strengthening of those institutional
infrastructures that can turn out to be useful for the development of
the innovative capacity of the regional industrial system – as a greater
involvement of local research centers in the processes of firms’ innovation. In other words, these systems are like an endogenous devel68. Ibid., p. 32.
Innovation in Regional Context / 147
opment of the first ones, pursued via public sector policies aiming to
strengthen the innovation capacity of the industrial system and internal collaboration within the area. 69
As we said in section three, Emilia-Romagna regional government
– like Veneto – is seeking through public policies to strengthen the innovation capacity of the industrial system of the area it governs. Its
objectives and its instruments seem thus to be identifiable in the second category of RIS indicated above, 70 as means for the structuring of
regional networked innovation systems. The two examples we have examined seem to show that the political and administrative institutions
themselves seek to move primarily at the economic level. On the one
hand, the role played by the two regional policies examined is that of
mediator between actors whose relationships are either not structured
or are at the least not habitual. On the other hand, through policies
of development and innovation, the institutional actors intervene in
the economic, technical, and scientific dynamics, encouraging certain
paths to growth rather than others.
Following this classification, the phase that Emilia-Romagna’s economic and industrial system is going through seems to be characterized by an attempt to foster a transition from the first to the second RIS
typology. 71 After World War II, the system developed through local
bottom-up dynamics – like the economic collaboration of the small and
medium size firms, the social cohesion and the contribution of the leftwing public administrations – and was able to achieve excellent levels
of economic and social development. However, new competitors have
appeared on the international scene, able to introduce new products
or to produce at lower cost, while markets have grown in number and
variety. Emilia-Romagna firms must therefore compete in a more complex context, which bring many to question the cohesion and efficiency
of the traditional local system. 72 Emilia-Romagna regional government
proposes to govern this change, bringing the productive capacity of the
regional industrial system up to date via the collaboration with those
local actors that develop technical and scientific knowledge (like universities and research centers) – hence through a new endogenous de69. Ibid., p. 33.
70. Ibid.
71. A hypothesis that could be valid also for the Veneto, but this needs to be verified.
72. See text corresponding to notes 16-19, above.
148 / Innovation in Regional Context
velopment. The positive outcome of this attempt – and the passage to
the second RIS typology – is by no means certain. Not only because the
construction of institutional infrastructures for R&D requires time, but
also because the landscape in which the regional government can act
is more fragmentary than in the past. For example, in Emilia-Romagna
industrial groups have been formed that unite medium size firms and
that play an important role within local sectors: they seem able both to
extend their commercial network at the international level independently, and to obtain the knowledge and expertise they need – therefore without the need of a mediator. Furthermore, on the institutional
side, the work of the regional administration is now flanked by that of
other local, national, and international organizations aiming at fostering firms’ internationalization and innovation – like the trade organizations, l’Istituto Nazionale per il Commercio Estero (ICE)[National
Institute for Foreign Trade], the embassies, the European Commission,
and the banks. The effectiveness of the regional government’s actions
therefore depends to a great extent on the coordination and mediation
with initiatives of other institutions – as is clearly confirmed by the fact
that the regional innovation policies are funded for the most part by
the European Fund for Regional Development (FESR).
Linked to these considerations, there is a question that the present
article can only leave open. If in fact innovation appears to be the product of the encounter between firms and scientific research as is carried
out in the new international context, it becomes very important to understand, in the new regional system which is emerging, what the new
channels of communication and learning are, what knowledge is actually being exchanged, where it arrives and where it doesn’t, who are
the professional figures that transfer it, and who controls it within the
firms. An economic and statistical approach aiming, in most cases, to
quantify data on which comparison and generalization in terms of performance can be made, cannot do justice to the concrete relationships
that characterize the innovation process. We believe, therefore, that a
quantitative analysis centered on performance should be integrated
with a qualitative one, in order to shift the focus from the performance
of the area’s innovation system to its structure and its specific history.
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map of “Ulysses”
Armando Caracheo
In this paper, there are two different themes that I would like to address. The first one concerns how James Joyce, by focusing on two concepts that were born at the end of the nineteenth century, created a spatio-temporal map within Ulysses. The second one is the interaction that
Joyce had with the scientific ideas of his times, and how these ideas can
be found within the main structure of Ulysses. After developing each
subject, it will be seen that the two themes are interconnected, and that
the structure I am calling the spatio-temporal map of Ulysses came to
be part of Joyce’s discourse more or less at the same time when he was
interacting with those scientific ideas. Moving from two concepts that,
in the first decade of the 20th century, were adopted as part of Western
culture – the concepts of simultaneity and of different viewpoints, or
parallax – Joyce conceived a new approach to represent an experience,
and shaped a new narrative style.
In what follows, I will sketch the concept of simultaneity as developed in Ulysses. Joyce used this concept in two different senses: the
narration of thoughts and actions of a character at the same time, and
the different actions taking place at the same time at a distance. I will
discuss a specific structure that Joyce developed within his narrative
regarding this theme. I will then follow the same path with the concept
of parallax. The interpretation Joyce gave of this concept had to do
with the different perspectives an object can be seen from. By the time
he was writing the last chapters of his novel, he was fully aware of the
curious implications of the geometrical and astronomical concept of
parallax for his narrative. Joyce repeatedly mentioned this word and
his purpose was to emphasise certain notions associated with it. After
outlining how the two concepts were developed in Joyce’s novel, I will
stress the interest Joyce had for the concept of map, and his desire to
include this notion within Ulysses. Finally, I will outline how the three
150 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
ideas form a unity that I will call the spatio-temporal map of Joyce’s
By the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, Joyce had
developed a non-cursory interest in science and mathematics, and the
three concepts to be discussed were shaped by this interest.
Organising simultaneity
Within Ulysses, the reader can tell when different spatial events
happened simultaneously. Joyce narrated different actions that occurred to different characters at the same time but in different places,
and connected them using certain narrative stratagems. For example,
the cloud that Stephen and Bloom see respectively in the chapters of
“Telemachus” and “Calypso”. Or in the chapter of “Wandering Rocks”,
where (without counting the journey of Father Conmee and the trip to
Sandymount) eighteen different moments are narrated: by some hints
given by Joyce, it can be inferred that all of them happened simultaneously. The idea of simultaneity is directly linked to the idea of time and
its flux. For a better understanding of how the idea of simultaneity is
a crucial aspect in Joyce’s narrative, I will dedicate a couple of paragraphs to the subject of time and its importance within Ulysses.
If we look at the structure of Ulysses we see that it is divided in
eighteen chapters, and in each a certain time is precisely counted, except for the last one, which is a monologue of Molly, and the exact time
cannot be told or measured. According to the schemes given by Joyce
in 1920 and 1921 to his friends Carlo Linati and Stuart Gilbert, respectively, this last chapter remains in the infinite time. 1 The entire day of
Leopold Bloom is narrated with extreme detail, as with scientific precision. In Ulysses, each episode counts time: each episode is constrained
by the hours when the actions took place. However, the thoughts of the
characters maintain a constant, internal dialogue, which is apart from
time, and from the succession of events.
This narrative technique has been recognized as the “interior monologue” (monologue intérieur), an expression which was first coined by
. R. Ellman, Ulysses on the Liffey, Oxford University Press, New York, 1972. Appendix:
The Linati and Gorman – Gilbert Schemas Compared, pp 186-189.
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 151
the French author Paul Bourget (1852-1935) in his book Cosmopolis. 2
James Joyce recognised that he had borrowed this technique from the
readings of Edouard Dujardin, and specifically from the book Les Lauriers sont coupés, which he read during his first visit to Paris in 1902.
Joyce was impressed by this technique because it provided a narrative
that allowed the reader to know exactly what the different characters
were thinking. Thus, the technique adopted by Joyce added another
dimension to the linearity of the written text. Nonetheless, the technique also generated a problem for the reader: the comprehension of
the story turned out more complex than it used to be.
One of the biggest problems to understand Joyce’s story, why it
seems so complicated to follow it, is because in the book the thoughts
and the actions of a person are treated without a clear distinction. Thus,
the reader must wait to understand the plot, and in the meanwhile,
he/she is confronted with sentences that may make no sense. This happens because words within the scheme of a book - as a material object
- do not allow for more than one direction or dimension enabling the
reader to tell what a character might be thinking while acting. When
the thoughts and the actions of a personage are narrated at the same
time, a language overlap arises. At the same time, we do live between
our thoughts or memories, and what our senses feel. If I am walking in
the street alone I might be thinking on what I see, but in my mind there
could also be other ideas, which might absorb me more than what I am
seeing. Our perception is a constant interaction between several such
dimensions, and in our daily life they dictate what we are capable to
understand concerning our surroundings. In his novel, Joyce wanted
to capture this aspect of human perception.
What Joyce achieved was to frame two different realities, the inner and the outer, our thoughts and our actions, which are somehow
united in a simultaneous act through the flux of time. Joyce was able to
capture with his narrative the simultaneity of thought and action: “In
Ulysses I have recorded, simultaneously, what a man says, sees, thinks,
and what such seeing, thinking, saying does, to what you Freudians
call the subconscious…” 3
Joyce was not the first to try simultaneity in a novel. We find exam. P. Bourget, Cosmopolis, ������������������������������
Alphonse Lemerre, Paris, 1893.
. R. Ellman, James Joyce, Oxford University Press, New York, 1959, p. 538. Ellman
took this citation from Djuna Barnes, “James Joyce”, Vanity Fair, XVIII, April 1922, p. 65.
152 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
ples of a simultaneity of events, for example, in Madame Bovary (1857). 4
However, its implications were never fully developed before Ulysses.
The concept of simultaneity was used by Joyce at several different levels. If we want to approach the notion, what we have to do first is to
clarify the different levels at which the phenomenon may occur, that is,
to catalogue a number of different situations represented by Joyce. As
far as I can judge, in Ulysses it is possible to distinguish three different
layers in the conception of simultaneity.
The first layer is when James Joyce narrates what his characters,
such as Leopold Bloom or Molly, think and do at the same time. The
technique is constantly repeated in Ulysses, and allows the reader to
know what the character is thinking, as well as what he or she is
doing. Joyce emphasised how the perception of a human being is a
conjunction of two different elements: 1) his or her senses, the relationship with other humans and the exterior world (an outer perception), and, 2), his or her own thoughts (an inner perception). When
a certain situation is taking place, we experience both perceptions,
and Joyce narrated them accordingly. For example, in the chapter of
“Calypso” we can find the following words, which represent only
the thoughts of Bloom: “Timing her. 9.15. Did Roberts pay you yet?
9.20. What had Gretta Conroy on? 9.23. What possessed me to buy
this comb? 9.24. I am swelled after that cabbage. A speck of dust on
the patent leather of her boot”. 5
Furthermore, we can find the case when actions and thoughts are
taking place at the same time. In the chapter of “Lestrygonians”, Bloom
is in a bar ordering some food, then the words said by Nosey Flynn
made him turn his sight to the clock and start thinking: “A warm shock
of air heat of mustard haunched on Mr Bloom’s heart. He raised his
eyes and met the stare of a bilious clock. Two. Pub clock five minutes
fast. Time going on. Hands moving. Two. Not yet”. 6 This duality is intrinsically related with the flux of time: here Joyce is emphasizing this
duality and its relationship with time.
The second layer of simultaneity can be perceived when different
characters interact among each other, with their own thoughts and actions in the same scenario, like in the chapter of “Nausicaa”. The scene
. Joyce was a great admirer of Flaubert since his youth.
. J. Joyce, Ulysses, Penguin Books, London, 2000, p. 84.
. Ibid., p. 219, note 5.
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 153
takes place on the beach, Sandymount Strand, where some fireworks
are going to be displayed. Gerty Macdowell is there with a couple of
friends to see the spectacle. Leopold Bloom also arrives and, at some
distance, both of them start thinking about the other, and they start
flirting with each other. Joyce shows a situation where not only the
characters think and act at the same time, but they also interact with
other humans. The narrative becomes a sort of dialogue of thoughts,
where a certain action is also taking place. At a certain point of the
chapter, Leopold Bloom notices that his watch has stopped at half past
four. We will discover that this is the precise time when his wife, Molly,
was committing adultery. What Joyce is doing is letting us know his
concern not just with the simultaneity of thoughts and actions among
people in the same space, and this brings us to the last layer of simultaneity.
The third layer unfolds when Joyce narrates the actions of different
characters in different scenarios at exactly the same time: the simultaneity of actions spatially apart from each other. For example, the first
three episodes happened simultaneously to the next three episodes. In
the first three episodes, Stephen Dedalus is the main character, whereas in the next three episodes the story focuses on Leopold Bloom’s actions. Several are the clues that allow us to understand that the actions
of both personages are happening at exactly the same time. For example, the cloud in the sky – already mentioned – observed by both characters. Furthermore, Joyce in the schema provided to Stuart Gilbert
in 1921 highlighted the time schedule of the chapters, with the hours
in which the actions took place. Although Joyce, since the beginning,
thought about the unity of the first six episodes, he only thought about
the simultaneity of the actions after 1920: the schemas given to his
friends are different. More in detail, the schema given to Carlo Linati
has different time schedules in the chapters of “Proteus” and “Hades”,
whereas in the one given to Gilbert the hour in which both chapters
occur is the same. Another example takes place in the chapter of “Wandering Rocks”, where eighteen different wanderings are described. The
places of these wanderings are spread through the city of Dublin, and
each of them took place between 3 and 4 p.m. We can deduce that all
of them are taking place simultaneously because within the narrative
there are passages that join the actions in a temporal sense: “Joyce’s
orchestration of Dublin locations and movements in Wandering Rocks
contains some generally realized patterns, some framing and orienting
154 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
schemes, and some sure-fire traps”. 7 In this chapter, there is a chaotic movement of the characters, and of their actions. From Artifoni
to Gerty MacDowell, what Joyce is offering are images of the actions
that each character, in his or her particular spatial location, is pursuing. So, we can have a complete image of what is happening in the city
of Dublin simultaneously at a particular moment. By the end of the
chapter, the reader has the impression of knowing Dublin by the eyes
of the characters. It is like picking a particular moment and being capable to see what is happening in the entire city, which cannot happen
only with one sight – unless you are situated above the city – but with
eighteen different sights.
What we can say about the three layers Joyce used to frame simultaneity in his narrative, is that he went from the most “simple” (the actions and thoughts of a single character), to the most elaborate one (the
actions and thoughts of several characters at a distance): “The structure of Ulysses (though to a less extent than that of the Wake) indicates
that Joyce aspired to outsoar the category of time and see a simultaneous universe – to take, so to speak, a God’s-eye view of the cosmos”. 8
However, the ideas of parallax and mapping were also used by Joyce
in order to achieve a representational system that turned out much
more complex than ever tried before.
The concept of parallax has its origins in the Greek word παράλλαξις,
which means “change”. In physics, particularly astronomy, the word
denotes an apparent change in the observational position of an object
due to a change in the position of the observer. One of the pioneers in
the use of a multiple point of view technique was the American-English writer Henry James. 9 Joyce used the notion to convey the different
possible interpretations of the same event. Declan Kiberd, for exam. M. Seidel, Epic Geography: James Joyce’s Ulysses, Princeton University Press, Princeton
NJ, 1976, p. 185. The author of the book is referring to the words of C. Hart and L. Knuth,
A topographical
guide to James Joyce’s “Ulysses”, A Wake Newsletter Press, Colchester, 1975,
pp. 27-31.
. S. Gilbert, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Faber and Faber, London, 1960, p. 353.
. D. Lodge, The Art of Fiction, Secker & Warburg, London, 1992. In chapter 6 of this
book, it can be found the relationship of Henry James with the multiple points of view
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 155
ple, commenting on Ulysses, noted the different explanations given by
Bloom or Molly concerning the other one. And Budgen said of Leopold
Bloom: “Leopold Bloom is sculpture in the Rodin sense. He is made of
an infinite number of contours drawn from every conceivable angle”. 10
In Ulysses, James Joyce used the word parallax seven times. Through
the novel, it can be seen that the meaning of the word changed. The first
times Joyce used the word focusing on its sound, or to allude to a psychological interpretation of multiple points of view, rather than to convey any scientific meaning. However, in the last chapters of the book it
is clear that he was aware of its astronomical meaning: “CHRIS CALLINAN: What is the parallax of the subsolar ecliptic of Aldebaran?” 11 In
the chapter of “Ithaca”, it is clear that Joyce was acquainted with the
astronomical definition of the word:
With what mediations did Bloom accompany his demonstration to his companion of various constellations?
Mediations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the
lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface
towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Maior) 10 lightyears
(57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension
of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with
belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems
could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in
1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the
parallax or the parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving
wanderers from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in
companion with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life
formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity. 12
So, by the last episodes of the book Joyce knew the scientific definition. Nevertheless, he still used it to convey the different perspectives,
the different points of view an observer could employ to delimit an
object, or a particular situation. He constantly applied it doing reference to human experiences, to different perspectives of the same event.
Kiberd noticed another aspect of the word and its use. Joyce assigns
the notion of parallax a psychological dimension: “Decent quiet man
he is: a psychological version of parallax, the apparent displacement
10. F. Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of the Ulysses, Indiana University Press,
Bloomington, 1960, p. 64.
11. Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 610, note 5.
12. Ibid., p. 819.
156 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
of an object by the various viewpoints adopted by its beholder. Which
Bloom is real? The one we know? Or the various ones here?” 13
Thus, the concept of parallax is used by Joyce in two different ways:
1) parallax has to do with a physical perception of a certain situation
as seen from different points of view, and also, 2), as referred to a psychological aspect, parallax has to do with how the others see us, and
how we see the others. The chapter of “Nausicaa” is an example of
both. In this chapter, Gerty MacDowell, as well as Leopold Bloom, are
immersed in a situation where each has a perception of the other, and
of the situation. The scene is narrated by two different points of view,
first the one of Gerty, and then the one of Bloom, and both the psychological and the physical points of view are considered. Apart from
the thoughts of each of them, we also have the description of the place
where the action takes place and is narrated by both characters. The
chapter of “Wandering Rocks” is also an important example: here the
parallax notion is fully employed as viewpoints. In his book, Budgen
remarks that in this chapter:
The viewpoint changes from one sentence to another so that the reader must
be continually on the alert to follow the variations of scale and angle. The
view constantly changes from a close-up to a bird’s-eye view. A character
is introduced to us at close-up range, and suddenly, without warning, the
movement of another character a mile distant is described. The scale suddenly changes. Bodies become small in relation to the vast space around
them. The persons look like moving specks. It is a town seen from the top
of a tower. 14
In the next sections, I will show how Joyce was deeply concerned
with what a map can provide for the narrative and, second, I will show
how did he combine the concepts of simultaneity, parallax, and mapping for the creation of the spatio-temporal map.
Joyce and cartography
Father Conmee used to say that James’s letters home, which invariably began
by announcing he was well and proceeded by listening the current needs,
sounded like grocer’s lists. To John Joyce they indicate something else; he
13. Ibid. 1010. Comment done by Declan Kiberd (ed. of Ulysses) referring to page
14. Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of the Ulysses, op. cit., p. 124, note 10.
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 157
was to comment on his son, ‘If that fellow was dropped in the middle of the
Sahara, he’d sit, be God, and make a map of it.’
Interview with Mrs. Eileen Schaurek, 1953. 15
A map is an abstract representation of the world which, by its diagrammatic description, helps to frame a certain area of space - it can be
in the land as well as in the sea, even in the universe, although it is not
restricted to space only - where physical features such as a cities, roads,
etc. can be represented. The concept of space is represented within a
map by four aspects: shape, area, direction, and distance. The process
of mapping involves a characteristic function combining reality and
abstraction. Following some recent developments, a map can even be
built from elements having no connection with the natural world.
Cartography has a long tradition, and through it one can abstract
the cultural features of the time when it was conceived. A map can
convey how past cultures perceived the world. In a sense, a map offers
a synthesis of the culture and civilization that produced it.
...early preliterate peoples—as well as those of our own time, or close to our
time—have used widely different means to express themselves cartographically and that their maps are marked by variety in objective, symbolism,
scale, and materials. Similarly, the cartography of literate peoples in antiquity shows remarkable variety in form and function. 16
Cartography is an activity with characteristics typical of a scientific
endeavour, as well as an artistic enterprise. In the history of humankind, maps have been strongly linked with the representation of the
earth; however, this is not the only goal for which maps have been
Cartography, of course, has been changing due to technological innovations. In the second half of the nineteenth century, photography
was responsible for altering in depth the ways in which maps were
made. Aerial photograph came to be the modern perspective on the
ways in which maps were designed, first from balloons, and then after 1910, with airplanes. The airplane revolutionized maps making so
strongly that it can be compared with how printing revolutionized
the Renaissance period. The modern period of cartography started in
15. Ellman, James Joyce, op. cit, p. 28, note 3.
16. N. J.W. Thrower, Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society, The
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996, p. 13.
158 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
1891, when the International Map of the World (IMW) was proposed,
the scale was 1:1,000,000.
Several are the leads that make us believe that Joyce was deeply concerned with the concept of map, and that its introduction in Ulysses as
a narrative technique was a tool for developing new representations of
space and time. His interest for maps can be documented since 1906. 17
As it happened to almost every modernist, Joyce was concerned with
maps, cities, and their relationship with the novel: “Modernist writing
has a strong tendency to encapsulate experience within the city, and
to make the city-novel or the city-poem one of its main forms”. 18 The
idea of map was so present in the thoughts of Joyce that he once, while
speaking with Frank Budgen, mentioned his intention to abstract the
city of Dublin and completely represent it into his narrative:
One important personality that emerges out of the contacts of many people
is that of the city of Dublin.
‘I want,’ said Joyce, as we were walking down the Universitätstrasse, ‘to
give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book’.
We had come to the university terrace where we could look down on the
town. 19
In Ulysses one remarkable feature are the accurate movements of
the personages within a precise spatial dimension. Geography is not
a tool for narrating the story; what Joyce is doing is to generate the
geography of Dublin by mapping the different trajectories followed
by his characters. At each step, another image on how Dublin looks
like is revealed. Thus, geography is inherent in the development of the
story. For Joyce, the places and paths followed by his characters have a
central role in the account of the events.
Ulysses’s geography is based on two geographic spaces, Dublin
and the Mediterranean. Joyce adopted the Odyssey, not only for the
situations and the characters, but also in a geographic sense. It can be
seen how each of the places of Ulysses where the actions take place,
are linked to places mentioned in the Odyssey. According to Michael
Seidel’s study, 20 where he compares the two geographies, Joyce super17. Ellman, James Joyce, op. cit., p. 245, note 3.
18. P. Gay, Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, William Heinemann Press, London, 2007,
p. 100.
19. Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of the Ulysses, op. cit., pp. 67-68, note 10.
20. Seidel, Epic Geography, op. cit., note 7.
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 159
imposed the maps of Dublin and the Mediterranean. Furthermore, it
can be perceived how Joyce established a function (in a mathematical
sense where an element of one set is related to an element of another
set) between the two works while he reproduced the actions of Odysseus as the ones followed by Leopold Bloom.
He reconstructs an epic map as much as he charts the spaces of his native
city. It is not only the general pattern of exile and homecoming that Joyce
borrows from the Homeric Odyssey, but the placing, direction, timing, orientation, disorientation, and repetition of movement within a recognizable
grid. 21
Then in another part of the same book Seidel notes: “Even a cursory
look at the Dublin map suggests that Joyce has reconstructed the Ithaca grid with some exactness in his own Nostos”. 22 Joyce was as interested in accurately reproducing Dublin’s map in his narrative as with
the precision of the time’s schedule, when in each chapter of the book
a specific hour is marked. Geography and time deeply concerned him
as central topics of his narrative. “Among the patterns that permeate
Ulysses, one finds not only the Homeric analogues and several other
schematic elements, but also a perverse naturalism in the attempt to
reproduce the geographical details of Dublin as well as the precision
of the public, chronometric time of 16 June 1904”. 23
Joyce’s topographical description and the use of a rhetoric of cartography is reflected in the characters who, through their monologues
and dialogues, build an entire map of Dublin. 24 With Ulysses, Joyce
achieved a map based on literature, instead of cartography.
What parallel courses did Bloom and Stephen follow returning?
Starting united both at normal walking pace from Beresford place they followed in the order named Lower and Middle Gardiner streets and Mountjoy square, west: then, at reduced pace, each bearing left, Gardiner’s place
by an inadvertence as far as the farther corner of Temple street: then, at reduced pace with interruptions of halt, bearing right, Temple street, north,
as far as Hardwicke place. Approaching, disparate, at relaxed walking pace
21. Ibid., p.123.
22. Ibid., p. 228.
23. U. Kumar, The Joycean Labyrinth: repetition, Time, and Tradition in Ulysses, Clarendon,
Oxford, 1991, p. 4.
24. The rhetoric of cartography and its relationship with Joyce’s book Ulysses is explored by Jon Hegglund in his article “Ulysses and the Rhetoric of Cartography”, Twentieth
Century Literature, 49, 2, 2003, pp. 164-192.
160 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
they crossed both the circus before George’s church diametrically, the chord
in any circle being less than the arc which it subtends. 25
The combination of the speed of the paces, the places mentioned,
and the actions of the characters amounts to a mapping of the city.
The scheme is repeated through Ulysses several times, and the stories
told by the characters converge in a systematic description of Dublin.
This can be particularly noticed in the episode of “Wandering Rocks”.
Frank Budgen shows how geographical accuracy was one of the primordial aspects Joyce aimed at in that chapter: “Joyce wrote the Wandering Rocks with a map of Dublin before him on which were traced
in red ink the paths of the Earl of Dudley and Father Conmee. He calculated to a minute the time necessary for his characters to cover a
given distance of the city “. 26 As Jon Hegglund has remarked, 27 Joyce’s
ideas about maps could be a consequence also of the Victorian attitude
against Ireland, where maps came to be seen as representations of the
horizons of expansion and infinite knowledge: “Post-Enlightenment
cartography imagined itself an ideal form of representation, a way to
reduce the diverse knowledges of the world into an abstract image of
clarity and scientific neutrality”. 28
For Joyce, cartography was somehow linked to the precision offered
by a scientific practice. He did not think of himself as the creator of stories and images, but rather as a cartographer able to bring with words
a certain order into the narrative world, based on a sort of scientific
observation, reinforced by all the references which can be found in
the toponymy of Ulysses. The cultural representation of a map of the
beginning of the twentieth century, is reflected in Ulysses. Hegglund,
referring to Edney’s 29 book says:
As Edney puts it, “The space of the map was not bounded and limited but
was extensible and as potentionally all-encompassing as British power and
knowledge could make it”. The map, then, was both a synecdoche of the imperial archive and a grid for all of its data; it both represented and measured
the British Empire. 30
25. Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 776, note 5.
26. Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of the Ulysses, op. cit., pp. 122-123, note 10.
27. Hegglund, “Ulysses and the Rhetoric of Cartography”, op. cit., note 24.
28. Ibid., p. 188.
29. M. Edney, Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 17651843, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997.
30. Hegglund, “Ulysses and the Rhetoric of Cartography”, op. cit., p.171, note 24.
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 161
Joyce’s schemas given to his friends for a better understanding of his
book reveal the intentions he had concerning the peculiar place of the
reader within the complex maps offered by Ulysses:
I think that in view of the enormous bulk and the more than enormous complexity of my three times blasted novel it would be better to send you a sort
of summary - key--skeleton--scheme (for your personal use only). Perhaps
my idea will appear clearer to you when you have the text... I have given
only catchwords in my scheme but I think you will understand it all the
same. It is an epic of two races (Israelite-Irish) and at the same time the cycle
of the human body as well as a little story of a day (life)... It is also a sort of
encyclopedia. (Letters, i, 146-7). 31
It seems that Joyce was thinking of the reader of his novel as involved in the same maps he provided in the novel: as just another
character exposed to the same map constrictions imposed on the main
characters. Indeed the reader, seen as a Dubliner, was just another link
in the net built by Joyce’s rhetoric of cartography.
Now I want to show how the concepts of simultaneity, different
viewpoints, and map converge into one main map that Joyce built in
The Spatio-Temporal Map of “Ulysses”
To understand the representation of space and time that Joyce wanted to achieve in Ulysses, one must focus on the concepts of parallax and
simultaneity. One must further distinguish between micro events and
macro events; between events occurring at the same spatial location,
and events occurring at different spatial locations.
The first ones are events happening at the same time and space, but
as perceived by different characters. I will call this a “conscious map”
because it is achieved with the interference of thoughts and actions.
This means that each character is simultaneously contributing to map
an event from different points of view, from different perspectives. As
we have already seen, the best example of this mapping in Ulysses is
the chapter “Nausicaa”.
The second kind of events refers to different situations happening
at the same time but in different locations, which is the same as to
31. Kumar, The Joycean Labyrinth, op. cit., p. 75, note 29.
162 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
say different spaces perceived by different characters. I will call this a
“common map”. This means that two (or more) different characters,
simultaneously in time but not in space, are mapping with their different stories two, three or several situations, such as it happens in
the first six episodes of the novel, and in the episode “Wandering
Rocks”. In an extensive perception, the characters achieve a global
map of what was happening in, for example, a city at the same precise
For the “common map” I will specifically outline the scenes and the
actions where these situation of micro maps can be noticed in Ulysses.
One of the biggest challenges to achieve this interpretation of space
within Joyce’s narrative is again the fact that the book, as a material object, is one-dimensional, and, in order to tell parallel stories at the same
time, Joyce had to develop a narrative technique where in a certain
amount of pages the perspective of one character was narrated and, in
the next amount of pages, the same story was narrated but through the
thoughts and eyes of other characters.
As already mentioned, the first six episodes of Ulysses are the representation of this common map, although the phenomenon is often
repeated throughout the book. Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom
moved simultaneously in the city of Dublin, and by the end of the day
they had covered distances and places which fully speak about Dublin’s geography. Stephen Dedalus started from the southeast of the city,
whereas Bloom from the northwest, and, after about two hours they
arrive to the same place, Sandymount. One hour later, they will converge again in another place, the newspaper office. Furthermore, the
contribution of the other characters will be determinant for, 1), mapping the entire city of Dublin and, 2), mapping the city at the same
precise moment, just as it happened in “Wandering Rocks”.
The “conscious map” and the “common map” converge in Joyce’s
narrative. The interior monologue is necessary for the creation of different perspectives, as shown in the chapter “Nausicaa”, where the
same scene is narrated from the several perspectives offered by different characters. Here Gerty narrates the scene as well as Bloom. In this
same chapter, it can be noticed that Joyce is telling a story from different perspectives. Declan Kiberd makes us notice that: “Most have seen
the entire accompanying paragraph as Bloom’s interior monologue,
but it is rather an interweaving – so confident has Joyce become of his
technical mastery – of two very different evaluations of the same expe-
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 163
rience and two consequently discordant discourses”. 32 As we can infer,
the map Joyce built in Ulysses was not just another geographical representation of the Odyssey, but a new conception, where the concepts of
simultaneity and parallax were fundamental.
To sum up, the spatio-temporal map created by Joyce in Ulysses was
a remarkable achievement. What James Joyce created can be thought of
as a novel kind of map, combining somehow the notions of simultaneity and parallax, where all the characters involved, with their thoughts
and actions, contribute to the entire frame of the story.
The question I now want to address is: how could Joyce conceive
such a spatio-temporal map? May the concepts involved in building
such a map be linked to the scientific, mathematic and/or technological
advances of the time? The answer, I think, is yes. As it will be seen in
the next section, I suggest that Joyce’s spatio-temporal map was born
while he was reflecting on ideas that Henri Poincaré had suggested in
his book Science and Hypothesis.
James Joyce was exposed to these ideas at the end of the 1910s, and
he adopted them when, in 1920, he moved to Paris, where Poincaré’s
ideas were still very present in cultural circles.
The origin of Joyce’s map
Joyce started writing Ulysses around 1914, and finished it between
seven or eight years afterwards. In this period of time he moved into
three different cities: Zürich, Trieste, and Paris. In fact, do also to World
War I, Joyce in those years changed his living address more than ten
times. As Michael Groden showed in his book, 33 the first nine chapters
of Ulysses can be considered as representing the first stage of Joyce’s
writing, while the second stage includes the subsequent five chapters,
and the last stage runs from the chapter ‘Circe’ until the end of the book.
Groden described how the ‘artistic goals’ of Joyce radically changed
between the first stage and the third one. The second stage, as Groden
perceived it, was permeated by some conceptions that deeply modified Joyce’s writing style. Groden devoted three chapters to emphasising these changes of the narrative techniques. For the early stage (191432. Kiberd in Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 1086, note 5.
33. M. Groden, Ulysses in Progress, Princeton University Press, Princeton N.J., 1977.
164 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
1918), he used the episode of ‘Aeolus’; for the middle stage (1918-1920)
he used the episode of ‘Cyclops’; and for the last stage (1920-1922), he
used material from the last four episodes of Ulysses. As Groden put it:
“To reach a point at which he could write episodes like ‘Circe’ and ‘Ithaca’, he needed to pass through a fairly long transitional stage of work.
This middle stage involves five episodes ‘Wandering Rocks’, ‘Sirens’,
‘Cyclops’, ‘Nausicaa’, and ‘Oxen of the Sun’”. 34
In the first stage, what it can be seen is an initial narrative technique
based on “third-person, past-tense narration; first-person, presenttense monologue”. The first radical change of style can be notice after
“Scylla and Charybdis”. In the beginning of the chapter “Wandering
Rocks”, Joyce gets into his characters’ minds, and starts a process of
variation within the structure of his narrative. This happened by the
end of 1918, when Joyce explicitly mentioned he was finishing the first
part of Ulysses.
Groden asks himself when and where this change happened. Groden was able to identify several narrative technique changes, as well
as to elaborate a chronological stage for each episode. According to his
perception, the interior monologue technique was first used, and then
replaced, and afterwards reconsidered again:
The radical change in Joyce’s writing – from characters to correspondences,
from story to structure – did not occur suddenly, nor did he plan it in advance. Rather, as he worked on the episodes following ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, he first elaborated and played with the monologue technique; then he
replaced the method with various parodic styles. After this work he was
ready (even though, again, he was not aware of it) for the major new directions of his final stage of writing: the expansive, encyclopedic concerns of
the last four episodes, specially ‘Circe’ and ‘Ithaca’, and the elaborate revisions of the earlier episodes.” 35
The beginning of the year 1918 brought some new ideas to the mind
of James Joyce. At this time, he had already finished the Telemachiad
and also had sketched the Nostos. For example, the parallels between
the geography of the Odyssey and Bloom’s journey have their research
origin in this period of time. The Zürich notebook (VIII.A.5) reveals the
transcriptions Joyce did from Bérard’s book, Les Phéniciens. While he
was writing the chapters of Calypso, Hades, Aeolus, and the Lestrygo-
34. Ibid., p. 37, note 42.
35. Ibid., p. 37s.
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 165
nians, Joyce re-read this book, as is conveyed in the recurrent allusions
to it in his notebook.
Apart from geographical studies, there is also another aspect which
Joyce explored in 1918: the scientific ideas of his time. He started getting familiar, directly or indirectly, with the view of science supported
by Henri Poincaré in his book La Science et l’hypothèse, originally published in 1902. It is not clear whether Joyce read the book ,although, as
we will see, there are several aspects of Ulysses which make us believe
he was aware of Poincaré’s ideas. As has been noted:
Joyce had felt the necessity to update his scientific terminology and his
view of modern physics, mathematics and astronomy around 1918, when
he was preparing the ‘Ithaca’ episode of Ulysses, with its catechetic method,
pseudo-rationality, absurd calculations and intense beauty. One passage in
the preparatory Notesheets is interesting, for it links the themes of doubt, of
absurdity and the logic of scientific discovery”. 36
The note sheets Rabaté is referring to include passages like the following, written by Joyce:
deal logically with the unknown
working hypothesis
reductio ad absurdum
prod. Elim. Of some elements of complexity
1) state of ignorance
2) respect for as yet unknown
3) never shrink absurd. 37
In 1918, Poincaré’s book was very well-known and for Joyce it may
have offered a basis, together with the ideas being circulated by Bertrand Russell in those same years, for his interest in the new scientific notions being addressed in early twentieth-century science. Phillip Herring, in his fine edition of Joyce’s notes, showed how some of
Joyce’s notes might have been based on Russell’s Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy:
Joyce’s notes on mathematics are an especially interesting feature of notebook V.A.2. In fact, some future Joyceans may best remember notebook
V.A.2. not as the notebook compiled for the revision of the typescripts and
proofs of Ulysses but as the manuscript containing Joyce’s cribbings from
36. J.-M. Rabaté, Joyce Upon the Void: The Genesis of Doubt, St. Martin, New York, 1991,
p. 1.
37. As quoted in P. Herring (ed.), Joyce’s Ulysses notesheets in the British Museum, The
University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1972, p. 455.
166 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
Bertrand Russell… Russell’s Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (London, 1919) must be reckoned as an important influence on the penultimate
chapter of the Ulysses. 38
The subsequent pages of Herring’s book show the interaction between Joyce and Russell in detail.
Poincaré conceived space as a purely psychological construction.
This conviction was based in the recent mathematical developments
of Lobachevski and Riemann, which showed the possibility of other
geometries, different from the one proposed by Euclid. These mathematical achievements offered a new way to interpret space. For Poincaré, it was not necessary to assign a certain and specific geometry
to define space. Russell, on the other hand, supported a more strictly
logical (instead of a psychological) necessity in dealing with the concept of space.
Concerning Joyce’s interaction with these ideas, it is worth reminding that he was able to abstract them, as in the pages of his notesheets
for the chapter of “Ithaca”, where he wrote:
Eucl. Space no total curvature of spine (Milly)
Lobatschewsky const. Tot. curv. Neg
Riemann ... pos. 39
As mentioned, these notes are part of the notes used by Joyce for
the chapter “Ithaca”. However, an important amount of the last three
chapters were written years before the actual immersion of Joyce in the
writing of these chapters, which was at the end of 1920.
He always said that he had drafted the last three episodes very early in the
writing of the book (in mid-1920 he wrote that “a great part of the Nostos
or close was written several years ago”; Letters, I, 143), and the notebook
provides support for this connection, since it shows him taking notes for the
entire book at once, even while he was writing specific early sections. (This
should not suggest, however, that his plans for the later episodes were very
far advanced at this stage in his work. He probably had no idea that the later
episodes would differ at all from the ones he was then writing.) 40
The importance of his readings is going to be crucial for the change
38. P. Herring (ed.), Joyce’s Notes and Early Drafts for Ulysses: Selection from the Buffalo
Collection, The University Press of Virginia, �����������������������������
1977, p. 49.
39. Herring (ed.), Joyce’s Ulysses notesheets in the British Museum, op. cit., p. 474, note
40. Groden, Ulysses in Progress, op. cit., p. 77, note 33.
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 167
of perception Groden recognised. At the beginning of the year 1919,
Joyce was starting to write the chapter “Wandering Rocks”. From this
chapter onward, within each episode of Ulysses, the conception of simultaneity (as it is the case in “Wandering Rocks”), parallax (as it is the
case in the chapter of “Nausicaa”), as well as the concept of mapping
(as it is the beginning of the episode “Ithaca”), can be seen at work. A
chronological description of when the chapters were written will give
a better view of how Ulysses, from this stage onwards, was being developed. “Wandering Rocks” was written in the first months of 1919,
“Cyclops” was written in Zürich, and “Nausicaa” in Trieste, and they
were developed in the summer and in the last months of that same
year respectively.
By the beginning of 1920 the chapter of the “Oxen of the Sun”, written in Trieste, was elaborated and, between 18 May and 20 December
of that year “Circe” was written, partially in Trieste and partially in
Paris. “Eumaeus” started to be conceived in the last months of 1920,
and fully finished by 16 April 1921. Then, “Ithaca” and “Penelope”
started to be developed, and they were partially finished by the autumn of that year. The last episode to be written was “Ithaca”: Joyce
finished it by 29 October, whereas “Penelope” was finished one month
before, on 24 September. These three last chapters were all finished in
Joyce did not write the episodes and then left them without change.
As a matter of fact, it should be considered that, after the publication
of the episodes in the Little Review, Joyce continued to change his episodes, and the last version of them, in Ulysses, was completely different
than the first published chapters.
Joyce apparently used a few notes for the original versions of the episodes
and then regularly returned to the notebook for his revisions and augmentations of 1920 and 1921. (He raided the notebook when he compiled the
notesheets for the last seven episodes; over 50 of the notes reappear on the
sheets, bunched mainly on “Cyclops” 7, “Nausicaa” 6, and specially “Circe”
3:100-21.) Despite all this, there are surprisingly few specific uses of these
notes in the book.” 41
For the purposes of our story, there is a clear example where it can
41. Ibid., p. 77.
168 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
be noticed the late interest Joyce had in the ideas of simultaneity, parallax and mapping. 42
What is relevant from this section of the paper is that, in the period
of time running from 1918 until 1920, Joyce deeply changed some of
his concepts as well as the narrative structure of Ulysses.
Science and Hypothesis and James Joyce
As already mentioned, it remains uncertain whether James Joyce
read Poincaré’s Science and Hypothesis. If one compares Ulysses and
Poincaré’s book, however, one can find outstanding convergences, especially concerning the concepts of simultaneity, parallax, and space. It
seems likely that James Joyce read this book, and that part of the space
and time ideas he developed in Ulysses, especially in the last chapters,
were partially based on his reading of Poincaré.
Poincaré wrote his book for a common audience. In part one, he
dealt with mathematics and its principles; in part two, with space,
geometry and its relationship with our perception of nature; in part
three, he addressed the themes of mechanics, motion and energy; and
finally, in part four, he addressed physics, its relationship with mathematics, probabilities, optics, electricity, and electro-dynamics. Poincaré discussed the relative position among objects, and the issue of a
common or absolute orientation in space: “And among the data which
enable us to define this position we distinguish the mutual distances
of these bodies that define their relative positions, and the conditions
which define the absolute position of the system and its absolute orientation in space.” 43 Joyce, we know, was himself trying to represent this
“absolute orientation in space”, and was not interested in picturing
just particular perspectives. The words of Poincaré might be compared
with the chapter of “Wandering Rocks”, where, due the eighteen dif-
42. “Most of the ‘Circe’ notes, like these for the two pages of dialogue, went into
his elaborate augmentation of the episode; an example of this is the pair of notesheets,
‘Circe’ 20 and 21, where Joyce listed all the ‘characters’ who had appeared thus far in Ulysses to assure their inclusion in ‘Circe’. The characters included concepts like ‘Parallax’
(‘Lestrygonians’) and subjects of previous discussion, such as ‘Beresford’ (‘Cyclops’)”,
Ibid., p. 175.
43. H. Poincaré, Science and Hypothesis, Dover Publications Inc., New York, 1952, pp.
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 169
ferent wanderings, it is possible to conceive of an entire, absolute image of the city simultaneously.
The issue of simultaneity and its conception was crucial for Poincaré. At the beginning of part three of his book, he gave an explanation
on the relationship of time, space, and simultaneity. He made three
points, which - I think - are crucial also for the representation of simultaneity in Ulysses:
1. There is no absolute space, and we only conceive of relative motion; and
yet in most cases mechanical facts are enunciated as if there is an absolute
space to which they can be referred.
2. There is no absolute time. When we say that two periods are equal, the
statement has no meaning, and can only acquire a meaning by a convention.
3. Not only have we no direct intuition of the equality of two periods, but
we have not even direct intuition of the simultaneity of two events occurring in two different places. 44
These points are central for our discussion here not because Joyce
followed them, but the opposite. It seems that Joyce, not only did not
accept the constrictions pointed out by Poincaré, but that he tried to create the possibility of “simultaneity of two events occurring in two different places”. As already mentioned, in the first six chapters of Ulysses,
Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom are simultaneously pictured, as
Michael Groden pointed out. Among the changes Joyce made in the last
period before the publication of Ulysses, Groden mentioned that this
parallelism had not been planned, and was introduced after 1920. 45
Back to the similarities between Poincaré and Joyce, parallax offers
an example. The concept of parallax is mentioned by Poincaré referring
to how the non-Euclidean geometry discovered by Lobachevski would
change the infinite condition of the parallax of a distant star. Poincaré
summarised in five points why geometry could not be proved by experimental facts. On point three Poincaré spoke about non-Euclidean
geometry as follows: “3. Geometry and Astronomy - The same question may also be asked in another way. If Lobatschewky’s geometry is
44. Ibid., p. 90, note 43.
45. “The exact parallelism in the episodes was apparently a late idea, since in the
schema Joyce sent to Carlo Linati in September 1920, ‘Proteus’ takes place between 10:00
and 11:00 A.M., whereas ‘Hades’ occurs between 11:00 A.M. And noon; Linati Schema.”,
Groden, Ulysses in Progress, op. cit., p. 30, note 33. As mentioned, in the schema of Stuart
Gilbert the episodes “Proteus” and “Hades” are already marked as occurring at the
same time.
170 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
true, the parallax of a very distant star will be finite”. 46 In Ulysses we
have Leopold Bloom, in the chapter of “Ithaca”, reflecting on astronomical phenomena:
With what mediations did Bloom accompany his demonstration to his companion of various constellations?
Mediations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the
lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface
towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Maior) 10 lightyears
(57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension
of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with
belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems
could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in
1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the
parallax or the parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving
wanderers from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in
companion with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life
formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity. 47
If we compare parallax conditions, we can see how Joyce’s interpretation went in accordance with a finite quality of the phenomenon,
just as Poincaré mentioned what happened with the adoption of nonEuclidean geometry.
It is intriguing to realize how James Joyce developed, somehow, the
ideas Poincaré had concerning space, and how he used different perspectives able to give us a more accurate perception of different events
and situations. The idea Poincaré had on how a common image could
be constructed moving from different perspectives goes in perfect
accordance with the one developed by James Joyce in the chapter of
“Nausicaa”: “The images of external objects are painted on the retina,
which is a plane of two dimensions; these are perspectives. But as eye
and objects are movable, we see in succession different perspectives of
the same body taken from different points of view”. 48 And then Poincaré continued: “We thus understand how these perspectives gave rise
to the conception of three dimensions, although each perspective is
only two dimensions,--because they succeed each other according to
certain laws...We can even draw several perspectives of the same figure from several different points of view”. 49
46. Poincaré, Science and Hypothesis, op. cit., p. 75, note 43.
47. Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 819, note 5.
48. Poincaré, Science and Hypothesis, op. cit., p. 68.
49. Ibid., p. 69.
Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map / 171
This is how, in Ulysses, each perspective - for example those of Bloom
and of Gerty in the chapter of “Nausicaa” - is needed to recreate the
entire scene. Or, for example, in the scene of Bloom and Stephen returning to the house of Bloom, at the beginning of the chapter “Ithaca”,
the images provided by Joyce are the account of several perspectives
provided by the different characters. Joyce’s descriptions seem to be
in two dimensions due the effect produced by the movement of the
characters. However, the full picture provided by the scene will not be
in two dimensions, but will become the entire space where the action
is taking place.
Joyce’s idea of mapping space from different perspectives, as displayed in Ulysses, is deeply grounded in Poincaré.
In this paper I have emphasised the concerns Joyce had with the
topics of time and space as represented in Ulysses, focusing particularly on the concepts of map, simultaneity, and multiple viewpoints.
Simultaneity, as Joyce saw it, included three different situations:
simultaneity of thought and action of one character; simultaneity of
thought and action of several characters in the same spatial field; and
the simultaneity of events happening to different characters spatially
apart from each other.
What Joyce wanted to achieve with his narrative was a full description of a certain situation. The concept of multiple viewpoints was fundamental to that purpose, and the notion of parallax was associated
with it. For this purpose, Joyce constantly occupied the word parallax
to make reference to the idea of different viewpoints. In Joyce’s strategy, the psychological dimension regarding how other people regard
us was also involved.
Cartography, I have shown, was another field with which Joyce interacted closely while working on Ulysses. Joyce’s interest in cartography is well documented especially by Frank Budgen, his friend who
emphasized how Joyce aimed at fully representing Dublin in his novel.
Thus, Dublin and the Mediterranean contributed to shaping Ulysses’
complex geography in space and time. Joyce’s characters, with their
monologues, dialogues, and the pace with which they moved through
the city further added to the map by playing a fundamental role. It
172 / Joyce and the Spatio-Temporal Map
could be claimed that Ulysses is a narrative map, in which the reader is
constantly being involved by the narrator.
But Joyce’s map was not an ordinary map: both space and time were
conveyed by the map. Here the concepts of simultaneity and multiple
viewpoints played a major role. Furthermore, Joyce’s map included
two different layers, focusing on micro and macro events respectively,
which I have called the “conscious map” and the “common map”. The
first one spoke about a situation where actions and thoughts of several
characters were narrated and, with their experiences, a mapping of the
situation was achieved. The second one involved several situations spatially apart from each other, but occurring exactly at the same time.
As to the origins of Joyce’s spatio-temporal map, I have suggested
to look for a possible source in Henri Poicaré’s Science and Hypothesis.
We have no definitive proof that Joyce read the book, but by 1918-1920
he seems to have been well-aware of several concepts Poincaré had
discussed in his popular book, including the notions of simultaneity,
multiple viewpoints, and parallax. In those years, on the other hand,
Joyce was constantly revising the texts he finally published as Ulysses.
After the first publication in the Little Review, he often came back to
introduce changes to what later on became the chapters of his masterpiece. The notions of simultaneity, mapping, and multiple viewpoints
were in some cases added around 1918-20, as I have shown focusing
on the chapter of ‘Circe’, where the idea of parallax was clearly added,
possibly due to his interaction with the ideas circulated by Poincaré.
Certainly it is not possible to locate all the factors that might have
been involved in the acquisition of those ideas by Joyce, and for sure
his spatio-temporal map in Ulysses is a complex narrative structure,
deserving further study. To track the conceptions of simultaneity, parallax, and mapping in Ulysses amounts in any case to pointing at a
crossroad, where several different disciplines met: disciplines such as
mathematics, astronomy, modern physics, cartography, the philosophy of science, and technology. Joyce’s spatio-temporal map was indeed part of an entire culture, in which science and technology played
major roles.
Marco Liverani
In the past fifty years, along with politics and the economy, the process of European integration has involved scientists, science administrators and university departments. Although the individual states in
Europe remain the main actors for the organisation and funding of
research activities, the Europeization of science and academic research
has been illustrated by various examples including the establishment
of “big science” centres (e.g. European Centre for Nuclear Research,
European Molecular Biology Laboratory, European Space Agency),
“European” societies and academic journals, transnational research
networks, and even entire institutions in the higher education such as
the College of Europe in Bruges or the European University Institute
in Florence. Also, the organisation of research activities has gained a
crucial importance within the overall strategy of the European Union.
From the 1980s, the perception of a technological gap with the United States and Japan and an increased emphasis on the link between
economic growth and technological innovation have urged European
institutions to foster transnational cooperation and the establishment
of a European Research Area. In recent years, this orientation has become even more prominent as a result of the policy drive towards the
strengthening of a knowledge-based economy.
These developments are not only relevant to an understanding of
contemporary Europe, but they also constitute an important chapter
in the history of modern science. 1 Indeed, the promotion of science
. The study of the European cooperation nevertheless has received little attention in
the history and sociology of contemporary science. With exceptions, mainstream works in
this area have mainly focused on scientific practice or the making of specific technologies,
but they have tended to overlook the overarching political and istitutional framework. On
the other hand, broad analyses of the changing nature of knowledge production in contemporary world have often framed scientific research in general and universalistic terms,
neglecting the influence of specific geopolitical contexts. There are, however, some valuable
cooperation decisively contributed to the denationalization of scientific practice in postwar Europe. Most notably, it involved new modes
of collective action and collaboration which transformed the social
context of knowledge production. On the other hand, however, policy
interventions have been framed and justified in terms of global “competitiveness”, posing new challenges to scientific ethos and cosmopolitanism.
This article aims to address these issues by focusing on two distinctive historical moments. The first part provides an account of the political and cultural background for the emergence of European science
cooperation in the immediate postwar years. Then, it examines more
closely the progression of events which led to the birth of CERN, the
European Centre for Nuclear Research. CERN’s foundation played a
seminal role in these early developments, as it was the first European
research centre and its organisational model became the blueprint for
the creation of similar institutions in other fields. This section has also
been motivated by the need to emphasise the importance of endogenous cultural forces in the making of postwar European science, complementing recent scholarly accounts which have rather focused on
the political interest and influence of the US establishment. 2
The second part of the article analyses the role and impact of European Community interventions. During the 1980s, the formulation
of Community research policies coincided with a change of paradigm
in the organisation of science cooperation in Europe. The establishment of big centralized facilities, such as CERN and EMBL, was largely
abandoned and gave way to the proliferation of transnational network
and consortia. As we will see, this policy orientation was grounded on
technical and economic calculations, but has also been functional to
concomitant political visions of European integration.
historical overviews of European research policy. See, for instance,��������������
L. Guzzetti, A Brief
History of European Union Research Policy, Office for Official Publications of the European
Community, 1995; K. John and G. Luca (eds), History of European Scientific and Technological
Cooperation, Office for Official Publications of the European Community, 1997; J. Peterson
and M. Sharp, Technology Policy in the European Union, Macmillan, London, 1998.
. This view has been recently articulated by John Krige in his American Hegemony and
the Reconstruction of Science in Europe, MIT Press, Boston MA., 2008.
A “politique de l’esprit”
Ideas about a united Europe have been around at least since the seventeenth century, but they became a topic of serious discussion only
during the 1940s. 3 In the midst of the fascist regimes, some intellectuals and political dissidents dismissed the nation-state as harmful and
obsolete, and called for the establishment of a European federation. In
1941, the Italian activists Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi drafted a
programmatic document known as the Manifesto di Ventotene, which
urged to transcend national boundaries in order to rebuild a genuine
European community based on socialism and the collectivization of
resources. To Spinelli and Rossi, the nation-state had become “a divine
entity, an organism that has to consider only its own existence, its own
development, without the least regard for the damage this might cause
to others”. 4 The Manifesto was translated into several languages and
widely circulated across Europe. It was the basis of a conference held
in Geneva in July 1944 where the newborn European Federalist Movement announced plans for a European constitution, a supranational
government and a European army under its control.
After the end of the war, this and other radical projects of political
reformation were never carried out. The Resistance in Italy and other
parts of Europe was not able to build effective political action, mainly
due to its ideological fragmentation. Also, the return of former leaders from the exile led to a gradual normalization of political life and
the dismissal of visionary projects for the establishment of an entirely
new social order. However, the momentum for European integration
did not die out. On the one hand, the idea of a united Europe was endorsed by the US administration. Since the launch of the Marshall Plan
in 1946, the US government made it clear that intended to help reconstruction in such a way as to foster cooperation between its beneficiaries. As the Secretary of State George Marshall noted in a famous speech
at Harvard University, “the remedy lies in breaking the vicious circle
and restoring the confidence of the European people in the economic
future of their own countries and of Europe as a whole”. 5 On the other
. See D. Urwin, The Community of Europe, Longman, London, 1995, and D. Dinan,
Europe Recast, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2004.
. In T. Salmon and W. Nicoll, Building European Union: a Documentary History and
Analysis, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1997, p. 18.
. Ibid., p. 28.
hand, after the defeat of his conservative party at the British election of
1945, Winston Churchill gave increasing support to European integration. In a speech at the University of Zurich, on 19 September 1946, he
promoted the creation of “a kind of United States of Europe” – based
on a solid partnership between France and Germany – as a means to
ensure freedom, safety, and enduring peace in the continent. To this
aim, he founded the United Europe Movement (UEM), a largely British body which enrolled conservative MPs, academics, journalists and
clergymen. 6
In 1948, the UEM coalesced with other European movements and
formed an umbrella organisation, the International Committee of the
Movements for European Unity, whose mission was to orchestrate and
amplify the campaign for a united Europe. On its first meeting, the
Committee decided to organise an international congress to give new
impetus to the publicity campaign and to propose practical solutions
to the governments.
The Congress of Europe was held in The Hague in May 1948. It convened hundreds of politicians and intellectuals from many different
countries, including Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Harold
Macmillan, François Mitterrand, Paul-Henry Spaak, and Altiero Spinelli. While the radical groups proposed the drafting of a federal constitution, Churchill’s unionists were rather inclined to foster international
cooperation between sovereign nations. In the end, the Congress did
not lead to any substantial institutional changes. Nevertheless, it gave
voice to a large body of public opinion in support of European integration and issued some important resolutions concerning the establishment of a European assembly and a European charter of human rights.
Also, the Congress laid down some embryonic ideas about a monetary
union, cooperation in the agricultural sector and the abolishment of
restrictions on trade and human mobility.
In addition to political and economic debates, the programme of the
Congress included a cultural session which was supposed to discuss
the cultural dimension of European unification. At that time, this was
regarded as an important matter. Many intellectuals and activists were
convinced that the process of political integration could not take off
unless it were underpinned by a “spiritual” basis – a set of shared val. See M. Gilbert, Surpassing Realism. The Politics of European Integration since 1945,
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lahnam Md., 2003, p. 30.
ues and traditions which could unite the peoples of Europe despite
their tragic past and cultural differences. 7
This kind of concern can also be understood in the light of the postwar political landscape. With the rise of the Iron Curtain and the increasing ideological rift between the two super powers, West European countries were caught up in the ideological struggle between
communism and American capitalism. Despite profound divergences
between federalists and unionists, the Congress clearly placed its designs for a new Europe in the camp of the “free world”. Indeed, one
of the main resolutions proposed the adoption of a European charter
of human rights, based on the respect of human person, as well as
the freedom of thought and expression. However, some intellectuals
argued that a clearer vision of European society and even “European
man” was needed. If Europeans were to become protagonists of the
new political order, they had to express an alternative and recognizable world view.
The Swiss writer Denis de Rougemont, rapporteur of the cultural
commission at the Congress, was one of the most convinced promoters
of a politique de l’esprit. Since early 1930s, de Rougemont had devoted
himself to historical musings about the nature of Western culture and
civilization. In his work L’amour et l’occidente, 8 he had studied the peculiar characteristics of “western love”, from the Tristan myth to Hollywood, as opposed to oriental conceptions. After the end of the war,
he became an active supporter of the European project. In 1946, he
founded with a group of Swiss intellectuals the Rencontres Internationales de Genève, which was one of the first initiatives for the internationalization of postwar culture. The first series of conferences, held
in 1946, was dedicated to L’esprit européen and involved a number of
. It is no coincidence that this period saw the publication of several academic works
aimed to highlight the fundamental homogeneity of European civilization. For instance,
John Bowle, lecturer in modern history at the University of Oxford, in 1949 published
a lengthy historical account of European civilization which stressed the cultural sameness of European societies. As he wrote, “to the generation which has grown up under
the shadow of war the unity and success of our civilization has become obscure; yet still
the historian may discern, as through a clearing mist, the permanent structure of the
European tradition” (The Unity of European History, Oxford University Press, London,
1970, p. 9). �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Likewise, the historian Herbert Butterfield celebrated modern science as the
highest achievement of human civilization and emphasised its distinctive European roots.�
According to Butterfield, the Scientific Revolution was “a creative product of the West
– depending on a complicated set of conditions which existed only in Western Europe”
(The Origins of Modern Science, Collier Books, New York, 1962, p. 139).
. D. de Rougemont, L’amour et l’Occident, Plon, Paris, 1939.
prominent philosophers such as Julien Benda, Georg Lukacs and Karl
Jaspers. 9 At the same time, he became a keen sponsor of federalism,
and in 1947 gave the inaugural speech at the first congress of the Union
Europeénne des Federalistes in Montreaux.
In The Hague, de Rougemont defended a “European” conception
of man, based on Christian heritage, humanism, cultural diversity and
“a peculiar sense of freedom”. 10 Moreover, he endorsed the possibility
of a “third way”, which could distinguish European society from the
extremes of Marxism-Leninism and American individualism. 11
At the end of the Congress, the convenors could hardly agree on
a clear definition of European civilization, but the cultural commission however suggested the first practical steps of a common cultural
policy: the creation of a European Cultural Centre, to foster awareness of European unity, and the establishment of a European Institute
for Childhood and Youth Questions, to encourage exchanges between
the young people of all classes in Europe. Finally, proposals were laid
down to establish a European university institute.
In the following months, de Rougemont worked hard towards the
realization of these plans. As the director of the cultural bureau of the
European Movement, the association which had been founded to put
in practice the resolutions of the Congress, he supervised a team of researchers who produced a lengthy report on the cultural conditions in
European countries. The results of the report documented a bleak picture: scant circulation of books and researchers across national borders,
destruction of scientific laboratories and libraries in many countries,
politicization of academic appointments, and nationalistic distortions
in the history handbooks. Finally, the report evidenced the decline of
scientific research, gravely affected by the politics of secrecy which occurred during wartime, especially in the field of nuclear research. 12
The report was the basis of a European Cultural Conference, which
. L’esprit européen, Les Éditions de la Baconnière, Neuchâtel, 1947.
10. D. de Rougemont, “Le sens de La Haye. Pour sauver nos diversités”, Fédération,
41, 1948, pp.14-15.
11. At a conference held in Paris at Sorbonne University few weeks before the Congress,
de Rougemont stressed that: “La véritable troisième force, au plan mondial... c’est l’Europe
rejoignant le XXe siècle, pour en prendre la tête et inventer l’avenir. C’est le fédéralisme, qui
veut que la Terre promise ne soit pour nous ni l’Amérique ni la Russie, mais cette vieille
terre à rajeunir, à libérer de ses cloisons, notre Europe à reconquérir […] pour tous ses
peuples, pour tous ses partis, et, comme le veut son vrai génie, pour tous les hommes”; in
D. de Rougemont, L’Europe en jeu, Éditions de la Baconnière, Neuchatel, 1948, p. 124.
12. An original copy of the report is available at: DEP. Mouvement
européen. ME
was held in Lausanne in 1949. The conference involved almost two
hundreds personalities from the world of culture and science, who discussed projects to build a common cultural space in Europe. To this
aim, the participants reasserted the urgent need to establish a European Centre of Culture, and to start on a full time basis the courses
at the College of Europe, a postgraduate institution which had been
founded in Bruges to form a new elite of policy makers committed to
European unification. 13
Finally, discussions were initiated about the need to establish a European centre for nuclear research. This idea was illustrated by Raoul
Dautry, general administrator of the French Commissariat a l’Energie
Atomique (CEA) and president of the Conseil français pour l’Europe unie,
one of the many associations which had mushroomed in support of
European unification after 1945.
Big Science in Europe
Dautry’s proposal well combined with the wider set of initiatives for
European integration. Although the promotion of science was not as
urgent as economic recovery, it had nonetheless an important political
meaning. In a time which was increasingly obsessed with technological and scientific competition, the purported decline of European science, especially vis-à-vis the United States, was a blemish on the image
of postwar Europe and required the attention of policy makers.
While until the 1930s European universities had held the undisputed leadership in all academic disciplines, after the war this primacy
had been dramatically overturned. As mentioned, the report issued by
the cultural bureau of the European Movement had highlighted the
miserable condition of research facilities in Europe, either destroyed or
seriously damaged by war bombing. In addition, the lack of state funding and the climate of secrecy had further undermined the prestige of
continental science.
By contrast, the United States had emerged from the war not only
531, Archives historiques de l’Union européenne, Florence, Villa Il Poggiolo. See
13. The European Centre of Culture was officially launched in 1950; the College of Europe started its courses at the end of the same year, under the direction of the Dutch activist
Henri Brugmans, the former president of the Union européenne des fédéralistes (UEF).
as the greatest economic and military power, but also as the most advanced nation in scientific research and technological development.
American universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton and
Berkeley were barely known outside the US at the beginning of the
twentieth century; in the 1950s, however, they became bywords for scientific excellence. 14
The crisis of European science was most apparent in the field of nuclear physics, the “queen” of all scientific disciplines. From the early
1930s, American scientists and engineers had begun to build gigantic
machines which marked a great leap forward compared to conventional experimental practices. One of the first examples of such instruments was the cyclotron at the Radiation Laboratory of Berkeley
University, a sophisticated device invented by the physicist Ernest Orlando Lawrence which allowed the study of elementary particles by
“smashing” atomic matter into its smallest units. 15 Unlike traditional
research, Lawrence’s laboratory required big staff, big money and big
facilities. In the following years, similar centres were established in
other universities and further contributed to the international reputation of American science.
However, while American scientists could count on the generous
support of the government and the military, in postwar Europe the
development of big science was beyond the means of any individual
country. Thus, Dautry and other science administrators argued that
international cooperation was the only way to keep abreast with cutting-edge research in nuclear physics.
But there were also other considerations. In 1950, the proposal to establish a European centre for nuclear research gained further momentum thanks to the intervention of the prominent American scientist
Isidor Rabi, who presented a formal request to the Director-General
of the United Nations to “assist and encourage the creation of one or
more regional research centres and laboratories […] in fields where
the effort of any one country in the region is insufficient to the task”. 16
Specifically, Rabi had in mind a sort of joint centre similar to the
14. See H. D. Graham and N. Diamond, The Rise of American Universities: Elites and
Challenges in the Postwar Era, Johns Hopkins University Press, London, 1997.
15. See R. Seidel, “The Origins of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory”, in P. Galison and
B. Hevly (eds), Big Science: the Growth of Large-Scale Research, Stanford University Press,
Stanford CA., 1992.
16. In J. Krige, “Isidor Rabi and CERN”, Physics in Perspective, 20, 7, 2005, pp. 150151.
Brookhaven National Laboratory, a large research facility for nuclear
physics which he had co-founded in 1947 and was run by a consortium
of nine American universities.
As the historian John Krige pointed out, Rabi’s involvement is crucial to understand the birth of scientific cooperation in Europe. On the
one hand, Rabi was certainly motivated by a personal commitment,
as he had studied in Europe before moving to the US and was keen to
promote a renaissance of European science. On the other hand, however, his project was well attuned to the strategic aims of US foreign
policy in Europe since the launch of the Marshall Plan, namely to encourage European reconstruction “as a whole” in order to prevent the
expansion of Soviet communism. As Rabi noted, the new research institute would help save “western civilization” by keeping “the light
of Science burning brightly in Western Europe”. 17 This view was very
much in keeping with some cultural assumptions in postwar American
establishment. Not only was science regarded as an essential means to
national welfare and security, 18 but also as the bearer of fundamental
social values: its critical standpoint, aversion to dogmatism and spirit
of open inquiry well epitomized the virtues of liberal democracy, in
sharp contrast with authoritarian ideologies and forms of government. 19 Thus, the promotion of basic science overseas had important
political implications. 20
Despite these incentives, however, nuclear physics was not the ideal
platform to strengthen international scientific cooperation. The effects
of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had tragically shown
the deadly power of the new technology. After the onset of the Cold
17. Ibid., p. 152.
18. See the report to the US president Science: the Endless Frontier (United States
Government Printing Office, 1945) by Vannevar Bush, director of the Office of Scientific
Research and Development.
19. Most notably, this view had been advocated by the
sociologist Robert K. Merton,
who argued that the scientific ethos was based on principles of universalism, communality, disinterestedness, and organized scepticism; see R. K. Merton, “Science and the Social
Order”, Philosophy of Science, 5, 3, 1938. On these issues, see also D. Hollinger, “Science
as a Weapon in Kulturkämpfe in the United States During and After World War II”, Isis,
86, 1995, pp. 441-451.
20. John Krige argued that American involvement in the “reconstruction” of postwar
European science was instrumental to its hegemonic ambitions: “Science and scientists
could play a constructive role in combating the twin evils of nationalism and totalitarianism by forging bonds of supports and solidarity that cut across political and ideological
boundaries. Basic, nonclassified research was an invaluable platform for building a transatlantic scientific community that put the shared pursuit of truth ahead of ideology”, in J.
Krige, American Hegemony and the Reconstruction of Science in Europe, op. cit., p. 12.
War, nuclear research had become one of the most critical elements
in the confrontation between the two superpowers. Although there
were great expectations about the peaceful uses of the atom, 21 it still
remained a vital sector for national security. Besides, some European
nations, and particularly France, had begun to plan for their own national atomic programmes. 22
Due to this unfavourable situation, the promoters of the European
research centre engaged in careful “boundary work” to emphasise the
peaceful nature of the project and its complete dissociation from any
military applications. 23 This strategy was eventually successful: after
several meetings and consultations, in 1953 ten European governments signed the convention which established the Centre Européenne
pour la Recherce Nucléare (CERN). As the convention specified, “The
Organization shall provide for collaboration among European States
in nuclear research of a pure scientific and fundamental character, and
in research essentially related thereto. The Organization shall have
no concern with work for military requirements and the results of its
experimental and theoretical work shall be published or otherwise
made generally available”. 24 In practice, this condition was satisfied
by excluding a nuclear reactor from the technical equipment of the
organization. Instead, CERN was provided with two highly sophisticated particle accelerators, which could finally contend with the most
advanced American models without arousing suspicions of military
CERN’s first years, however, did not produce spectacular results.
Some critics claimed that it was a poor imitation of Brookhaven. 25
Moreover, the “pure scientific and fundamental character” of the initiative was a clear indication that European countries were not willing
21. The policy drive towards the peaceful use of nuclear energy was initiated by
President Eisenhower’s speech “Atoms for Peace” in 1953; see J. Krige, “Atoms for Peace,
Scientific Internationalism and Scientific Intelligence”, Osiris, 21, 2006, pp. 161-181.
22. On the relations between national pride and nuclear policy in France, see G. Hecht,
The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II, MIT Press,
Boston MA., 1998.
23. On the concept of “boundary work” in science, see Thomas Gyerin in his essay
“Boundary work and the demarcation of science from non-science: Strains an interest
in professional ideologies of scientist”, American Sociological Review, 48, 6, 1983, pp. 781795.
24. Available at: http://dsu.web.cern.ch/dsu/ls/conventionE.htm
25. See J. Krige and D. Pestre, “Some Thoughts on the History of CERN in the 50s and
60s”, in Galison and Hevly (eds), Big Science: the Growth of Large-Scale Research, op. cit.
to pool resources in applied research which was relevant to national
interest. The later failure of the Euratom treaty in setting a common
atomic energy policy would be another reminder of the persistence of
nationalism in European technology policy. 26
Nevertheless, the establishment of CERN represents a seminal moment in the social history of modern science, at least on two accounts.
First, it gave a decisive impulse to the denationalization of knowledge
production. From the eighteenth century onwards, scientific practice
had become increasingly entangled with state power and institutions.
The scientific profession was institutionalized in the form of national
research councils, national societies and government funded laboratories. Especially after the Great War, scientists had become a crucial
part of national security systems and their work was often carried out
under secrecy. 27 By contrast, CERN provided an open environment
where researchers from several countries could work together and exchange their diverse experiences. It was a seminal experiment of supranational or post-national science. 28
Secondly, CERN was a resource and a model to build similar European institutions in other scientific and technological areas, including
the European Space Research Organisation, the European Southern
Observatory, and the European Molecular Biology Organisation. The
convention for the establishment of the European Southern Observatory, signed in 1962, was derived from that of CERN, and several national delegates represented their governments in the advisory committees
26. The European Community for Atomic Energy (Euratom) was established in 1957
along with the European Economic Community. Its founding treaty ������������������
included detailed
provisions on industrial policy and scientific research on the peaceful use of the atom.
27. It is true that international congresses were a normal routine of every academic;
also, the establishment of international disciplinary associations helped to preserve the
cosmopolitan outlook of the scientific community (E. Crawford et al (eds.), Denationalizing Science. The Contexts of International Scientific Practice, Kluwer Academic Publishers,
Boston MA., 1993). However, competition, rather than cooperation, was the prevailing
pattern in the practice of international scientific encounters. As Paul Foreman aptly pointed
out, scientific internationalism in early twentieth century can be better illustrated by the
metaphor of the “Olympic of science”; see P. Forman, “Scientific Internationalism and
the Weimar Physicists: The Ideology and its Manipulation in Germany after World War
I”, Isis, 64, 2, 1973, pp. 151-180.
28. In earlier times, the Stazione Zoologica in Naples, established in 1871 by the German scientist Anton Dohrn, represents a pioneering effort to create a truly cosmopolitan
research environment. Dohrn managed to guarantee the political independence of the
institute by introducing innovative measures to finance his project, including the rental of
research space to universities, scientific institutions, private foundations or individuals.
of both institutions. 29 Also, in 1963, a group of leading biologists met in
Revello, Italy, to discuss the prospect of a European organisation in the
field of molecular biology and the construction of a laboratory “patterned on the CERN model”. 30 This initial meeting led to the creation
of the European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC) in 1968, and,
later, to the establishment of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg.
Like CERN, all these research institutes were centralized facilities,
based on intergovernmental agreements and funded with contributions from the individual member states. Moreover, they were all “big
science” structures, involving a considerable amount of human, financial and technical resources. By and large, their mission was successful
as long as there were no conflicts with the strategic goals of the member states. Conversely, the clash with matters of national concern led
to some dramatic failures, as the inglorious story of the space vehicle
Europa exemplary demonstrates. In the early 1960s, the UK government sought to recycle its outmoded military missile Blue Streak. After
a round of intergovernmental discussions, it was agreed that the old
British missile could be refashioned as the first stage of a brand new
satellite launcher significantly called Europa, with France and Germany building the second and third stage respectively. Italy also decided
to join the organization and was entrusted with the construction of test
satellites, while Belgium and the Netherlands provided the guidance
and telemetry systems. This ambitious project, in which a geopolitical
configuration was singularly mapped onto the assemblage of a technological device, was however a failure. Britain became increasingly frustrated because of the repeated breakdowns of the French and German
stages. Beside, the new labour government in Britain was less prone
than its predecessor to sponsor costly technology projects, with little
social benefit and poor commercial returns. But perhaps more importantly, the initial drive to collaborate was irreparably marred by the
unfavourable political climate which resulted from de Gaulle’s rejection of the British application to join the European Community. 31
29. See J. Krige et al, “A brief history of the European Space Agency”, in J. Krige and
L. Guzzetti (eds.), A History of European Scientific and Technological Cooperation, Office for
Official Publications of the European Community, Luxembourg, 1997.
30. In B. Strasser, “The transformation of biological sciences in postwar Europe”,
EMBO reports, 4, 6, 2003, pp. 540-543.
31. See J. Krige et al, “A brief history of the European Space Agency”, op. cit.
In sum, the birth of a European dimension for scientific cooperation
was possible only through a delicate balance between national interests, the hesitant formation of a European polity and the changing nature of technoscience in these years of social and political transformations. In some respects, the early history of European science confirms
the standpoint of the English economic historian Alan Milward, who
argued that the process of European integration began as it was the ultimate means to rescue the nation-states in Europe after the disaster of
the war. 32 Nevertheless, the proliferation of European research centres
and organisations contributed to the formation of a “real” platform for
supranational cooperation. Besides, there was an important symbolic
meaning. Cyclotrons, particle accelerators and space observatories
were not only sophisticated devices to study the constituents of life and
the universe. They were also tokens of cultural prestige and power. As
the physicist Alvin Weinberg had argued in 1961, the monuments of
“big science” were the new cathedrals of the twentieth century:
When history looks at the 20th century, she will see science and technology
as its theme; she will find in the monuments of Big Science – the huge rockets, the high-energy accelerators, the high-flux research reactors – symbols
of our time just as surely as she finds in Notre Dame a symbol of the Middle
Ages. ... We build our monuments in the name of scientific truth, they built
theirs in the name of religious truth; we use our Big Science to add to our
country’s prestige, they used their churches for their cities’ prestige. 33
The construction of such “monuments” upgraded Europe, as a whole,
to the rank of great centre of scientific innovation.
Networking Scientists
During the 1950s and the 1960s, European scientific cooperation was
characterized by the establishment of big centralized facilities such as
CERN and EMBL. From the 1970s, however, this approach was largely
abandoned and the transnational network became the dominant paradigm in Europe.
The beginning of this new trend can be dated back to the launch of
32. A. Milward, The European Rescue of the Nation-State, University of California Press,
Berkeley CA., 1992.
33. A. Weinberg, “Impact of large-scale science in the United States”, Science, 134,
1961, p. 161.
COST (Cooperation in Science and Technology), an intergovernmental initiative which was set up in 1970 by the research ministries of
fifteen European countries. 34 Unlike CERN, which gathered a critical
mass of scientists within a large structure dedicated to a single type
of research, COST provided a platform to coordinate national scientific
projects in different thematic areas of common interest to participant
countries. The transnational nature of the initiative was insured by
the involvement of at least two member countries in each individual
project. During the 1980s, this peculiar organizational model was also
adopted by Eureka, another intergovernmental organization aimed to
create a European hub for industrial innovation. While COST was limited to “pre-competitive” research – a sort of hybrid zone between the
laboratory and the market – Eureka was purposely designed to foster
market-driven collaboration. 35
The shift from the centralized approach to the network is also exemplified by the evolution of research policy in the European Community. The first Community interventions were undertaken in the early
1960s, with the establishment of the Joint Research Centre (JRC). This
institute was originally conceived under the Euratom Treaty, in order
to carry out research on the physics of nuclear reactors, nuclear safety
issues and waste management. Although the JRC was distributed over
a number of sites scattered in different European regions, it was nonetheless a centralized structure, which provided ad hoc technologies
and measurement instruments.
During the 1980s, however, the European Commission decided to
change strategy. First, with the revitalization of the common market
after the Single European Act (1986), the Commission became increasingly involved in the support of other scientific areas, including information science, the life sciences and biotechnology, industrial and
environmental research. Community interventions were framed and
justified within discourses of “global challenges”, in which European
science was portrayed as passive and “backward” in comparison with
the scientific and technological progress of US and Japan. While the
imperative of postwar cooperation had been to catch up with American science, the new politics of the Community was underpinned
34. See R. Brickman, “National Science Policy Coordination in the European Community”, International Organization, 31, 3, 1977.
35. See L. Guzzetti, A Brief History of European Union Research Policy, op. cit.
by a more aggressive posture in terms of global competition. Indeed,
“competitiveness” has become a ubiquitous buzzword in almost all
research policy statements issued by the European Commission since
the 1980s. 36
Secondly, the Commission abandoned the centralized approach and
rather became a “facilitator” of synergies and connections between local actors in the member states. As Andrew Barry pointed out, it became a big “wedding agency” which matched international partners
in academia and industry. 37 In this respect, the most important initiative was the launch of the first Framework Programme for research
and development, a multi-annual funding scheme which was aimed to
promote transnational research between public and private institutes
in a number of priority areas. In subsequent programmes, the network
became the dominant paradigm through a range of different configurations, including “thematic” and “concertation” networks, and “networks of excellence”. The latter were introduced with the 6th Framework Programme in order to “strengthen scientific and technological
excellence on a particular research topic” and “to gather the expertise
needed to provide European leadership”. 38
The choice of linking local centres and institutions, rather than
building new centralized facilities, was partly dictated by the technical
development of emerging scientific disciplines. While until the 1960s
“big science” was predicted to become a key feature in most research
areas, during the 1970s and the 1980s there was a comeback to the traditional laboratory. On the one hand, the increasing availability of cheap
and ready-made kits, especially in biotechnology, reduced the need
for big facilities. 39 On the other hand, the development of the computer network (and the increasing digitalisation of scientific knowledge)
facilitated the flow of data and information across wide geographic areas. In general, the network provided a flexible and efficient structure
36. European Commission, “Prospects for the Development of New Policies: Research
and Development, Energy and New Technologies”, Bulletin of the European Communities, Supplement 5/83, 1983. Also, see the influential white paper Growth, Competitiveness,
Employment. The Challenges and Ways forward into the 21st Century, issued by the Commission in 1993.
37. A. Barry, Political Machines. Governing a Technological Society, The Athlone Press,
London, 2001.
38. In T. Luukkonen et al., “Understanding the dynamics of networks of excellence”,
Science and Public Policy, 33, 2006, pp. 239-240.
39. M. Morange, “EMBO and EMBL”, in Krige and Guzzetti, A History of European
Scientific and Technological Cooperation, op. cit.
to organise and foster knowledge production at the European level.
It became a collective actor which could benefit of different expertise,
shared equipment and data banks, and so prevent the duplication of
scientific labour. 40
The success of the network model, however, can also be explained
in the light of more subtle political implications. As Barry pointed out,
during the 1980s, the network provided the ideal instrument to implement a policy intervention which was aimed to “animate” socio-technical connections, rather than to establish a relationship of patronage
between the central authority and the clients. In the view of some policy makers, this approach was a good compromise between the laissezfaire doctrine of neoliberal economy and social democracy. 41
Second, the network concept was conflated with the broader technopolitical vision of a “network society”. This notion, made popular by
the sociologist Manuel Castells, posed the IT revolution as the foundation of a new social system characterized by far reaching communications and interactions. 42 Indeed, the network society narrative was
particularly appealing to European policy makers as it enabled the
creation of a virtual European space which was alternative to traditional geopolitical divisions. To quote Barry again, “by becoming part
of a network an entity (firm, device, person, region) might, in principle, become ‘European’ without first having to locate themselves in a
national context”. 43 At the same time, the distinctive configuration of
transnational consortia constituted an ideal embodiment of the European principle of “unity in diversity”.
Hence, the promotion of scientific networks and consortia assumed
an important social and political meaning, which has become even
more prominent in recent policy statements about the formation of a
“knowledge society” in Europe. In January 2000 a communication of
the Commission announced plans for the establishment of a European
Research Area (ERA), namely a broad initiative aimed to enhance net40. L. Guzzetti, A Brief History of European Union Research Policy, op. cit., p. 133.
41. See A. Barry, Political Machines. Governing a Technological Society,� op. cit.
42. Castells argued that the European Union exemplifies the “network state”: “it is a
state made up of institutional links between EU institutions (…), national governments,
regional governments, local governments, and NGOs, and extending internationally
through multiple links on such important decision-making institutions as NATO, the IMF,
the UN, the European Conference on Security, and a myriad of international agreements
that bind the EU in trade, the environment, security, human rights, etc” (in M. Castells
and M. Ince, Conversations with Manuel Castells, Polity, Cambridge, 2003, p. 128).
43. In A. Barry, Political Machines. Governing a Technological Society, ��������
op. cit., p. 90.
working between European institution and the mobility of researchers across national borders. Not only were science and technology regarded as crucial means for economic and technological advancement,
but they were also described as inherently positive social values: as
the communication remarked, “science and particularly technology is
what makes society thick”. 44 Few months later, this strategy was reasserted by the heads of member states at the European Council with the
adoption of the “Lisbon Agenda”, a broad policy guideline which set
the ambitious goal to make “Europe the most competitive knowledgebased economy in the world”. 45
However, the practical realization of these grand designs has not always been straightforward. The wide circulation of scientific data and
information requires a uniform epistemic culture. 46 But the attainment
of this ideal condition involves considerable efforts. As mentioned earlier, despite claims to universalism, scientific practice has been increasingly nationalized in the past two centuries. This process not only resulted in the establishment of national institutions and organisations,
but also “national styles” of scientific research, exemplified by different
professional environments, measurement systems, and organizational
models. 47 Beside, knowledge production has always been shaped by
tacit knowledge and protocols which are peculiar to local contexts, and
cannot be easily codified into tangible theories and methods. 48
Given these considerations, it is no surprise that the collaboration
between a large number of laboratories and institutions has often
been challenging, especially when research networks, as it happened,
brought together thirty or more teams belonging to different national
systems. Scientists need to know and trust each other, before they can
share knowledge and work effectively together. Also, their data and
44. Commission of the European Communities, “Making a Reality of the European
Research Area (ERA)”, COM 2000, 612, 2000, p. 7.
45. Lisbon European Council, Presidency Conclusions (23 and 24 March 2000), available at: http://ue.eu.int/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/ec/00100-r1.en0.htm
46. On the concept of “epistemic culture”, see K. Knorr-Cetina, Epistemic Cultures.
How the Sciences Make Knowledge, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1999, and
Epistemic Cultures: Forms of Reason in Science”, History of Political Economy, 23, 1: �����
notion [of epitemic culture] foregrounds not only a ‘relatedness’ and ‘clustering’ of various
parts, but also a ‘disunity’ of science in regard to epistemic practice”(107).
47. There is a rich literature on the “national styles” of scientific research. See, for
instance, J. Harwood, Styles of Scientific Thought: German genetics community 1900-33,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993.
48. On the concept of “tacit knowledge” see H. Collins, “The TEA set: Tacit Knowledge
and Scientific Networks”, Social Studies of Science, 4, 2, 1974, pp. 165-185.
procedures must be comparable. In this respect, the case of the yeast
genome project is illustrative. During the 1980s, the European Community decided to provide stronger support to the life sciences and
biotechnology, as it was regarded as a very promising sector for its
potential applications in healthcare and agriculture, and the general
growth of European industry. A document issued by the European
Commission in 1981 stated that: “We are only now beginning to get an
idea of the possibilities which biotechnology holds in store. One thing
is clear, however, the new technologies are tantamount to revolutions
which over the coming decades could affect the everyday life of each
one of us, while at the same time giving new opportunities to European
industry. In this area, as in others, the Community should help us prepare for the future”. 49 To this aim, in 1985 the Commission launched a
five-year programme, called Biotechnology Action Plan (BAP), which
was intended to create the infrastructure for biotechnology research in
Europe and to streamline the transformation of research outcomes into
industrial products.
In basic research, BAP’s most remarkable achievement was the first
sequence of an entire chromosome, the chromosome III of yeast. 50 This
organism was chosen due to specific expertise among European scientists and for its potential applications in agriculture. Interestingly, this
groundbreaking research was also a paramount example of transnational collective action in the production of scientific knowledge: the
resulting article in the journal Nature was signed by 147 researchers
from more than thirty different laboratories located in several European countries. 51
As these figures indicate, the yeast genome project was highly successful in recruiting and pooling together an impressive range of human and technological resources, across a wide geographic area. Most
notably, it produced a landmark scientific breakthrough which demonstrated the added value of European science cooperation. Nevertheless, the practical accomplishment of this feat entailed important problems of standardization. The use of different sequencing techniques
led at first to unreliable results, whose accuracy could be confirmed
49. Commission of the European Community, Tomorrow’s Bio-society, 1981, p. 7.
50. L. Guzzetti, A Brief History of European Union Research Policy, op. cit.
51. Oliver et al, “The complete DNA sequence of yeast chromosome III”, in Nature,
357, 7, 1992, pp. 38-46.
only after a painstaking work of cross-checking between different
measurement systems.
We can therefore understand why harmonization has become a key
issue in European policy discourse. 52 Harmonization requires considerable efforts to smoothen out differences and local idiosyncrasies, to
create a homogeneous space where information bits can circulate freely and be integrated into a coherent “European” product. However,
this process can require several years and be a major impediment to
the process of European integration, not only in science but also in
many other domains such as education or public health. 53
Discrepancies in national regulations are another important obstacle to the creation of a uniform epistemic culture in Europe. The
case of biotechnology, again, is revealing. 54 In the past few years, the
European Union has renewed its commitment to promote and fund
transnational cooperation in biomedical research, due to the social and
economic prospects of innovative technologies in stem cell research
and genetic engineering. However, the ethical implications of controversial practices such as therapeutic cloning and embryo research have
raised profound ethical issues and jeopardized the approval of the last
two Framework Programmes. 55 The governance of these technologies has been particularly thorny, as the European Union had to find
a difficult balance between the promotion of science and the respect
of marked differences between national regulations. Despite many attempts to define “fundamental European values”, as for instance in the
Oviedo Convention on human rights and biomedicine, the regulatory
landscape is still highly fragmented and constitutes a major hindrance
to the free mobility of researchers, scientific information and biological
substances across Europe.
52. A. Barry, Political Machines. Governing a Technological Society, op. cit.
53. It is however important to mention that big science centres such as EMBL and
CERN have contributed to the establishment of common European standards and research
practices in their research areas.
54. See S. ����������
Jasanoff, Designs on Nature. Science and Democracy in the United States and
Europe, Princeton University Press, Oxford, 2005.
55. B. ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
Salter, “Bioethics, politics and the moral economy of human embryonic stem
cell science: the case of the European Union’s Sixth Framework Programme”, New Genetics
and Society, 26, 3, 2007, pp. 269-288.
From the postwar to the present day, the road to an “ever closer
union” between European peoples has been travelled by reformers
and intellectuals, as well as scientists, scholars and engineers. While
the early history of science cooperation in Europe was marked by the
building of big centres, in more recent years transnational networks
and consortia have become the dominant pattern. It is worth mentioning that these developments have spilled over from the institutional
framework to the wider context of knowledge production. Over the
years, “European” has become a commonplace in the world of science
and academia. In early 1960s, Denis de Rougemont, the firm believer
in the vital force of European culture, could proudly claim that more
than a hundred institutes, associations, houses and foundations had
grown up around the European Cultural Centre, “all with the object
of awakening and sustaining the sense of our common involvement
in the spiritual adventure of Europe”. 56 Today, a simple search on the
online catalogue of the British Library will retrieve hundreds of academic journals with the adjective “European” in their title, ranging
from chemistry to physics, medicine to social theory, criminology to
communication studies. It would be difficult to reconstruct the social
history of all these publications. A rapid overview reveals that some
of them are linked with European societies; others were created in
association with international congresses and conferences. There are
certainly different motivations and interests behind each of such undertakings. In any case, however, the concept of Europe has been acting as a powerful “idée-force”, able to mobilize creative energies and
resources in some directions rather than others. 57
One could argue that “European” is just a label on traditional modes
of knowledge production – old wine in new bottles. However, as many
social studies of science demonstrated, content and context are both
essential to the making of modern science. Just like the nation-states
have shaped and continues to shape the production of knowledge, the
process of European integration has been a critical engine of cultural
and scientific change. Although this phenomenon has involved the full
56. In D. de Rougemont, The Meaning of Europe, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1965,
p. 84.
57. See J. ���������������������������������������������������
Llobera, “The Concept of Europe as an Idee-force”, Critique of Anthropology,
23, 2, 2003, pp. 155-174.
range of academic specializations, its actual impact has to be evaluated
case by case. In the social sciences, for instance, European integration
has led to new approaches and methods of data collection. Indeed,
“Europe” (or the European Union) has become the unit of analysis
in numerous social or economic surveys, in alternative to traditional
frameworks such as the local community or the nation. 58 In the natural
and physical sciences, the need to create a shared platform for collaboration has contributed to the difficult quest for experimental standards
and common regulations. Also, European research policies have introduced new forms of collective action and transnational collaboration,
which have then become common organizational patterns well beyond
the boundaries of the European Union.
Finally, despite positive changes, European scientific cooperation
has had its downsides. The notion of “fortress Europe” – open inside
its borders but closed outside – has been debated in relation to migration policies, but can also be used to criticise Community research
programmes. The creation of a European Research Area can be exclusive as much as inclusive. Likewise, the establishment of “networks
of excellence” can create elitism and marginalisation. To avoid such
undesirable implications, the European discourse on science should be
more inspired by values of cosmopolitanism, global cooperation and
inclusion. 59 Conversely, the obsessive insistence on “competitiveness”
might be working in the short term as an expedient rationale for European research programmes. In the long term, however, it will leave
many open questions about the real benefits these interventions are
supposed to bring about.
58. See, for instance, A. ����������������
Rodríguez-Pose, The European Union. Economy, Society, and
Polity, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002; C. Crouch, Social Change in Western Europe,
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999; G. Therborn, European modernity and beyond: the
trajectory of European societies, 1945-2000, Sage, London, 1995; Goddard et al, The anthropology of Europe: identity and boundaries in conflict, Berg Publishers, Oxford, 1994.
59. See also J. Habermas, “Toward a Cosmopolitan Europe”, Journal of Democracy, 14,
4, 2003, pp. 86-100; G. Delanty, “The Idea of a Cosmopolitan Europe”, International Review
of Sociology, 15, 3, 2005. pp. 405-21; and U. Beck and E. Grande, Cosmopolitan Europe, Polity
Press, Cambridge, 2007.
Andrea Grignolio
“When realized on the stage these brief episodes [of Brecht’s Life of Galileo] make us acquainted with some features
of a scientific debate. [...] They also show how people behave
when engaged in argument; how their behaviour influences
the life of others, and what role such influence plays in society.”
Paul Feyerabend, Let’s make movies, 1999
The Longing to Understand is a one-woman play on the life and work
of Barbara McClintock, the American geneticist who discovered mobile genetic elements in maize, the transposons or “jumping genes”, a
discovery for which in 1983, at the age of eighty-one, she was awarded
the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine. On September 2001, the
play was first performed at the ISU theatre season of the Iowa State
University by the author herself, Jane Cox, who is also professor of
theatre and stage director at the Iowa State University Theatre. Cox’s
play tells about the life of one of the greatest scientists of the twentieth
century, who had to endure a great deal in her life, including the overcoming of prejudices against women in science in educational institutions. As told in the play, the longing to understand is also her longing
to surmount society’s expectations about her role, to resist pressure to
become a “normal woman with a family”, to shake off the institutional
constraints to which educated women were subject, and to transcend
the segregation of women’s role in the laboratory.
What follows is the Italian translation of the play, preceded by an
introduction which attempts to briefly assess its place among other
plays based on twentieth-century women scientists, viz. Remembering
Miss Meitner by R. M. Friedman, Thread of Life by R. Nachtmann, Glory
Enough. A play about Rosalind Franklin and the structure of DNA by S.
Perkowitz. 2
. I dedicate this work to the memory of Giancarlo Nanni (1941-2010), whose conception of an open, avant-gard and visionary theatre has left a lasting cultural legacy in the
Italian dramatic arts.
. R. M. Friedman, “Remembering
Miss Meitner: an attempt to forge history into
drama”, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 27, 2002, pp. 202-210����������������
; R. Nachtmann, Thread of
Life, 2003, S.
Perkowitz, Glory Enough. A play about Rosalind Franklin and the structure of
DNA by S. Perkowitz (2004), Typescript.
An Emerging Field and its Roots
Only ten years ago, for those interested in representing one-woman plays on stage there was no big choice: Jean-Noël Fenwick’s 1989
French play Les Palmes de M. Schutz, dealing with the discovery of radium by two times Nobel laureate Marie Curie, was the only available
chance to see a lady scientist on stage. 3 For those who make the very
same decision today, things, fortunately, are more complicated. Within
a decade, indeed, plays based on lives and discoveries of women scientists from different disciplines have seen the light, incrementing what
is now generally accepted as the new genre of “science in theater”,
itself in a mushrooming moment of popularity and high regard. 4
The lives of women scientists that have been turned into a theatrical
play in the last decade are the ones of the three major icons of midcentury science: the life of the American geneticist Barbara McClintock
appears in Jane Cox’s The Longing to Understand; 5 that of the German
atomic physicist Lise Meitner in R. M. Friedman’s Remembering Miss
Meitner; and the life of the British crystallographer Rosalind Franklin
appears both in R. Nachtmann’s Thread of Life and in S. Perkowitz’s
Glory Enough. A play about Rosalind Franklin and the structure of DNA. 6
The relevance of McClintock’s, Meitner’s, and Franklin’s biographies
resides in the fact that their lives coincide with, respectively, the discovery of “jumping genes” (i.e., the “movability” of the genome), the
explanation of uranium’s fission (i.e., the base for atomic energy) and
the unveiling of the double-helical shape of DNA (i.e., the foundation
of molecular biology). In trying to find the reasons for the emergence
. J.-N. Fenwick, Les Palmes de M. Schutz, L’Avant-Scène Théâtre/Collection des Quatre-Vents, Paris, 2002 (19891).
. Among others, see the entire number of the Interdisciplinary Science Review, 27, 3,
2002; and K. Shepherd-Barr, Science on stage: from Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen, Princeton
University Press, Princeton, N.J., 2006; Rocamora, C., “Scientific Dramaturgy”, Nation,
2000, 270, 22, pp. 49-51.
. The Longing to Understand, The Story of Barbara McClintock, By Jane Cox 2001©, 2226
Pearson Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, United States of America, copyrighted
material (Siae 159471); R.
M. Friedman, “���������������������������
Remembering Miss Meitner”��, op. cit., R. Nachtmann, Thread of Life, op. cit., and S. Perkowitz, Glory Enough, op. cit.
. I would like to express my deep gratitude to Sidney Perkovitz (whose acquaintance
I owe to the kindness of Pnina Abir-Am) and Jane Cox for providing me copies of their
unpublished plays. Unfortunately, Rita Nachtmann passed away few months after her
pièce on R. Franklin was staged; a copy of the manuscript was kindly given to me by Brian
Schwartz, to whom I am most grateful. As for Friedman’s Remembering Miss Meitner I used
the Italian version translated by P. Govoni and G. Pancaldi: R.M. Friedman, Ricordando
Lise Meitner, Pendragon, Bologna, 2005.
of these women in science plays, and to trace them back to their beginnings, two different historical perspectives are of some value.
Looking first at the “proximate causes”, such a momentum can be
easily attributed to the last decade’s success of different science in theatre plays such as Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen (1998), David Auburn’s
Proof (2000), Carl Djerassi and Roald Hoffmann’s Oxygen (2001), and
John D. Barrow’s Infinities (2002). 7 Even if the latter make no mention
of woman scientists, these acclaimed plays, essentially based on classic and institutional figures of Western male-science, appeared to have
created a potential space for less conventional female characters. Indeed, if compared with these other science plays – written by playwrights (Frayn and Auburn) or scientists (all the others) who are typically interested in staging scientific discoveries/ideas and its heroes –
the women plays are rather centred on sociological themes, recounting
histories focused on career barriers imposed by gender discrimination
(as in all three of the women scientists plays), on the perverse effects
of scientists’ competition for primacy, funds, or acknowledgments (as
in both Nachtmann and Perkowitz’s Franklin and Friedman’s Meitner),
and on questioning for an alternative, empathetic, ‘feminine’ scientific
methodology (as only in Cox’s McClintock).
The fact that the dramatic focus is set on gender studies issues can
be seen as (one of) the long side effects of the (still) ruling sociological
approach that began to characterize the history and epistemology of
science in the latter part of the twentieth century. But to understand the
link between the women science play-writing, gender studies and sociology of science, the previous decade-long perspective becomes inad. M. Frayn, Copenhagen, Methuen Drama, London, 1998; �����������
D. Auburn, Proof: a play,
Faber and Faber, New York-London, 2001; C. Djerassi, R. Hoffmann, Oxygen: a play in two
acts, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, Chichester, 2001; K. Shepherd-Barr, Science on stage, op. cit.,
information concerning Barrow’s Infinities —a 2002 play on mathematical concepts related
to the idea of infinity, written by John D. Barrow and staged in Milan by Luca Ronconi,
respectively professor of mathematical sciences at Cambridge and Italian theatre director of international renown – can be gained through several papers, reviews, and book
chapters; see in particular J.D. Barrow, “The story behind Infinities”, in Physics World,
2003, p. 39; K. Shepherd-Barr, “Acting out the search for infinity”, in Physics World, 2003,
p. 38-39; J. Kupferman, “Infinity in Theatre”, in PhysicaPlus. Online
Magazine of the Israel
Physical Society, 2005, 2; P. Donghi, Sui generis temi e riflessioni sulla comunicazione della
scienza, Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2006, pp. 29-33; K. Shepherd-Barr, Science on stage, op. cit.,
pp. 149-154. Such
a scanty list refers to the last two decades and then not only excludes
the earlier famous Tom Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia, but also fails to mention two of the
earliest leading texts in the field such as Bertold Brecht’s Life of Galileo (largely completed
in 1938, but only performed in its first version in 1943) and Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The
Physicists (1962).
equate and has to be replaced by one based on “long-running causes”.
Such causes are to be found at the end of WWII, when cold war policies designed a totally new global order and government investment
priorities. An institutional and cultural shift that meant a reallocation
of funds among academic disciplines which inevitably called for the
redefinition of the disciplinary boundaries and the establishment of a
new dialogue between science and humanities, as typically suggested
by C.P. Snow’s famous lecture The Two Cultures in 1959. 8 By observing
that most of the people in charge of strategic institutional power were
humanities graduates, Snow was more than right in foreseeing the
dangers of scientific illiteracy among the educated citizens of future
society. As a matter of fact, in the fifty years since The Two Cultures was
published the diffusion of scientific writing among the general literary culture has been significant. At institutional level, the merging of
science and humanities has been fostered both by the development of
several Science, Technology and Society (STS) departments in western
universities and by the fact that health/science issues had become more
and more a matter of political and public debate in the media. A recent
example of such a centrality of techno-scientific issues is witnessed
by the inclusion of “public understanding of science” courses in academic curricula, as well as by the success of the Eurobarometer science
survey series that, on behalf of the European Commission, regularly
assays EU citizens’ attitudes towards science and technology. Clearly,
all science popularization activities – “science-in-fiction” books and
magazines, tv/radio programs and channels, exhibits, and museums
devoted to science – and, in particular, science on stage events, need
to be contextualized within this cultural milieu. However, it would be
unfair to say that such a diffusion of scientific literacy coincides with
the one foreseen in the The Two Cultures. 9
. C. P. Snow, The two cultures and the scientific revolution, Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, 1959.
. The definition is offered by the American chemist Carl Djerassi, the well-known
co-discoverer of the first oral contraceptive pill, now turned novelist and playwright, who
opposes the generic term “science fiction” based on pseudo-scientific and sensationalistic
issues to what he considers a new, recent “genre of ‘science-in-fiction’ [...] in which all
aspects of scientific behaviour and scientific facts are described accurately and plausibly.
By disguising them in the cloak of fiction, science-in-fiction allows the illustration and
discussion of ethical dilemmas that are frequently not raised for reasons of discretion,
embarrassment, or fear of retribution.” See C. Djerassi, “Ethical discourse by sciencein-fiction”, Nature, 393, 6685, 1998, pp. 511-513. See also id., “When Is ‘Science on Stage’
Really Science?”, American Theatre, 24, 2007, pp. 96-103.
Snow’s expectations were indeed fulfilled from a quantitative point
of view; far less from a qualitative one. Presumably, he would hardly
have imagined that the reinforcement of the dialogue would eventually divide rather than unite the two cultures. It is easy to remark that
of the several bridges built to connect the two fields, many appeared
structurally ill-conceived either because constructed to bear a one-way
traffic or because connecting peripheral areas of exchange with few, if
any, exportable goods. As for the nature of the latter, the bridges, apart
from a very small amount of interdisciplinarity, served mainly to allow
the passage of a great bulk of reciprocal criticism.
These contrasts, which at their peak engendered harsh public debates such as the “Sokal hoax” and “Science Wars”, see two contenders
at war. On one side, scientists accuse sociologists of science to ignore
the scientific criteria they criticize – i.e., empirically falsifiable theories, large-scale rigorous peer reviewing procedures, shared protocol
testing methodologies, and experimental data predictions – as well as
practicing leftist ivory-towerism for political reasons. On the other, sociologists of science accuse scientists of denying the debt their theories have to the narratological, rhetorical, and economical dimensions
and of bloating out of proportion, thanks to their community’s esoteric
jargon, science’s authority and insulation, so as to avoid any social responsibility and be free to violate safety and ethical rules. Of these two
contenders, the recent wave of science playwrights was largely influenced by the literature produced by the latter and, consequently, it will
be the sole point at issue here.
A major responsibility for such a critical view of science was due
to the intersection between sociology of science and postmodern literary approaches. Based on the conception that, respectively, scientific
knowledge is essentially a social construction and scientific results (like
any other cultural event) can be interpreted as texts at the mercy of
rhetorical rules, these disciplines commonly look at scientific practice
as governed by cultural conventions and indeterminacy, thus denying,
or drastically reducing, the objectivity of science. Notwithstanding its
wide cultural impact, the critique of science’s objectivity, namely the
hobbyhorse of the sociology of science, was rarely portrayed in science
related plays. What rather appeared to be popular in theatrical representations was the emphasis on more recent sociological aspects of science, which range from civic responsibilities and laboratory leadership
rivalries to militaristic-economic interests and gender discrimination.
The latter aspect, as a result of the felicitous encounter between sociology of science and woman studies during the 1980’s, has received so
much attention from scholars and media as to become a field per se. 10
In the next section the way in which the four plays deal with the abovementioned social themes will be briefly outlined, with particular attention being paid to the gender discourse.
Three woman scientists on stage
Dramatic and satirical representations of science are not rare, nor
are they a recent cultural phenomenon; they have been rather a recurrent attitude throughout twentieth-century theatre 11 and literature. 12
10. See for instance Sidney Perkowitz’s efficient synthesis of the last surveys on the
topic where he remarks that “in a survey of 60 films containing scientists between 1929
and 2003, Eva Flicker from the University of Vienna reported that eleven (18%) included
female scientists. But a survey of more recent films (1991-2001) by Jocelyn Steinke at
Western Michigan University found 23 female scientists in 74 science-related films (31%).
My own keyword searches on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) identified 84 women
scientists out of 382 films containing scientists (22%). So female scientists on film are in
the minority, but there are more of them in recent films. And the 22% figure from IMDB
isn’t too bad, considering that studies suggest (Pell) that women comprise only 25% of the
‘science and engineering workforce’, 28% of university faculty, and 8% of full professors
in the sciences”. (“Female Scientists on the Big Screen”, The-Scientist.com, 21 July 2006)
See also E. Flicker, “Between Brains and Breast. Women Scientists in Fiction Film: On the
Marginalization and Sexualization of Scientific Competence”, Public Understanding of Science, 12, 3, 2003, pp. 307-318; E. Flicker, “Representation of Women Scientists in Feature
Films: 1929 to 2003”, Bridges, 5, 2005; J. Steinke, “Cultural Representations of Gender and
Science: Portrayals of Female Scientists and Engineers in Popular Films”, Science Communication, 27, 1, 2005, pp. 27-63; A. N. Pell, “Fixing the leaky pipeline: women scientists
in academia”, Journal of Animal Science, 74, 11, 1996, pp. 2843-2848; Science and Engineering
Indicators 2006, National Science Foundation, USA, Ch. 3: Science and Engineering Labor
Force, available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/c3/c3h.htm�.
11. For a historical survey of the bad service that theatre rendered to science and the
past cases of reciprocal “incompatibility” see M. A. Orthofer, “The scientist on the stage:
a survey”, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 27, 2002, pp. 173-183.
12. After the successful tradition of the nineteenth-century gothic novels’ mad scientist figure, typically embodied in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a critical, or, according to
some, a more realistic literary depiction of contemporary scientist is to be found in the
main character of Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith, i.e. the physician Martin Arrowsmith, its
first popular epitome. (Martin Arrowsmith, Cape, London, 1925) Among the others, two
important steps toward the fall of the scientist-hero’s fortunes were James D. Watson’s
bestseller non-fiction novel The Double Helix (New American Library (Mentor), New
York, 1968) and Samuel Shem’s The House of God (Black Swan , London, 1978). See P. H.
Goodrich, “The Lineage of Mad Scientists: Anti-Types of Merlin”, Extrapolation, 27, 2,
1986, pp. 109-115; I. Lowy, “Immunology and Literature in the Early Twentieth Century:
‘Arrowsmith’ and ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’”, Medical History, 32, 3, 1988, pp. 314-332; A.
H. Jones, “Images of physicians in literature: medical Bildungsromans”, The Lancet, 348,
9029, 1996, pp. 734-736; E. Yoxen, “Popularising competitiveness: the double helix”,
Such a critical attitude acquired social implications only after WWII, as
a consequence of the transformation of scientific enterprise from small
and local groups of research to large-scale projects funded by national governments or military-industrial complexes. Notably, the stress
on the social aspect of science, far from being a specific trait of the
woman scientist’s story, pertains to a conspicuous number of science
plays. “Science and society” was indeed recently proposed as one of
the threefold categorization, together with “scientists as people” and
“science in the fabric of the play”, for organizing science-based plays
according to a content-based taxonomy. 13 Following this limited but
useful threefold partition, 14 the three-woman-scientist plays here analyzed, as centred on both social and biographical discourses, would
certainly fall half way between the first and the second categorization.
To find the reason of such a thematic polarization it should suffice to
look at the texts on which the playwrights relied, viz. texts exploring
the cultural area at the intersection between sociology of science and
woman studies. Along these lines, an outlook of the plays devoted,
respectively, to Franklin and Meitner will reveal some of their characters’ commonalities as opposed to Jane Cox’s representation of McClintock’s persona.
The case of Rosalind Franklin is quite known: she was the victim
of unprofessional conduct by a group of scientists who acted to exclude her, the sole woman, from the “mad pursuit” towards the discovery of DNA. Their misconduct consisted in circulating, without
her knowledge and consent, Franklin’s unpublished data and pictures
– according to Watson and Crick two important clues to realize that the
structure of the DNA was a double helix 15 – by consulting confidential
reports that she collected for an interdepartmental evaluation and that
she considered still premature for publication (and sharing). Notably,
Watson was shown by Maurice Wilkins (initially, a supposed collaboSociety for the Social History of Medicine Bulletin (Lond), 39, 1986, pp. 24-26. For a general
framework of the negative literary images of the scientist, not necessarily a biologist or
a physician, see R. D. Haynes, From Faust to Strangelove: representations of the scientist in
western literature, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1994.
13. J. ���������������������������������
Kupferman, “Science in Theater”, PhysicaPlus. Online Magazine of the Israel
Physical Society, 2004. For two other taxonomies of science plays based on chronology
and theatrical centrality see, respectively, Orthofer, “The scientist on the stage”, op. cit.,
and Shepherd, Science on stage, op. cit., p. 4.
14. Shepherd, Science on stage, op. cit., p. 4.
15. Watson, The double helix, op. cit., pp. 107, 134, 143; F. Crick, What mad pursuit: a
personal view of scientific discovery, Basic Books, New York, 1988, p. 75.
rator of Franklin, later on the cause of her decision to leave the Medical
Research Council’s (MRC) Biophysics Unit at King’s College) Franklin’s famous photograph B51, which had been given to Wilkins by Raymond Gosling (Franklin’s Ph.D. Student); whereas Crick was shown by
Max Perutz, his PhD advisor and a member of evaluating committee
of the MRC, a copy of Franklin’s private report containing many of her
crystallographic calculations. The sequel is also well known: Watson
and Crick wrote a paper on Nature proposing a structure of DNA in
1953 and less than a decade later, in 1962, they received, together with
Wilkins, a Nobel Prize for the double-helix model of DNA – that is,
four years after Franklin’s death at age thirty-seven from ovarian cancer. All these facts began to emerge, creating harsh debates and conspicuous literature, only after the publication of James Watson’s The
Double Helix, a personal account of the discovery which immediately
became a bestseller, where it is publicly admitted that a malpractice
towards a women lay at the origin of molecular biology.
As already mentioned, such a sad story has been put on stage both
by Rita Nachtmann and Sidney Perkowitz, respectively, a professional
playwright and a professor of physics at Emory University as well as
author of popular science books. Both authors based their own plays
not on personal researches but on the information gained through the
few published accounts on Franklin’s story, i.e., Brenda Maddox’s Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (2002), Watson’s Double Helix and,
above all, Anne Sayre’s Rosalind Franklin and DNA (1975). 16 As the main
inspirational source for both plays, the latter book did not fail to leave
its mark. Although Sayre, a short story writer and a close friend of
Franklin, was not herself a scholar of woman studies or a sociologist
of science, her book soon became a seminal text for the experts working in these two fields. 17 Born as an answer to Watson’s self-centred
16. A. �������
Sayre, Rosalind Franklin and DNA, Norton, New York, 1975. In an introductory
note of the play, Perkowitz also recognizes his tribute to Watson’s The Double Helix and
to Lynne Osman Elkin’s paper, “Rosalind Franklin and the Double Helix”, Physics Today,
56, 3, 2003, pp. 42-49. On the other hand, even if Nachtmann did not mention any inspirational reference, the play’s content and date – a complete draft was handed in to the
granting foundation (Alfred P. Sloan, EST Sloan Project) on October 2002, as mentioned
on the typescript’s first page – suggest that she relied only on Watson and Sayre’s books,
for Maddox’s was not yet available, only being published on 1 October 2002.
17. As put by Hilary Rose: “Sayre’s passionate defence of Franklin probably did more
than any other single book in the Seventies to demonstrate the erasure of women scientist
by men”, see H. Rose, Love, power, and knowledge: towards a feminist transformation of the
sciences, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Ind., 1994, p. 16; see also S.L.-M. Shef-
and sexist account, 18 Sayre’s book gained wide popularity by recounting for the first time the greatest biological advance of the twentieth
century from a women’s perspective. The book also offers a symbolic
tale where, in a sort of reversal of the Genesis story, men instead of a
woman committed the original sin of deceiving and where the woman played the sage’s role by deciding, at the very moment of catching the secret of the life’s fruit (DNA), to wisely wait and learn more
facts about it. Franklin’s story is indeed a story of the fall from Eden in
which, paradoxically, the innocent persona is the one who is sacrificed
by losing life and scientific acknowledgment, where the loss of innocence is represented by unscrupulous and competitive (yet successful)
scientific behaviour and where the ones who are expelled from the
primeval garden are rewarded with the assignment of a new territory
(molecular biology), mundane recognition and prizes.
What Nachtmann and Perkowitz decided to put on stage is then a
historical trial which tries to restore justice, with the two trails establishing different responsibilities according to whom is playing the role
of the culprit and of the witnesses. Both plays also share the same suspended temporality: they are set in a sort of chamber of time where the
characters act as if they were alike in the past or the present – Nachtmann’s play also shows a stage setting divided in two temporal moments -, according to the necessity of the plot.
Mixing up four main characters (R. Franklin, M. Wilkins, J. Watson,
F. Crick, plus a sort of Greek chorus represented by three women)
through two acts, Nachtmann’s Thread of Life is mainly focused on the
Franklin-Wilkins relationship. On one hand, Wilkins’s guiltiness is
clear: he is treated as the one who had the major responsibilities for
marginalizing the work of a gifted woman scientist within his laboratory as a response to a mutual character incompatibility. A gender discrimination indirectly denounced by Franklin herself in casual conversations with other minor characters such as Franklin’s physician and
Francis Crick’s wife Odile, as well as reinforced by Jim Watson’s several
field, Women and science: social impact and interaction, ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, Calif.,
2004, pp. 157-159. According to Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, such a process of exclusion
set by Watson eventually led to the opposite result for: “his fictionalized portrayal [i.e.
The Double Helix] of her personality and scientific achievements has made her the martyred saint of feminist and woman scientists”, see S. B. McGrayne, Nobel Prize women in
science: their lives, struggles, and momentous discoveries, Joseph Henry Press, Washington,
(Rev. ed.) 1998, p. 330.
18. D. Sayre,
Anne Sayre (1923-1998) [Obituary], IUCr Newsletter, 6, 4, 1998.
sexist comments. On the other, the fact that they were both Cambridgetrained physicists, almost same age, and they found themselves sharing the same office under the same director (John Randall) and with a
common task (x-ray diffraction studies of DNA), created, according to
a fictional representation of the facts, the texture for unrequited love
of Wilkins’s for Franklin. Such a noble feeling, together with numerous
expressions of regret – to which both Watson and Crick fail to adhere
in the name of scientific competition – for having excluded her from
DNA discovery, seems eventually to reduce Wilkins’s responsibility.
Fully responsible and guilty, on the contrary, is the fictional portrait
of Watson put on stage by Perkowitz’s play, a one act drama with four
characters (J. Watson, R. Franklin and two of her closest friends: Anne
and Jacques). In a 1970s laboratory-like setting – when Franklin is
long dead and Watson has recently published his autobiography -, the
scene is characterized by an unreal context in which Jim (Watson), Rosalind (Franklin) and her life-long friend and biographer Anne (Sayre),
“have come together to understand the story of DNA”. 19 The climax of
the play revolves around Anne’s step-by-step revelation to Rosalind
of her actual role in the DNA discovery, as it was recounted in Jim’s
autobiographical account. Even more openly than in Thread of Life, the
plot of Glory Enough is based on an ex-post historical reconstruction, a
tale structure that allows the author to reassess Franklin’s importance
for the discovery and to assign to this posthumous recognition “glory
enough” (itself a citation from Sayre’s book). 20 Such a tale structure
also permits Perkowitz to build a cathartic trial on the stage in which
Anne and Rosalind accuse Watson of the injustice he committed both
by defrauding (and taking advantage of) a woman scientist’s personal
data and by offering an unfair account of the facts.
In line with the sociological-oriented books which inspired them,
the plays about Franklin do not deal with science as such – none of
them tell, for instance, why and how the research on DNA became
central during the 1940s and 1950s -, but rather with its social implications: both plays indeed raise in the audience questions about scientific
ethics and male views of women in science. Similarly, the themes and
the values underlying Friedman’s one act play Miss Meitner. A drama
about physics and betrayal, as revealed by the subtitle itself, are not very
19. S. Perkowitz,
����������� Glory Enough, op. cit., p. 2.
20. Sayre, Rosalind Franklin and DNA, op. cit., p. 193.
different from the ones tackled by the Franklin plays. Besides, as Franklin’s story is a tale of injustice which lies at the origin of molecular
biology, so the “betrayal” of Lise Meitner, with all the due differences,
lies at the origin of nuclear physics: both indeed are victims of the fact
of being among the first woman scientists conducting research projects
in a male dominated arena.
Yet, Lise Meitner’s story is even sadder because the injustice she
received was manifold. First of all, she was one of the most talented
physicist of the past Century who directed (1934-38, June), as leader
of her own physics department at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin,
a team (which included Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann) that discovered nuclear fission (1938, July), an achievement for which only Hahn
eventually obtained the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1944. Secondly, as a
Jew, she was deprived of her entire possessions and employment from
the Nazis. Further, when she fled to Sweden in 1938 and was accepted
as a refugee in Manne Siegbahn’s laboratory, her professional role was
marginalized, if not entirely denied, to the point that her research on
fission suddenly ended. And finally, she felt betrayed by Hahn, her
close collaborator and friend, by his refusal to remember her role in
the discovery, a refusal, it has to be noted, that Hahn showed both in
the first papers written during the crucial months after she left – i.e.
when “his own confusion and misconceptions while initially ‘discovering’ fission” were cleared up by the letters that he secretly received
by Meitner in response to his theoretical questions 21 -, and during the
occasion of the Nobel award ceremony.
Putting Meitner, Hahn and Siegbahn centre-stage, trying to disentangle the reasons of such a many-fold betrayal, Friedman’s drama
is openly aimed at examining the personal and social processes that
led to a woman scientist’s discrimination. Along these lines, then, the
character of Miss Meitner and the ones represented in the Franklin
plays share the very same three critical social issues: the career barriers imposed on women, the counter-effects of the fierce competition
for priority of discovery, and the lack of a timely scientific recognition
generally accorded to women. What is more, in the development of the
three above mentioned plays, the character’s trajectory of both Franklin and Meitner is marked by the same descending curve: a final loss
represented by a premature death in one case and a lack of recognition
21. R. M. Friedman, “Remembering Miss Meitner”, op. cit..
in the other. Such a common dramatic finale is expected to have an
emotional impact on the audience but it is doubtful whether it helps to
have a positive pedagogical effect. For not only the sense of injustice
is evil compounded, being dissipated only by a belated historical recognition of the two – something which coincides with the aim of both
plays -, but also because the excessive marginalization and disturbing disrespect encountered by these two women scientists in the mid
twentieth century are too distant from today’s context. Even if similar
in evidencing the social implication of science, the case of Barbara McClintock is quite different upon these points.
Staging McClintock
For those who are not interested in the field of history of science,
gender studies or genetics, the name of Barbara McClintock is quite
unknown. Indeed, she was the author of a revolutionary finding in genetics which became a paradigmatic case of “premature discovery”, 22
the sole woman scientist who has received an unshared Nobel Prize in
Medicine and Physiology (1983), and the subject of one of the seminal
books introducing the feminine approach to science such as Evelyn Fox
Keller’s A Feeling for the organism: the life and work of Barbara McClintock
(1983). 23 These reasons concurred with time to make Barbara McClintock a sort of icon for gender studies in science: 24 She represented, and
22. As applied to scientific discovery, the notion of “prematurity” and its kindred
concepts of “postmature” and “mature” found their origin in two different moments in
the early 1970s. Firstly, in May 1970, when Gunther Stent, one of the founding fathers
of molecular biology, coined the term during the conference “History of Biochemistry
and Molecular Biology”, by acknowledging his partial debt to the discussions with the
sociologists of science Robert Merton and Harriet Zuckerman – in that occasion the latter
also called the attention on the possible relevance of �����������������������������������
the works of the Hungarian–British
polymath Michael Polanyi to Stent’s prematurity notion������������������������������������
. See G. S. Stent, “Prematurity and
uniqueness in scientific discovery”, Scientific American, 227, 6, 1972, pp. 84-93. Secondly,
during the 1974-5 courses on “historical sociology of scientific knowledge” held at the
Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences of Stanford University by Y. Elkana,
J. Lederberg, R. Merton, A. Thackray, and H. Zuckerman. For a general introduction see E.
B. Hook, Prematurity in scientific discovery: on resistance and neglect, University of California
Press, Berkeley, 2002. For the historical reconstruction of the term see in particular § XVIII,
L. H. Stern, “The Impact and Fate of Gunther Stent’s Prematurity Thesis”, pp. 260-279.
23. E. F. Keller,
�������� A feeling for the organism: the life and work of Barbara McClintock, W.H.
Freeman, San Francisco, 1983.
24. E. F. Keller, Pot-holes everywhere: How (not) to read my biography of Barbara McClintock, video recorded talk presented at “Women’s Lives in Science and the Humanities. A
workshop on writing and communicating the lives of creative women” held in Bologna,
still represents, the successful story of a woman who struggled against
several cultural prejudices and institutional obstacles. Such recognition, arriving from many quarters, is clearly what prima facie differentiates her public and fictional persona from Franklin and Meitner’s.
What indeed really characterized McClintock’s story is not simply a
successful career, something that she shares with other contemporary
women Nobel laureates in her field (i.e., G. Cori, R. Yalow, R. LeviMontalcini) or in others (D. Crowfoot Hodgkin, M. Goeppert-Mayer),
but the eccentric way she went through obstacles to obtain it. Along
these lines, McClintock’s characterization is pretty far from the ones
appeared in the late 1970s feminist books, centered on the episodic
success story of woman scientists, typically physicists with tenure or
a Nobel Prize, who behaved and thought from a classic male perspective. 25 Oppositely, it is just in her original capacity to transcend the
orthodox conceptualization of biological problems, of scientific community dogmatism, of family expectation as well as of gender identity
that determines both the novelty and the attraction of McClintock and
her biography.
Heavily based on Fox Keller’s book, 26 Cox’s drama indeed takes all
these facets of McClintock’s personality into account. As a one-act, onewoman play, The Longing to Understand. The Story of Barbara McClintock,
covers the entire life span of the American geneticist – using the (tacit)
fictional trick of the time chamber, as in the Franklin and Meitner plays
– who recounts her experiences through a mosaic of discourses such
as dialogues, confessions and free indirect style monologues. It starts
from McClintock’s realization of her intrinsic diverseness from the other girls and boys (It seemed to me that I didn’t belong with the other girls
[…] But if I didn’t fit in with the girls, I didn’t fit in with the boys either”),
which began with her youthful talent for male sports, passed through
her mother-daughter conflicts (“My mother [...] expected that as a girl, I
would be a loving daughter and then a loving wife, and finally a loving moth4-5 June 2009, organized by Vita Fortunati, Paola Govoni, and Zelda Franceschi and realized within the European Thematic Network Project ACUME2 “Interfacing Sciences,
Literature, and Humanities”. For a historical reconstruction of the profound impact that
Fox Keller’s book on McClintock had for gender studies see J. Des Jardins, The Madame
Curie complex: the hidden history of women in science, Feminist Press at City University of
New York, New York, 2010, pp. 238-248; for a critical view see J. P. Sterba, Controversies
in feminism, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2001, pp. 133-140.
25. Des Jardins, The Madame Curie complex, op. cit., p. 241.
26. Personal communication with the author, 17 April 2009.
er. That expectation was soon destroyed as well. [...] I’m sure she spent many
sleepless nights worrying that somehow I was becoming a strange person”)
and the refusing to get married in order to dedicate herself entirely to
a scientific career (“Mother, I’m not [like my sister] Marjorie; I’m me! I
don’t want to get married. I want to go to college!”), and climaxed in her
own decision to avoid any sort of gender identification (“I didn’t want
to be a man, but I did want the matter of gender to fall away. But gender was
always there, always intruding.”) The audience is then extensively entertained by the character’s struggle with academic and research institutions 27 (“There were two universities especially hospitable to women students
in the sciences, the University of Chicago and Cornell”; “[At Cornell] there
was a problem for me since genetics [...] department wouldn’t take any women
as graduate students”; “It was clear that no permanent faculty position was
open to me as a woman”; “It was another 16 years, in 1947, before Cornell
appointed its first woman assistant professor in any field other than home
economics”), an argument which is also instrumental in explaining the
origin of McClintock’s unconventional thought as a consequence of the
isolation she experienced as a woman in a man’s world (“I realize now
that it was a stigma, being a spinster and a career woman, especially in science. I would have to fall in one of two categories – lady or maverick. I guess
there really wasn’t a choice, and I’d just have to accept it.”).
Whether the rich interplay among the social dimension of science,
life’s formative experiences and the development of a scientific style
is particularly strong across all the drama, it clearly reaches its peak
towards the finale when McClintock explains her innovative method
in genetic research as typically integrative, non-hierarchical, and holistic 28 (“When you look at a cell under a microscope, you have to get down
27. Keller, A feeling for the organism: the life and work of Barbara McClintock, op. cit., pp.
86, 142; on the initial marginalization and subsequent re-evaluation of her researches see
also H. F. Judson, The eighth day of creation: makers of the revolution in biology, Simon and
Schuster, New York, 1979, pp. 460-461.
28. After decades of Fox Keller’s dominant interpretation of McClintock’s genderoriented genetic approach, a recent extensive biography offers a totally new approach to
the great geneticist in which her scientific marginalization, holistic thinking and feminine
methodology has little, if any, role for the discovery of transposition, an achievement
considered secondary to that of “control or regulation of genes during development”,
see N. C. Comfort, The tangled field: Barbara McClintock’s search for the patterns of genetic
control, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2001. Similarly critical against what
he called the “McClintock myth” and “feeling [with organism] mantra” propounded by
Fox Keller, James P. Sterba’s analysis is particularly acute in summarizing the concept of
holistic thinking inherent in a feminine perspective to genetics: “Keller argues that McClintock story was primarily about the fight between the old male linear thinking and
in the cell and really look around. You get to the point where you are not conscious of anything else [...] Your whole being can feel the intensity of it. Any
engineer or historian or writer or painter – anyone who must think intensely
and integrate vast amounts of information to solve a problem must feel it
too”; “If something doesn’t fit, there is a reason, and you must find out what
it is. Don’t overlook that difference or call it an exception, a contaminant. The
consequences of that are very costly. You will miss what is going on. And that
applies to Queen Anne’s Lace, to maize, and to people.”) Parallel to such a
threefold level of analysis of McClintock’s persona, a series of keystone
experiments in genetics is also offered (Gregor Mendel’s experiments
with peas and Thomas H. Morgan’s with fruit flies) in order to gradually introduce the audience to the complicate molecular mechanism of
McClintock’s main discovery – i.e. that some genes, which she called
transposons, are able to ‘jump’ on and between chromosomes (“It had
been accepted theory [...] that genes on a chromosome were like a string of
pearls, that is that each one remained in the exact spot it had always been in.
My maize led me to believe that that could not be the case.” [… A certain
kind of] genes can make [other] genes jump around from one part of a chromosome to the other.”) A premature discovery which took almost thirty
years to be accepted by the community of geneticists (“And scientists
in general began to see the inheritance process as a fluid system, subject to
change and correction. What we inherit can be turned on and off in a coordinated fashion according to the needs of the organism”), so introducing one
the classic themes of science fiction represented by the tragic fate of the
fringe scientist ahead of his/her time. 29
At the very end, after all these social prejudices and biographical
constraints are shaken off, the play’s climax occurs. Strengthened by
female holistic thinking; between the old male view of DNA acting under ‘Master Molecule’
model as a single dominant factor, and a new feminine view of aggregation without the
need for hierarchy or designation any particular cell as the ‘pacemaker’. This is what has
been called the opposition between linear reductionist and interactionist perspectives”.
See Sterba, Controversies in feminism, op. cit., pp. 136. For historical analyses attempting to
trace back McClintock’s holism to the legacy that the German school – especially Richard
Goldschmidt, one of her masters during the Berlin period – had in American genetics,
see Fox Keller, , A feeling for the organism: the life and work of Barbara McClintock, op. cit., p.
154; Comfort, The tangled field, op. cit., pp. 116, 161; Beatty, J., N. Rasmussen and N. RollHansen, “Untangling the McClintock myths”, Metascience, 11, 3, 2002, pp. 280-298; Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory, Barbara McClintock (1902-1992) Biography, http://library.cshl.
edu/mcclintock/ mcclintock_biography.html.
29. N. C. �������������������������������������������������������������������������
Comfort, “Barbara McClintock’s Controlling Elements. Premature Discovery
or Stillborn Theory?”, in E. B. Hook (ed.), Prematurity in scientific discovery: on resistance
and neglect, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 2002, pp. 175-199.
decades of indifference (“after several years had gone by, I began to see the
benefits in benign neglect”), the arrival of the Nobel Prize to the eightyone year-old McClintock did not change neither her concluding career
nor her evaluation of the past (“after only a little while I didn’t take the response to my ideas – ideas supported by mountains of data – seriously. I knew
I was right. I suppose we all have an ego, an ego that wants returns, but that
can get in the way lots of times. But why care about the returns? In the end,
they are not what is important”.) What indeed she considers her major
achievement is the ecstatic mysticism she obtained by the merging of
self with the object of genetic research, with the material offered by nature: something which eventually led her to “a feeling with organism”.
(“I have been called a mystic, but that does not mean that I am someone who
mystifies. A mystic is someone with a deep awareness of the mysteries posed
by natural phenomena. Then you must have the self knowledge to say, ‘I do
not understand’. And the courage to investigate the unexplainable. What is
ecstasy? Well, I don’t know that I define it, but I enjoy it. When I have it. Rare
ecstasy. I only know that there are times when my hands would tremble with
excitement when I adjusted the microscope…”) The final lines of the play
deal with this McClintock’s empathic attitude towards nature which
leaves an unexpected metaphysical dimension in the audience’s hands,
a sort of echo of a Thoreau-like pantheistic feeling softened by a lay
scientific education (“... remember two things. First, that basically everything is one. Our educational system is full of subdivisions that are artificial,
that shouldn’t be there because there really isn’t any way we can draw a line
between things. It was Albert Einstein who said, ‘I am a little piece of nature’.
You know, what we label scientific knowledge is lots of fun. You get lots of correlations, but you don’t get the truth. The truth is that things are much more
marvelous than the scientific method allows us to conceive […] And second,
when you look at maize, the important thing is to develop the capacity to see
one kernel that is different. If something doesn’t fit, there is a reason, and you
must find out what it is. Don’t overlook that difference or call it an exception,
a contaminant. The consequences of that are very costly. You will miss what
is going on [...] Look at all the variety in this beautiful ear of maize. Look at
yourself and those around you. We can’t teach ourselves to love what is different, but we can teach ourselves to understand it, and through understanding,
all rest will come”.)
Whether McClintock’s life has been misunderstood or even mythologized for ideological (i.e. feminist) reasons or not, is a judgment to
leave to the historian of science interested in genetics. What is central
for the present analysis is the fact that the narrative discourse of McClintock’s story is certainly richer than the ones pertaining to Franklin
and Meitner and constitutes the sole successful and encouraging story
of a woman scientist on stage since the times of Jean-Noël Fenwick’s
1989 Marie Curie. 30 As told in the Cox play, the “longing to understand”
science is also McClintock’s longing to surmount society’s expectations
about her role, to resist pressure to become a “normal woman with a
family”, to shake off the institutional constraints to which educated
women were subject, and to transcend the marginalization of woman’s
role in the laboratory. As previously noted, part of these struggles have
also been shared by Franklin and Meitner. However, the multilayered
aspects of McClintock’s character such as her personal, familial, gender, educational, institutional, communitarian, social, and disciplinary
obstacles not only offer the audience a more complex perspective of
what scientific enterprise could be, but when these aspects are interlaced with the heuristic mechanism of the discovery and its historical
contextualization they also become a good didactic tool.
On September 2001 The Longing to Understand was first performed
during the ISU theatre season of the Iowa State University by Jane Cox,
30. For the sake of completeness, what
follows is
a non-exhaustive list of other recent
woman scientist plays. Mac Wellman’s Hypatia or The Divine Algebra (2000) ����������������
tells the story
of Hypatia,
the fifth-century mathematician, inventor and pagan philosopher, who was
seen as so dangerous by early Christian monks to be publicly dismembered in the centre
of t���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
he Egyptian city of Alexandria.
a fantasy play traces�����������������������������
Hypatia’s ideal legacy from
that tragic scene through eighth-century Byzantium and then on to the early twentieth
century. Ariana Johns’s Neutrino (2001) is based on a chance meeting on a train between an
aspiring stand-up comedian and a manic-depressive librarian intertwined with another
story about a lesbian couple where a woman is about to introduce the girlfriend to her
parents. The text is punctuated with a series of spot scenes where an unconventional speech
on quantum physics, which also deals with the nature of coincidence, time, and space, is
delivered by a crazy and mystical lecturer. Manya: A Living History of Marie Curie, written
and portrayed by Susan Marie Frontczak (2001), is a one-woman show about the life and
science of Marie Curie. And finally, Chiori Miyagawa and James Lattis’s Comet Hunter
(2003) recounts the life of eighteenth-century German astronomer Caroline Herschel, the
first woman to identify a comet, and her brother William, the famous astronomer who
identified Uranus. Clearly, none of these plays is about a relevant twentieth-century woman
scientist. [While this article was in the editing process, I was informed that the Oxfordbased writer, author and broadcaster Georgina Ferry – well known for her successful
scientific biographies (Dorothy Hodgkin: A life, Granata Books, London, 1998; Max Perutz
and the Secret of Life, Chatto & Windus, London, 2007) – wrote a one-woman play on the
life and works of the chemist and protein crystallographer Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
(1910-1994), Britain’s only female Nobel-prizewinning scientist. Entitled Hidden Glory:
Dorothy Hodgkin in her own words and first performed on 10 May 2010 at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the play for the subject treated would have required
a section of its own and a comparison with the other woman scientist plays].
author, actress, as well as professor of theatre and stage director at the
ISU. The play was first translated into Italian and staged for the Women’s Lives in Science and the Humanities. A workshop on writing and communicating the lives of creative women, held in Bologna, Italy, on 4-5 June
2009, organized by Vita Fortunati, Paola Govoni, and Zelda Franceschi
and realized within the European Thematic Network Project ACUME2
“Interfacing Sciences, Literature, and Humanities”. What follows is an
almost identical version of the original English text, except for few minor cuts that were necessary to keep within the allotted time-frame of
an hour.
La storia di Barbara McClintock
Di Jane Cox 31
Alla sinistra del palco c’è un lungo tavolo coperto di scatole di mais, ognuna
attentamente etichettata. Al centro del palco c’è un tavolo su cui è appoggiato
il microscopio. Alla destra del palco c’è una poltrona con un grammofono a
fianco. Sulla poltrona sono appoggiate una racchetta da tennis e un banjo.
Quando le luci lentamente si alzano, Barbara è seduta al centro del palco,
indossa un paio di occhialetti e guarda attentamente nel microscopio. Si alza
dalla sedia e comincia a parlare.
Barbara: Accomodatevi pure. Di solito non amo essere interrotta,
ma siamo a fine giornata e non vedo l’ora di parlare con qualcuno del
mio lavoro. Dovete scusarmi, avrò la voce un po’ rauca all’inizio, non
credo di aver ancora usato le corde vocali oggi.
Ecco la prima cosa che vorrei mostravi. Questo è mais. Non è meraviglioso? Mi piacerebbe che ognuno di voi potesse tenerlo in mano
e guardarlo da vicino. Vedete come i chicchi sono così diversi l’uno
31. Jane Cox, The Longing to Understand, op. cit. The piece has been directed by Graziano
Piazza e Giancarlo Nanni; translation, adaptation and video editing by Andrea Grignolio; starring Francesca Fava as Barbara McClintock. Production:
La fabbrica dell’attore e
Università di Bologna.
dall’altro? Ognuno di loro ha una storia da raccontare. Se si capisce
questa storia, si comincerà a comprendere molto, anche al di là del
mais. Certo, perché tutto è uno. Non è possibile tracciare una linea di
confine tra le cose. Io non leggo molta poesia, ma credo che vi siano
diversi poeti che l’hanno capito.
Certo, non immaginavo, quando vidi per la prima volta il mais, che
sarebbe diventato il lavoro della mia vita, però sapevo fin dall’inizio,
che la vita non sempre ci dà quello che ci aspettiamo.
Io per prima non ero ciò che le persone si aspettavano da me. Anche
i miei genitori ne furono sorpresi. Intanto si aspettavano un maschietto
e quando sono nata hanno detto:
“ Beh, non possiamo chiamarla Benjamin!”
“Allora perché non Eleanor? È un nome così dolce e gentile!”
Ci sono voluti quattro mesi prima che si decisero a cambiarmi nome.
“Nemmeno Eleanor è adatto. Forse è troppo dolce e gentile. Proviamo … Barbara!”
Sono contenta di essere nata in quella famiglia, ma non sono realmente sicura di averne mai fatto parte. Ero l’elemento decisamente più
Mia madre aveva già dato alla famiglia le mie due sorelle più grandi
e si aspettava che, in quanto ragazza, sarei diventata un’amabile figlia,
una moglie amabile e infine una madre amabile. Aspettative presto
I miei ricordi d’infanzia più felici non avevano nulla a che vedere
con le festicciole a base di tè, dolci e bei vestitini. I miei ricordi d’infanzia più felici sono quando mi soffermavo a riflettere sulle cose. Mia
madre raccontava che bastava mettermi per terra con un cuscino e un
giocattolo e semplicemente lasciarmi lì. Non piangevo mai: l’impressione era che in quei momenti stessi pensando a qualcosa.
Credo che mio padre desiderasse ardentemente un maschio, per
questo mi ha insegnato tutti gli sport. Mi ha persino regalato dei guantoni da box, al mio quinto compleanno. Sono cresciuta su pattini e in
bicicletta. Mi piaceva anche giocare con la palla, ascoltando il suono che
facevano il lancio e la presa, il lancio e la presa, il lancio e la presa. Che
ritmo meraviglioso. Non penso fossi proprio “tipica” come bambina,
forse nemmeno mia madre era proprio “tipica”. Mi aveva fatto cucire
dei mutandoni, così potevo arrampicarmi sugli alberi, correre, giocare
a baseball senza fare troppa attenzione a chi o cosa potessi sembrare.
Quando sono cresciuta, ho incominciato io a chiedermi a chi o a
cosa potessi appartenere. Non sentivo di appartenere al gruppo delle
ragazze, loro non giocavano come giocavo io. Ma se non appartenevo
al gruppo delle ragazze, non riuscivo nemmeno a stare con i ragazzi.
Eppoi i ragazzi che abitavano nel mio quartiere non volevano che io
giocassi con loro, anche se me la cavavo, davvero: “Se non volete che giochi con la vostra squadra, giocherò contro di voi, con l’altra squadra!”
E così quando l’altra squadra vinceva: “E adesso non osate chiamarmi traditrice! Cosa potevo fare? Non dovevo vincere?”
Non è facile essere diversi. Può dare molto dolore, d’altronde non
si può essere felici nemmeno nello stare in un gruppo a cui senti di
non appartenere. Così, in un certo senso, sono stata costretta a stare da
sola. Ero costretta a stare sola e alla fine ho trovato un gran piacere nel
diventare capace di trovare la mia direzione.
Avevo sei anni, la nostra famiglia si trasferì a Brooklyn, New York,
e abbiamo cominciato a passare le estati a Long Beach. Mi alzavo presto alla mattina e andavo con il mio cane a correre sulla spiaggia. Che
felicità! E lì ho fatto la scoperta più grande della mia vita. Oh, niente
a che vedere con il mais. Ha a che fare con la corsa. Ho sviluppato un
mio modo speciale di correre, mattina dopo mattina. Non avevo letto
nulla su quella materia. L’ho creato tutto da me. Ho provato a correre
in un modo libero e perfetto. Vi faccio vedere. Schiena ben dritta, testa
ben alzata e dopo, sembra come di galleggiare, galleggiare, galleggiare nell’aria, senza fatica e con una meravigliosa sensazione di felicità.
Perdevo ogni traccia di chi ero e dov’ero.
C’era come un senso di estasi, non è un termine troppo forte, estasi!
Cercai di ritrovare quella sensazione in qualsiasi cosa cercassi. Mia
madre mi diede qualche lezione di pianoforte. Ho subito amato moltissimo la musica, ma proprio quando le lezioni di piano sono cominciate
seriamente, lei me le ha fatte interrompere. Quando le chiesi:
lei mi rispose:
“Barbara, non è perché non hai studiato, il fatto è che studi troppo!
Ti stai applicando troppo per queste lezioni!”
Ecco, quello che sto cercando di comunicarvi è che questa passione
per la musica e quel piacere con cui il mio corpo si faceva trasportare
verso una ancora più intensa sensazione, ecco quella sensazione era
per me CONOSCERE LE COSE … usare il cervello per sentire la stessa
estasi che sentivo nel corpo quando correvo sulla spiaggia.
Einstein diceva riguardo a Newton che aveva un tale desiderio di
conoscere che era in grado di lavorare da solo per tantissimo tempo,
anche anni, da solo. Naturalmente, non voglio compararmi a Newton,
ma avevo cominciato a capire la gioia di farmi delle domande e lavorare fino al punto in cui si trovavano le risposte.
All’Erasmus Hall High School cominciai a pensare alla scienza. Non
pensate che questo non fu un dispiacere per mia madre. Sono sicura
che passò molte notti in bianco preoccupandosi del fatto che stavo diventando una persona strana, una specie di asociale, una che sicuramente sarebbe finita male.
“E se poi diventi un Professore Universitario? Chi vorrà più sposarti?”
Ma a me queste cose non mi interessavano. E poi, visto che non voglio farvi tribolare come feci con mia madre, sappiate che anche io avevo ricevuto quelle che allora si chiamavano “proposte galanti”.
Scoppiò la prima guerra mondiale. Le mie due sorelle più grandi
si sposarono. Mia madre fu contenta quando mia sorella più grande,
Marjorie, rinunciò ad una borsa di studio di quattro anni a Vassar per
dedicarsi alla famiglia. Mio fratello più piccolo, Tom, lasciò la scuola
e se ne andò per mare, mentre papà, che era medico, andò a prendere
servizio in Francia presso il Corpo Medico dell’Esercito. Eravamo rimaste solamente in due a casa, io e mia madre. E quando a sedici anni
presi il diploma di scuola superiore ...
“Mamma, io non sono Marjorie: io sono io! Non voglio sposarmi.
Voglio andare all’Università!”
Quando ci si scontra con la propria madre e si ha sedici anni, generalmente quella che vince è tua madre. Non andai all’Università;
cominciai a lavorare come impiegata in un’agenzia che faceva interviste, avevo perso una battaglia, ma ero determinata a non perdere la
“Non torno stasera! Vado in biblioteca!”
Passavo tutto il mio tempo libero a studiare; mi ero fatta un programma su tutto quello che volevo leggere e lo seguii scrupolosamente. Non volevo perdere tempo.
Un bel giorno la guerra finì e mio padre tornò a casa. Le cose da
allora sarebbero cominciate a cambiare.
Parlai con mio padre la sera stessa del suo ritorno dalla Francia. Gli
dissi che c’erano due università di studi scientifici adatte ad ospitare
le ragazze, l’Università di Chicago e la Cornell, e se fossi riuscita ad
entrare alla Cornell, le tasse erano gratis. In meno di una settimana ero
iscritta alla Cornell’s College of Agricolture. Oh, certo che mia madre
mi avrebbe fermato se avesse potuto, ma mio padre non voleva mettere alcun ostacolo sulla mia strada. Insomma, la stessa notte che mio
padre tornò dalla guerra, la mia vita cominciò a cambiare, veramente.
Ricordo che la mia M di McClintock fu registrata alle 8 di un martedì alla Cornell.
La domenica presi il treno da Ithaca, trovai da un affittacamere un
posto dove dormire e il martedì ero in fila. La prima vera lezione. Non
persi mai più quella gioia, per tutto il tempo dell’università. Qualche
volta mi capitava di svegliami sorridendo.
(musica di sottofondo)
Mi Tagliai i capelli, cominciai a portare mutande femminili; il tempo libero lo passavo a imparare a leggere yiddish e a suonare il banjo
in un gruppo jazz. Più che la musica, in quel momento, il maggiore
divertimento era quello di far parte di un gruppo, e di suonare tutti
Fui eletta rappresentante delle Matricole. Fino al terzo anno, mi
iscrissi al maggior numero di corsi possibile, se erano terribili, me ne
Nei primi due anni sono uscita con un sacco di ragazzi… perlopiù
artisti, nessuno durò molto. Non ho mai sentito l’esigenza di legarmi
a qualcuno. E non riuscivo nemmeno a comprendere il senso del matrimonio. Non lo capisco nemmeno adesso. Ho sempre sentito che era
una cosa che non mi apparteneva.
Forse questo era dovuto al fatto che ogni volta che mi capitava di
tornare a casa dal college, mia madre continuava a esserne preoccupata:
“Perché non lasci che tuo padre vada a Cornell e a prendere le tue
cose? Poi potrai stare tranquillamente qui con noi. Barbara, non è normale che la scuola ti piaccia così tanto. Non starai pensando di diventare professore, vero? Nessuno vorrà più sposarti !”
Non penso di aver bisogno di dirvi quanto fossi immune a tutto
questo. Ogni altra cosa era semplicemente più eccitante di quella.
Ricordo quando ero al terzo anno, il corso di geologia. Amavo
la geologia. Arrivò il momento della verifica finale, non riuscivo ad
aspettare che arrivasse l’esame. Amavo talmente quella materia, che
non avrebbero potuto domandarmi nulla a cui non avrei saputo ri-
spondere. SAPEVO DI SAPERLO, per questo non vedevo l’ora di arrivare alla fine. Di solito distribuivano dei quaderni blu per gli esami
scritti, con il posto nel frontespizio per scrivere il proprio nome. Non
lo scrissi subito. Vidi le domande e cominciai a rispondere subito. Mi
sono divertita moltissimo. Scrivere quell’esame è stato come correre,
correre sull’oceano, schiena diritta, testa alzata.
Quando conclusi, chiusi il quaderno blu e guardai la copertina.
C’era lo spazio su cui scrivere il nome e io non lo avevo ancora riempito. Così presi la penna, ma non riuscivo a ricordare il mio nome. Non
ci riuscivo proprio . Il nervoso cominciò a salire ... non essere capace di
ricordare il proprio nome! Rimasi seduta lì per circa venti minuti e poi,
improvvisamente, il mio nome comparve in testa e allora fui in grado
di concludere l’esame.
Il fatto è che il mio corpo stava diventando una seccatura, qualcosa
che dovevi trascinarti dietro. Volevo essere libera dal corpo- da questo
tipo di identificazione- la mente, il cuore e l’anima, queste cose erano
Lo stesso anno ho seguito il primo corso di genetica, c’erano solo
due insegnamenti, uno introduttivo e uno avanzato. Alla fine del corso
introduttivo, il professore mi invitò a frequentare quello per specializzandi. Genetica, anche la parola in sé ha qualcosa di attraente, e lo
studio dell’ereditarietà era addirittura meglio della geologia.
Mi laureai nel 1923 in Botanica al College of Agricolture della Cornell e da lì continuai.
Io volevo continuare a studiare genetica, ma il problema era che
l’insegnamento di genetica era all’interno del Dipartimento per il “miglioramento genetico vegetale” e questo dipartimento non accettava
le ragazze. Era dato per scontato che agricoltori o esperti del settore
non avrebbero mai voluto ascoltare una donna parlare di riproduzione
delle piante. Potevo comunque iscrivermi a botanica e prendere come
seconda specializzazione in genetica. Beh, è quello che feci!
Mi piace ricordare che, in un certo senso, io e la genetica siamo cresciute insieme. Io sono nata nel 1902 e gli studi di Mendel sono stati
riscoperti nel 1900.
Gregor Mendel era un monaco agostiniano che si occupava di curare i giardini del monastero. Avevo uno straordinario spirito di osservazione e una formidabile curiosità verso la terra, tanto che diventò il
suo campo di interesse, attraverso l’osservazione della riproduzione
della pianta dei piselli.
Questo interesse lo portò a fare esperimenti che cominciarono nel
1856. Iniziò con l’elencare 7 caratteristiche diverse dei piselli, isolando
linee pure, ovvero piselli che generazione dopo generazione continuavano a mostrare sempre e solo quelle qualità: rugosità, colore,
altezza ecc. Una volta ottenute queste 7 linee cominciò a fare degli
Scoprì, ad esempio, che quando incrociava le piante basse con quelle
alte non otteneva, come ci si sarebbe aspettato, delle piante di media
misura, ma piuttosto una seconda generazione di piante nella quale 3
piante su 4 erano alte, mentre 1 su 4 era bassa. Come si poteva spiegare
tutto ciò?
Mendel pensò allora di unire quelle che lui chiamava unità “dominanti” con quelle “recessive”. Ora, se l’unità dominante era chiamata
“A” e il gene recessivo veniva chiamato “a”, le possibili combinazioni
tra uova e sperma uniti potevano diventare AA, Aa e aa. Ovviamente,
la combinazione aa dava piante piccole, mentre AA dava piante alte.
Ma Mendel riuscì an andare più in là, teorizzòando che nel caso di
una “Aa” l’unità dominante alta in realtà ne mascherava una recessiva
bassa che si sarebbe mostrata nelle generazioni successive, sebbene al
momento questa pianta piselli risultasse comunque alta.
Questo forse non sembrerà tanto importante per qualcuno di voi,
ma vi assicuro che fu una grande scoperta. Mostrò che le caratteristiche ereditarie non solo non si mescolano, ma che sono il risultato di determinate regole che ne governano l’ereditarietà, da una generazione
all’altra. Mendel lavorò sui suoi esperimenti per 7 anni, da solo, e fu in
gran parte un autodidatta. Due anni dopo, nel 1865, a 34 anni, annunciò le sue formidabili scoperte alla Brünn Society for Study of Natural
Sciences. Il resoconto della conferenza fu il seguente:
“Non vi furono né domande, né discussioni. Il pubblico lasciò la
sala e non si pensò più all’argomento”
Mendel non si fermò. Copie del suo lavoro furono distribuite in più
di 120 tra società, università e centri di ricerca. Lo scritto fu letteralmente ignorato. Continuò i suoi esperimenti per altri cinque anni e
poi smise di fare studi. Prima della morte predì che i suoi esperimenti
sarebbero sopravvissuti a lui per molte generazioni. Ed ebbe ragione.
Fu il primo a scoprire le leggi dell’ereditarietà, fondando quindi le base
per la genetica.
Nel periodo in cui ero alla Cornell, il lavoro di Mendel era considerato molto seriamente e altri proseguirono dove lui aveva aveva smes-
so. Nel 1909, quando io ero ancora alle elementari, fu coniato un nuovo
termine: “gene”. Tutte le cose viventi sono composte da cellule, nel nucleo di ciascuna cellula si trovano piccole, filiformi strutture chiamate
cromosomi. Il numero dei cromosomi è fisso per ciascuna specie. Gli
esseri umani, per esempio, hanno 46 cromosomi, o 23 paia, in ciascun
cellula del loro corpo, provenienti metà da un genitore, metà dall’altro.
I cromosomi sono divisi in piccole unità chiamate “geni”. Sono questi
geni che determinano le caratteristiche ereditarie.
Se i segreti dei geni e dei cromosomi si possono conoscere, allora,
forse, anche i segreti dell’ereditarietà stessa possono essere scoperti.
Alla Columbia University di New York City T. H. Morgan lavorava
in quella che fu chiamata “la stanza dei moscerini”. Sì, perché era lì che
allevava migliaia di moscerini per studiarne i geni e i cromosomi. Erano molto piccoli, d’accordo, ma i geni ereditati e i cromosomi potevano
essere identificati facilmente osservando il colore degli occhi e la forma
delle ali. L’utilità di utilizzare moscerini stava nel fatto che una nuova
generazione poteva essere riprodotta in soli dieci giorni.
Morgan fece un ulteriore passo. Mostrò che alcuni tratti venivano
ereditati assieme, erano cioè “legati”, proprio come accade negli esseri
umani con i capelli rossi e le lentiggini che sono sullo stesso cromosoma, e capì anche che la probabilità di questi tratti di essere trasmessi
insieme aumenta se i geni sul cromosoma sono vicini.
Mentre facevo il dottorato alla Cornell, i genetisti non lavoravano
con i moscerini della frutta, lavoravano con il mais. Una cosa che mi
pareva davvero molto sensata. A voi sembrerà strano studiare la genetica attraverso le piante, ma basta pensare che cosa può fare una
pianta. Gli animali hanno necessità di muoversi per espletare tutti i bisogni necessari alla sopravvivenza, le piante fanno tutte le stesse cose,
stando ferme. Certo, rispondono al loro ambiente esattamente come gli
animali, ma visto che stanno lì ferme e siamo noi che ci avviciniamo ad
esse, tendiamo a pensare che non siano veramente vive.
Pensate a come un tulipano gira su sé stesso per cercare il sole. Lo
pensavo spesso anche da bambina. Quando ero piccola e camminavo
sull’erba, provavo dispiacere perché immaginavo che l’erba si sarebbe
arrabbiata con me.
Adesso voglio parlarvi un po’ del mais, perché è veramente una
pianta affascinante. Si fertilizza da sola. Ciascuna pianta produce sia
un fiore maschio sia un fiore femmina. Il pennacchio in alto contiene le
cellule spermatiche chiamate polline. Le sete attorno alla pannocchia
portano lo sperma all’uovo fino al fondo e ogni chicco è il risultato di
una fertilizzazione distinta. È per questo che i chicchi di una pannocchia hanno differenti colori e differenti distribuzioni di colori.
Normalmente, il vento porta il polline dal pennacchio di una pianta
alle sete di un’altra. Ma quando si fa ricerca, per conoscere la pianta
che produce il polline che ha già fertilizzato l’uovo, bisogna controllare
questo processo e per questo abbiamo dovuto coprire i pennacchi e le
foglie con delle buste di carta e poi trasferire il polline alla seta con le
Ogni singola pianta è importate per la ricerca. Tutto comincia nel
campo, “nel buco”, the hole.
La zona alla Cornell in cui ciascuna pianta veniva coltivata si chiamava “il buco”. C’erano diversi acri di terra piana e attorno c’erano
delle colline, un’area non soggetta a brina, nemmeno in primavera o
all’inizio dell’autunno. Non eravamo in tanti, lavoravamo tutti insieme
nella stagione della crescita. Il referente per la cura delle piante era
Rollins Adam Emerson, a quel tempo, il maggiore esperto genetista di
mais. Non fu mai contro le donne, né contro le genetiste, tanto meno
contro quelle che lavoravano nei campi. Veniva dal Nebraska e aveva
origini contadine. Sapeva che le donne potevano lavorare nei campi
anche meglio degli uomini. La prova gli stava di fronte: sua figlia, adolescente, lo aiutava spesso. Facevamo tutti parte della stessa squadra.
Creava un’atmosfera di lavoro seria, ma anche vivace e molto aperta
alle nuove idee. I suoi studenti provenivano da tutto il paese.
A Luglio, lavoravamo nel campo dall’alba al tramonto, sette giorni
a settimana, per controllare la riproduzione. Dovevamo mantenere
le piante vive e forti, altrimenti un anno di ricerca sarebbe finito nel
nulla. Una volta ci fu un lungo periodo senza pioggia e l’unico modo
per salvare le mie piante fu quello di trasportare l’acqua tramite un
tubo fino al campo. Sotto un sole a picco, ma si doveva fare. Poi il
tempo poteva essere anche l’opposto. Una notte di giugno, una pioggia torrenziale mi svegliò, mi alzai e mi misi a guardare fuori dalla
finestra. C’era il rischio serio di un allagamento. Non c’era tempo da
perdere! Ho guidato la mia vecchia Ford Model A fino al campo,
erano le 3 di mattina. Due, tre pollici d’acqua erano caduti sui filari
delle piante, bagnandole completamente. Ho lasciato accesi i fari, così
potevo vedere cosa stavo facendo, sono corsa fuori dalla macchina e
ho cominciato a spalare fango dalle radici e ripiantare le piante nello
stesso identico posto da cui ciascuna proveniva. Andai avanti fino a
che ciascuna pianta fu salva. Conoscevo ogni pianta del campo, la
conoscevo intimamente. E provavo un gran piacere nel conoscerle.
Se le avessi perse non avrei dannato la natura o il fato, sarebbe stata
solo colpa mia, se le avessi perse.
Ero molto brava con il microscopio, davvero. Non dovrei dirlo ma è
così. Devi sapere come usarlo, ma la questione più importante è l’orientamento. Come mettere a fuoco in alto e in basso e poi bisogna riuscire
a percepire sempre cosa si sta osservando e come questo si lega con
quello che hai appena visto. Quando guardi le cellule al microscopio,
devi in un certo senso entrare dentro la cellula e realmente guardarci
dentro. Fino a quando non sei più cosciente di nulla … null’altro importa. Sei così assorto che ogni piccola cosa diventa enorme … Riesci
a notare molte e molte più cose rispetto a quelle che la maggior parte
delle persone non può o non sa vedere perché non entra attentamente
dentro ciascuna parte. Lentamente, ma con grande intensità. Lo senti
con tutto te stesso. Ogni ingegnere, storico, scrittore o pittore, ognuno
deve in un certo senso sentire intensamente, e in seguito essere in grado di integrare una vasta quantità di informazioni per risolvere problemi ... ma lo deve sentire.
Questo richiede grande concentrazione, quando senti che la concentrazione sta svanendo, ecco, hai bisogno di fermarti, ma che divertimento! Come un gioco, vero spasso. Qualche volta non vedevo l’ora di
andare in laboratorio la mattina. Odiavo dover dormire. Un mio amico
mi disse una volta che dovevo essere come un bambino, perché solo i
bambini non vedono l’ora di svegliarsi al mattino.
Tutto questo mi portò alla mia grande scoperta con il mais. Ero assistente di un professore che stava tentando da tempo di identificare ciascuna delle dieci paia dei cromosomi nel mais. Altri avevano cercato di
farlo, ma avevano fallito perché non riuscivano a distinguere i dettagli
attraverso il microscopio. Provai differenti tecniche, poi entrai dentro
questa cellula. Fui capace di vedere nel posto giusto e nel modo giusto.
C’erano differenti lunghezze. Le nominai numerandole da uno a dieci,
dalla più lunga alla più corta.
Molti non capivano cosa stavo facendo e perché lo stavo facendo,
tranne uno ... Marcus Rhoades. Venne alla Cornell a prendere il suo
dottorato in genetica e cominciò ad andare in giro chiedendo alle persone cosa stavano facendo. Venne al mio tavolino al laboratorio e lo
domandò anche a me. Non mi guardò nemmeno, credo pensasse che
io fossi matta. Gli spiegai. Lui ascoltò attentamente, poi si esaltò tal-
mente che andò dagli altri cercando di spiegare cosa stavo facendo. Lo
aveva capito! Poi con queste parole, che furono molto importanti per
me, mi chiese:
“Posso lavorare con te?”
La mia vita entrò in un vero piacevole schema di lavoro, tennis ogni
giorno alle 5:00, e poi cena. Questo mondo stava diventando la mia
Era difficile per me ammalarmi, ma una volta quando accadde, la
mia dottoressa, Ester Parker, mi suggerì di stare da lei, da sua madre,
per un po’, e fu come una felice sistemazione per tutte noi, tanto che
quando stetti meglio, ci rimasi! La mamma della dottoressa Parker si
prendeva molta cura di me e mi preparava sempre la cena dopo la
partita di tennis: corn flakes, ovviamente, con tantissime fragole fresche a pezzettini, crema campagnola e zucchero sopra! Come essere
in paradiso!
La partita di tennis era importante, e, sì, mi impegnavo per vincere. Giocavo qualche volta con una studentessa di botanica, Harriet
Creighton. Era più giovane di me, ma non di sentiva questa differenza
d’età, soprattutto quando lei non voleva correre per cercare di rimandare la battuta, anche se la palla si trovava solo un po’ fuori dalla sua
portata. Glielo fece notare, e disse che stava tentando di conservare la
sua energia per usarla solo quando aveva la sicurezza di fare punteggio! Che stranezza! Meno sei disposto a dare completa dedizione su
cosa stai facendo, e meno puoi realizzare il match point. Dov’è il divertimento? Non c’è divertimento se non sei totalmente appassionato
di ciò che fai.
Sebbene non approvassi il modo nel quale Harriet giocava a tennis,
volevo comunque aiutarla nella sua ricerca e le diedi un argomento di
tesi e dei sementi. C’era già qualche evidenza, ma nessuna prova, che
i cromosomi trasportavano e si scambiavano informazioni genetiche
per produrre NUOVE combinazioni delle caratteristiche fisiche.
Noi sapevamo già che sul nono cromosoma di una particolare varietà di mais c’era da una parte un pomellino e dall’altro un punta.
Basandomi sui miei lavori precedenti, ho pensato che la parte a punta
volesse significare che la pianta avrebbe prodotto i chicchi gialli e il
pomellino quelli rossi. In primavera abbiamo piantato i chicchi metà
gialli e metà rossi e in Luglio abbiamo fertilizzato le sete con il polline
delle piante il cui chicco non era né giallo né rosso. Poi in autunno,
quando le spighe furono raccolte, risultò che qualcuna aveva i chicchi
metà gialli e metà rossi, qualcuna non aveva né i gialli né i rossi, e
qualcun’altra aveva o gialli o rossi, ma non entrambi, non c’erano pannocchie con i chicchi alternati gialli e rossi. La struttura era stata alterata. Pezzi di questo nono cromosoma avevano cambiato posto. Questo
esperimento provò che i geni per le caratteristiche fisiche sono portati
da cromosomi e che queste parti di cromosomi si scambiano e creano
un’enorme varietà di forme.
Ma dovevamo aspettare ancora per esserne sicuri. Avevamo in progetto di piantarne un secondo raccolto per la seguente primavera prima di pubblicare i dati, ma Thomas Hunt Morgan, dalla sua stanza
delle drosofile della Cornell, aveva sentito quel che stavamo facendo e
ci suggerì di pubblicare immediatamente. Fu molto generoso e appassionato, scrisse addirittura ad un editore per informarlo che stava per
ricevere un articolo importante! All’improvviso l’articolo fu pubblicato
nell’agosto del 1931 e un piccolo gruppo di persone, tra cui Harriet e io,
diventammo, a nostro modo … famosi!
Il nostro esperimento fu addirittura definito “una pietra miliare della genetica”.
Mio padre fu molto contento. Anche mia madre lo fu. Penso che
anche la Cornell fu molto contenta, ma non fu fatto niente per incoraggiarmi a restare o almeno non sembrava lo volessero. Potevo rimanere
lì come assistente, ma era chiaro che nessuna posizione stabile come
professore si sarebbe aperta per me, in quanto donna. Ci vollero altri
16 anni, nel 1947, prima che la Cornell nominasse la prima assistant
professor in un campo che non fosse quello di “economia domestica”.
Andai dal Dr. Emerson per sapere la sua opinione. Mi disse che aveva tentato di dare un posto ad alcuni dei suoi studenti alla Cornell, ma
quando andava dal Preside per esortarlo, questi gli rispondeva sempre: “Lascia che vadano, possiamo sempre farli tornare indietro!”
Avevo ventinove anni, ero piena di energia e coraggio, salii semplicemente sulla mia Ford Model A e cominciai a guidare, ma non posso
dire che stavo lasciando definitivamente la Cornell. Era il luogo dove
tornavo sempre quando non avevo lavoro e dove in estate continuavo
a curare e piantare il mio mais. Per me era come una casa e se ci pensate uno non è mai completamente perso se ha un posto che considera
casa sua, perciò mi dissi: buttiamoci nella mischia!
Ottenni una borsa di studio dal National Research Council, cosa che
mi consentì di avere molto tempo libero da dedicare allo studio e alla
ricerca. Fu una manna dal cielo. Con la mia Model A cominciai ad an-
dare avanti e indietro per il paese: dalla Cornell, all’università del Missouri a Columbia, al Caltech a Pasadena, per poi tornare indietro.
Al Caltech fui la prima donna con una borsa di post-dottorato ad
essere assunta. Il mio primo giorno là, un collega mi portò ad un pranzo nell’elegante faculty club. Attraversai l’intera sala della mensa e raggiunsi una tavola sul fondo e tutti smisero di mangiare e mi fissarono:
“ Cosa c’è che non va in me?” chiesi.
“Beh, tutti hanno sentito di te e ti stanno semplicemente esaminando”.
Credo di non aver passato l’esame perché non fui più invitata al
faculty club. Non mi fu chiesto di visitare i laboratori, a parte il mio e
quello di Linus Pauling.
Certo erano proprio gli anni della Grande Depressione, le università venivano chiuse e i miei finanziamenti terminarono. Per tre anni
non comprai un vestito nuovo. Per la prima volta mi chiesi come avrei
potuto guadagnarmi da vivere. Mi informai alla Cornell, ma venni a
sapere indirettamente la risposta:
“Il Dipartimento di Botanica non ha intenzione di riconfermarla,
principalmente perché si è capito che i suoi interessi sono esclusivamente dedicati alla ricerca, in secondo luogo perché come docente non
viene pienamente apprezzata. Si risente del fatto che non le sono state date reali opportunità scientifiche, ritiene che questo sia dovuto in
gran parte dal fatto che è una donna, poiché ha abbastanza cervello per
capire che è molto più capace della maggior parte degli uomini con cui
entra in contatto.
Il Dipartimento di Botanica, ovviamente, le preferisce persone magari meno dotate, ma che in compenso sono contente di accettare semplici incarichi di routine.”
Alcuni amici cercarono di aiutarmi a trovare una posizione all’Università del Missouri, alla Johns Hopkins e E.W. Lindstrom cercò di farmi avere un posto alla Iowa State, solo che si sentì rispondere dal Preside della facoltà che là una donna assunta nel dipartimento di genetica
non ci sarebbe mai stata.
Finalmente alcuni amici riuscirono a farmi ottenere una borsa di
studio dalla Rockefeller Foundation di 1.800 dollari all’anno, per due
anni. Non li avevo mai visti così tanti soldi.
Venivo trattata come si trattavano le donne, ma se vuoi fare qualcosa, devi comunque pagare qualche prezzo.
Non volevo essere un uomo, quello che volevo era che la questione
del genere sparisse. Ma il genere era sempre lì, sempre di mezzo. Ricordo di aver avuto una conversazione con uno studente laureato che
disse: “Non sopporto gli accademici di sesso femminile, semplicemente non le sopporto!”
Ho lasciato che andasse avanti per un po’ prima che gli ricordassi
con chi stava parlando. Una donna, non sposata, in carriera e soprattutto scienziata.
Comunque, avevo bisogno di qualcosa che mi desse da vivere. Avevo 34 anni quando ebbi un posto all’Università del Missouri come assistente di un professore … il mio primo vero incarico accademico.
Ero pagata 2.700 dollari all’anno. Il Dr. Louis Stadler ha lottato molto
per me. Ottenne una borsa di 80.000 dollari della Rockefeller Foundation per costruire il più grande centro di ricerca genetica a Columbia,
nel Missouri.
Il clima del campus non era meraviglioso, ma avevo finalmente un
laboratorio e un progetto. Mi diedero l’ultimo piano, in un palazzo a sé
stante, circondato da un giardino, arredai lo spazio con due poltrone e
la mia radio. Potevo fischiare e suonare il banjo. Il mio unico svago era
quello di andare dopo pranzo alla stazione meteorologica locale che si
trovava al secondo piano dell’ Ufficio Postale. Trovavo molto interessanti le previsioni del tempo e i tecnici che si scambiavano gli ultimi
grafici, io cercavo di convincerli sulla superiorità delle mie previsioni
basate sull’analisi delle masse d’aria. Ero stata anche eletta Vice Presidente della Società Americana di Genetica. Ma in realtà niente di tutto
questo sembrò cambiare il punto di vista che avevano quando ancora
ero all’Università del Missouri.
Già dopo un paio di mesi, sapevo che i miei giorni erano contati. Ero
sempre sola: ero esclusa dagli incontri di facoltà, come se non ne facessi realmente parte. Le persone che venivano assunte come professore
associato non avevano le credenziali che avevo io. E anche riguardo
alla qualità d’insegnamento. Una volta venne assunto a Columbia un
giovane che aveva preso il dottorato ad Harvard che passava l’intero
corso leggendo parola per parola dal manuale, incluse parole come
“virgola”, “punto e virgola”, “eccetera”.
Probabilmente anche io ho contribuito a modo mio. Ho rotto le regole del sistema senza neanche pensare che vi fossero delle regole. Una
domenica, per esempio, sono arrivata al laboratorio senza le chiavi,
così invece di tornare indietro, mi sono arrampicata sopra un albero
grande che cresceva sul lato del palazzo e mi sono calata nella finestra
del secondo piano di storia. Mi è sembrata un’ottima soluzione, ma
non tutti la pensavano così. Oppure c’era la regola che impediva agli
studenti laureati di rimanere al laboratorio dopo le 11 di sera. Se avevano un lavoro da fare importante, dicevo loro “ Beh, andate avanti e
continuate a lavorate!”.
Ma forse la mia peggior trasgressione fu quella di tornare durante
l’estate alla Cornell per coltivare il mio mais, 3.000-3.500 piante di mais
meticolosamente incrociate.
A volte ritornavo all’università quando il semestre autunnale era già
cominciato. Ce l’ho sempre fatta a sistemate tutto, anche se spesso venivo richiamata ufficialmente, ma non avevo altra scelta. Il mais veniva
prima di tutto. Non sto dicendo che gli altri avevano sempre torto.
È che non sopportavo gli stupidi. Ero capace di uscire dalla stanza
sbattendo la porta dietro di me se qualcuno non aveva regolato il microscopio correttamente dopo che gli avevo mostrato più volte come
fare. Alcuni laureati che non avevano nervi abbastanza saldi, a volte
si sparpagliavano tra i banchi quando sentivano che stavo arrivando
in classe. Alla fine ci si stufa di stare sempre sullo scalino più basso
della scala e di lottare per la sopravvivenza in un mondo in cui non
sei voluto … ero nota come “una che crea problemi”. Tre anni dopo il
mia arrivo, a Stadler fu offerto, e lui accettò, una posizione di visiting
professor al Caltech. C’erano diverse voci sul fatto se sarebbe ritornato
o no. Due anni dopo sono entrata con passo deciso nell’ufficio del Preside di Arte e Scienze e gli ho chiesto di punto in bianco se avrei mai
potuto diventare professore ordinario. Lui mi rispose che sarei stata
licenziata se Stadler non fosse tornato. Cosa che poi lui in seguito fece.
Ma io dissi che mi sarei presa l’aspettativa e non sarei tornata indietro.
Non volevo più lavorare all’Università. Lasciai l’intero lavoro e me ne
andai. Pensai di incominciare a fare le previsioni del tempo, ci ho seriamente pensato.Qualsiasi nuovo interesse mi evitava di rimuginare
su questi problemi e su me stessa, solo che mi era troppo difficile abbandonare il pensiero del mais. Scrissi al mio vecchio amico Marcus
Rhoades e gli domandai quella che era la cosa più importante per me: “
Dove coltivi le tue piante?” Lui rispose “ Cold Spring Harbor”. Pensai
“ Bene, ci andrò anch’io”.
Quando arrivai, la Seconda guerra mondiale era nel pieno, ma in
un certo senso sembrava lontana. Tutti indossavano blue jeans a Cold
Spring Harbor, lavoravano sedici o diciannove ore al giorno e adoravano il proprio lavoro. Avevo trentanove anni e mi sembrava di risentire
tutto ciò che avevo provato la prima volta alla Cornell, avevo trovato
una casa.
Prima di essere assunta come ricercatrice permanente dovevo andare a Washington per fare il colloquio con il Presidente. Fu così difficile
trovare il tempo per andarci, che alla fine mi fu più o meno imposto di
andare. Potreste pensare che fossi molto nervosa, ma in realtà mi sentii
completamente libera. Semplicemente discorremmo perché davvero
non mi interessava quale fosse la sua opinione. Fui assunta e fu praticamente come non avere un lavoro. Non ci sarebbe potuto essere il
miglior posto di lavoro al mondo per me. Ovviamente avevo un posto
tutto per me per coltivare il mio mais e le estati le occupavo totalmente
a far questo e dedicavo gli inverni ad analizzare i dati. Lavoravo dalla
mattina presto fino a tardi la sera, sette giorni a settimana. Fu in quel
periodo che mi diedero il mio soprannome. Lavorando, nei campi, a
tagliare le sete, coprendo i pennacchi e facendo le impollinazioni, di
solito indossavo una un’ampia tuta blu da lavoro. I bottoni della giacca
erano di ottone e in rilievo e sopra ciascuno in larghe lettere c’era la
marca: BIG MAC.
Così venni chiamata! BIG MAC. Alcuni amici sostenevano che ero
io l’originale!
Ero sempre interessata a cosa accadeva con le mutazioni genetiche.
In inverno seminavo in serra semi auto-impollinati, ognuno era il risultato di diverse generazioni di incroci. Quando le pianticelle germogliavano, era da non credere!
Le foglie avevano strani motivi colorati, potevano sembrare macchie
bianche o striature verdi e questi motivi si manifestavano a coppie.
Qualche chicco nella spiga era picchettato, non poteva esserci maggior
sorpresa! La mia mente cominciò a rifletterci su. Non puoi accettare
semplicemente le teorie. Devi lasciare che il materiale ti spieghi dove
stai andando. Se ti dice di dubitare delle teorie accettate, questo è ciò
che devi fare.
La teoria accettata, sin da quando fu introdotta la parola “gene”, era
che i geni sul cromosoma si presentavano come un filo di perle, cioè
ognuno rimaneva nell’esatto posto dove era sempre stato.
Il mio mais mi spinse a credere che le cose non stavano propri così.
Oh, c’erano dei geni funzionali, che controllavano i caratteri come il colore, per esempio, ma dovevano anche esserci altri geni che svolgevano
altre attività, geni che non svolgevano una funzione diretta, ma geni
che controllavano altri geni.
Per sei anni raccolsi dati, una scheda per ciascun incrocio genetico,
quaderni che registravano dati da questi incroci, una tavola per compilare i dati.
Sapevo che stavo andando contro le teorie accettate, così andai addirittura oltre, raccogliendo evidenti dimostrazioni che non potevano
mostrare dubbi.
Arrivò il momento di annunciare le mie scoperte, così al più grande
congresso del Cold Spring Harbor presentai prove e relative statistiche
davanti a un gruppo di importanti scienziati:
“ Negli ultimi sei anni ho intrapreso uno studio sul comportamento
di un certo numero di nuovi loci mutanti nei geni del mais. Questo
studio ha offerto un’opportunità unica di esaminare il processo di mutazione di un numero di loci differenti nei cromosomi.”
Ero molto sicura, molto determinata, molto fiduciosa.
“Un importante aspetto di questo lavoro, per quanto riguarda l’origine dei loci mutanti e la natura dei processi delle loro mutazioni, è
connesso alla trasposizione del gene di dissociazione da un luogo in
un cromosoma complementare ad un altro”.
Conclusi e mi sedetti piuttosto convinta di aver presentato prove
inconfutabili e corrette. Ero in stato di estasi. Ci fu un lungo momento
di silenzio.
Pensai che qualcuno mostrasse qualche disaccordo, così aspettai
un po’, ma il silenzio continuava, e continuava e continuava. Fu come
scontrarsi con il cromosoma stabile.
“Non voglio sentire nient’altro su cosa stai facendo. Forse è interessante, ma è una specie di follia”
Fui definita “una vecchia borsa che è stata attaccata per anni al Cold
Spring Harbor ”da quello che era il più importante biologo molecolare
Bene … ci provai un ‘altra volta. Pubblicai tutto il lavoro in un articolo
l’anno seguente. Solo tre copie scientifiche di quell’articolo furono richieste. Raggiunsi una sola logica conclusione. Non c’era niente di sbagliato
nella ricerca. Solo la gente non era ancora pronta. Finii di fare seminari al
Cold Spring Harbor. Conclusi la pubblicazione dei miei risultati.
Continuai le mie meticolose annotazioni della ricerca e alla fine dell’anno, le mettevo sulle mensole. Dopo un po’ non cercai più il riscontro delle mie idee. Sapevo di essere nel giusto. Ma perché occuparsi
delle conferme? Alla fine, come deve aver pensato Mendel, ciò che è
importante è l’enorme piacere che sta nel lavoro.
Col passare degli anni, cominciai a sentire i benefici nell’essere benignamente ignorata. Era molto fortunata in un certo senso, poiché le
persone amano molto parlare di sé, del loro lavoro, e dal momento che
nessuno desiderava ascoltare me, avevo io l’opportunità di ascoltare
gli altri.
E ho ascoltato, con molta attenzione. Non avendo la preoccupazione
delle pubblicazioni e dei seminari avevo tempo di fare altre cose. Avevo tempo per lavorare, ma anche mi prendevo il tempo per fare lunghe
passeggiate, guardando la natura. Raccoglievo noci nere americane per
i brownies o controllavo le macchie sopra le coccinelle. Molto si legava
a ciò che avevo imparato dal mais.
Le galle, ad esempio. Un vitigno può avere tanti e differenti tipi di
galle. Questo mi suggeriva che gli organismi possiedono tutti i meccanismi necessari, in potenza, per creare ogni tipo di organismo.
Lessi qualcosa sul Buddismo Tibetano e di come avessero escogitato
un sistema per correre che li rendeva in grado di continuare per un
lungo periodo, quasi non sentissero la fatica. Tutto ciò mi ricordava
di me da bambina. Inoltre avevano imparato a vivere con nulla se non
una minuscola casacca di cotone.
Se ne stavano lì fuori nel freddo inverno e nella calda estate, e quando dovevano affrontare la fase di apprendimento, veniva loro chiesto
di fare una serie di prove. Una di queste era di prendere una coperta
bagnata, mettersela addosso e asciugare la coperta con il loro corpo,
anche con temperature freddissime. E loro riuscivano a farla asciugare.
Come riuscivano a farlo? Ho cominciato a sperimentare modi diversi
di controllare la mia temperatura e trovai qualche consapevolezza di
cosa occorreva fare per questo.
A poco a poco, gli altri cominciarono a comprendermi.
Un collega una volta disse: “ Non capisco una parola di ciò che dice,
ma se lo dice vuol dire che è così”.
E invece un altro collega, James Shapiro, scrisse: “ Se dice che qualcosa è accaduto, significa che l’ha visto accadere dozzine e centinaia
di volte. Una delle ragioni per cui la gente non legge i suoi articoli è
perché la documentazione è troppo densa. Quindi prima dicono: ma
questa è pazza; poi dicono che non è solo una peculiarità del mais
ma riguarda ogni cosa; e alla fine arrivano a comprenderne il significato”.
E gli scienziati cominciarono a vedere i processi ereditari come un
sistema fluido, soggetto a cambi e correzioni. Quello che ereditiamo
può essere attivato e disattivato in modi coordinati secondo le necessità degli organismi.
Con il passare degli anni, lasciai la corsa per la danza aerobica. La
mia vita fu davvero magnifica. E ovunque c’erano domande che aspettavano solo di avere una risposta. Cosa possono dirci i cambiamenti di
colore che hanno i boccioli della pianta della carota selvatica?
Cosa ci possono dire sulla comunicazione non verbale le diverse
configurazione del volo in uno stormo di uccelli?
Dove si trovano le more migliori? È tutto divertimento e gioco... curiosità!
È tutto lì che sta aspettando la prossima generazione di uomini e
donne curiose per avere una risposta. Sono stata definita una mistica,
ma questo non significa che sono una che mistifica. Il mistico è colui
che non ha una profonda consapevolezza dei misteri posti dai fenomeni naturali. Devi perciò avere l’auto-consapevolezza per dire “ Non
capisco” E poi il coraggio di investigare l’inesplicabile.
Cos’è l’estasi? Beh, non saprei come definirla, ma mi diverte. Quando la provo. Rara estasi. So solo che ci furono momenti in cui le mie
mani tremavano dall’eccitazione quando aggiustavo il microscopio …
tutto era un’anticipazione di quello che ci sarebbe stato da vedere.
È tutto là, in attesa della prossima generazione di uomini e donne
desiderosi di trovare le risposte. E ci saranno quelli che ci proveranno perché tentare di dare delle risposte alle domande porta un tale
piacere, una tale libertà, come correre, con la testa alzata, schiena ben
Prima di andare, vorrei che voi deste un’ultima occhiata a questa
meravigliosa pannocchia di mais e che ricordaste un paio di cose. La
prima, che tutte le cose sono una. Il nostro sistema di educazione è pieno di suddivisioni artificiali, che non possono esistere nella realtà. Era
Albert Einstein che diceva: “Io sono un piccolo pezzo di natura”.
Quello che noi etichettiamo come conoscenza scientifica è un insieme di cose. Si hanno molte correlazioni, eppure non si ha ancora la
verità. La verità è che le cose sono ben più meravigliose di ciò che il
metodo scientifico lascia immaginare.
La seconda cosa da ricordare è ispirata dal mais. Quando lo guardate, la cosa più importante è quella di sviluppare la capacità di vedere
quel chicco che è differente da tutti gli altri. Se non accade, ci deve
essere una ragione, e tu devi trovare qual’è. Non trascurare questa differenza e non chiamarla eccezione. Ti potrà sfuggire ciò che sta acca-
dendo. E tutto questo si applica alla pianta della Carota selvatica, al
mais e anche alle persone.
Non è facile essere diversi. Forse anche voi non vestite come gli altri
si vestono. Forse non pensate come altri pensano, ma soprattutto ci
deve essere il piacere di mantenere il vostro equilibrio e di andare nella
direzione che sapete essere la vostra.
Guardate a tutta la varietà che c’è in questa meravigliosa pannocchia
di mais. Guardate a voi stessi e alle persone che vi stanno attorno. Non
possiamo insegnare a noi stessi ad amare ciò che è diverso, ma possiamo insegnare a noi stessi a capirlo, e attraverso la comprensione, tutto
il resto verrà da sé.
(Barbara esce portando la pannocchia di mais con sé)
Voce fuori campo: “Barbara McClintock ricevette il Premio Nobel per la
medicina nel 1983. Aveva 81 anni. Quando si presentò con il suo premio l’applauso proveniente dalla assemblea fu tale che il pavimento al di sotto dei suoi
piedi tremò per il frastuono.”
BUIO, VIDEO (3’: 20’’), LUCE, FINE.
Purification rituals:
Reflections on the history of science in Italy
Giuliano Pancaldi
I feel personally involved in the story I have set out to tell in the next
few pages. I must therefore declare from the start that I cannot aspire
here to the kind of objectivity I think our duty to seek when practicing
our job as historians.
My role in what follows will be, at best, that of the “participant observer”: a perilous role, notoriously. Yet I think the exercise worth pursuing. I believe that the kind of personal assessment on some forty
years of development of the field which I have myself been contributing to, can occasionally – if indulged in with moderation – be a salutary exercise.
That said, another disclaimer is in order. With my reflections I will
not even attempt to offer an overview of the history of science literature produced in Italy over the past forty years. The period has been
one of major expansion for the discipline, as we shall see. Later I will
provide a few numbers in order to capture some of the basic features
of that expansion, but I shall make no attempt to convey what the literature produced.
What I intend to do, rather, is to sketch a sort of comparative assessment of the history of science as practiced in Italy focusing on the
infrastructures that make the life of the discipline possible. 1 By ‘comparative’ I mean comparative with what has been going on in the field
in English-speaking countries over roughly the same period. I can
claim to have some experience of the history of science as practiced
in the two, major English-speaking countries, so I feel entitled to try
that kind of comparative assessment. However, and of course, in the
. For a survey of twentieth-century Italian institutions devoted to the history of
science: Guido Cimino, Gabriella Sava, “Le istituzioni italiane per la storia della scienza”,
in Claudio Pogliano ed., Scienze e storia nell’Italia del Novecento, Centro Studi Enriques,
Pisa University Press, Pisa, 2007, 237-274.
234 / Purification rituals
few pages of a contribution such as this my assessment will be partial,
sketchy, and provisional.
One last, preliminary statement is in order. I instinctively believe
that historians of science – wherever they happen to be born or trained,
and wherever they practice their profession – should, depending on
the topic they work on, choose the best working tools available worldwide in the field. In other words, I do subscribe to the ideal that the history of science should, in principle, be pursued regardless of national
or local concerns and constraints. I also believe, however, that in order
to bring that fine utopia to earth it is better to be aware of the many
national, local, and even individual factors affecting our field of study,
like perhaps any other field of study.
Having thus evoked the peculiar combination of utopia and realism
that I find congenial, let me start with a flashback. It will bring us to
the beginning of my story. The scene is Turin, 29-31 March 1967, and
the subject is:
The Italian founding fathers: a neo-Enlightenment agenda
In those days Turin (Piedmont, Northern Italy) was the stronghold
of the largest Italian industrial firm – carmaker FIAT. FIAT was the
leader and, to some, the main beneficiary of Italy’s accelerated economic take-off that followed World War II. Turin was also the seat of
one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the Peninsula. Turin
was also, like Milan, home to a handful of publishing firms who paid
attention to those new academic disciplines regarded as in-tune-with
the country’s recent industrial take-off. On another, related account, in
1967 Turin was also a stronghold of the Italian workers’ unions, which
– in a country then hosting the largest communist party in the West
– played a major role in the political arena.
During those days of March, no less than ninety-six Italian scholars
met in Turin for three consecutive days to discuss the status of the
history of science. The title of the meeting to be precise was: “Methodological problems of the history of science”. 2 To some – including
its convener, the philosopher, mathematician and historian of science
. Atti del convegno sui problemi metodologici di storia della scienza (Torino, Centro di studi
metodologici, 29-31 marzo 1967), Giunti Barbera, Florence, 1967.
Purification rituals / 235
Ludovico Geymonat – the title no doubt evoked the University of Wisconsin’s meeting of ten years earlier. Summoned by Marshall Clagett
under the title of “Critical Problems in the History of Science”, that
meeting is still regarded by American and British scholars as a foundation event in the history of the field. 3 Some Italian scholars must have
wished a similar role for the Turin meeting.
The work of a number of contributors to Clagett’s volume received
considerable attention during the meeting in Turin. These included
Marshall Clagett himself, as well as I. B. Cohen, Charles C. Gillispie, A.
C. Crombie, Rupert Hall, and Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn’s Structure of scientific revolutions – not yet available in Italian translation in 1967 4 – was
mentioned in the brilliant conclusions to the Turin meeting delivered
by another major figure in the story: Paolo Rossi (in 1985 recipient of
the Sarton Medal of the History of Science Society).
A survey of the speakers and audience attending the Turin meeting
is instructive. It tells us that the institutionalization of the history of
science in Italy had still to begin in 1967. Of the ten invited speakers of
the conference, no one could declare an academic position with tenure
mentioning the history of science in its title: there were no such positions in Italian universities.
The bulk of the participants belonged to neighboring fields. These
were, in order of decreasing numbers and academic influence within
the prospective new field, the philosophy of science (then a recent and
lively development in Italian universities), the history of philosophy
(which was a long-established pillar within Italian humanities faculties, until recently under the influence of German philosophy), the history of medicine, the history of mathematics, and the natural sciences
The interest in the history of science as a new, potentially independent field of study, attested by the meeting, was thus the output
of the convergence of different strands, mostly within the humanities;
strands that scholars like Ludovico Geymonat and Paolo Rossi were
. Critical problems in the history of science. Proceedings, edited by Marshall Clagett, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1959. A “retrospective review” by Martin Rudwick,
William Coleman, Edith Sylla and Lorraine Daston in Isis, 1981, 267-283. Some personal
recollections of the conference are in Marie Boas Hall, “Recollections of a History of Science Guinea Pig”, Isis, 1999, S68-S83, S78-S79.
. An Italian translation first appeared in 1969.
236 / Purification rituals
trying to combine by privileging a broad, philosophical agenda for the
new field.
The agenda was in keeping with an even broader, cultural and political agenda that several of the participants subscribed to. This broader agenda was often known in those days as a “neo-Enlightenment”
In the 1950s and 1960s, several Italian academics were reacting
against what was perceived as an obnoxious, “unnatural” alliance between idealistic philosophies, purely practical or instrumental views
of science and technology, and conservative Catholicism: an alliance
that, supposedly, had characterized the Italian academic scene for
decades, if not centuries. To launch a field like the history of science
in Italy within a secularized, neo-Enlightenment perspective was for
many of these academics another way of promoting the long overdue
modernization of national culture.
The “neo-Enlightenment” program appealed to academics adhering to a comparatively wide spectrum of political positions. These included the moderate, center-left, non-Catholic parties that were then
struggling to assert their role in Italian politics, still dominated by the
Christian Democrats. But the program could also appeal to a minority
of “progressive Catholics”. Typically, it also appealed to a large group
of academics who, especially in the humanities, were then under the
influence of the strong Italian Communist Party.
The “neo-Enlightenment” program thus benefited from a potentially wide constituency, but it was also weakened by the variety of the
allegiances just mentioned. Weak – indeed, very weak – were also the
educational infrastructures that should have supported the launching
of the history of science as a new field of study. One bit of information will suffice in this connection: in 1967 the Ph.D. system had not
yet been introduced in Italian universities. Ph.D. programs were introduced as late as 1985 (it took some years to implement a law, passed
in 1980, introducing the Ph.D. system in the mostly state-run universities of the peninsula). So, none of the several, younger scholars who
attended the Turin meeting were receiving or would soon receive the
kind of training that, in those same years, was favoring the take-off of
the history of science as a new specialty in countries like the States or
the United Kingdom.
Given the circumstances, it took time, flexibility, and many detours
to implement the launching of the history of science as a new field
Purification rituals / 237
advocated in Turin by the “neo-Enlightened” founding fathers. Some
of the detours were momentous, even dramatic, interwoven as they
were with a period of national history known as the years of terrorism.
The Italian “science wars” and the retreat of the neo-Enlightenment program
I shall spare you most of the detours, but I cannot pass under silence
what I shall call “the Italian science wars”, which began some twenty
years earlier than the “science wars” that colleagues in the English
speaking countries are familiar with.
While the founding fathers were launching the crusade to establish
the history of science as a new field, other events were pressing on the
Italian academic scene. The end of the Sixties and early Seventies saw
the publication in Italian translation of a host of books which were – or
seemed – at odds with the neo-Enlightenment agenda, and which soon
became very popular with the younger generations. It was not just the
usual Adorno, Marcuse or Foucault (the latter already popular in Italy
around 1970). More intriguing for our story is the case of the Italian
fortunes of Thomas Kuhn.
Translated into Italian in 1969, in Italy Kuhn’s Structure was soon
appropriated by (among others) a mixed but vociferous group of
scholars, often attached to natural sciences departments, who either
belonged to the internal left of the Communist Party or placed themselves to the left of the communists. They used Kuhn – together with a
more congenial repertoire of Marxist notions – to denounce what they
described as the inextricable ties linking modern science and capitalist
This happened at a time when sectors of the Italian Communist
Party were trying to conquer a degree of autonomy from Moscow, and
when – on the other hand – the Italian far left could harbor the seeds
of terrorist movements that, occasionally, found a tolerant ear within
Italian universities. Terrorist movements included the group known
as the Red Brigades, whose actions culminated in 1978 with the assassination of a former prime minister and leader of the Italian Christian
Democrats. Incidentally, a group called the “new” Red Brigades was
still around not long ago. In 1999 and 2002 they killed two university
professors who were consulting for the government. One of them was
238 / Purification rituals
shot five hundred meters from the main building of the University of
It is impossible to overestimate the impact that the vicissitudes of
the Italian left, and the long season of Italian terrorism, had on the
“neo-Enlightenment” agenda of professors like those involved in the
Turin meeting at the end of the 1960s. The impact is especially revealed
in the attitudes they displayed towards the typical science and society
issues. Several of the “founding fathers” of Italian history of science,
including Geymonat and Rossi, were genuinely interested in exploring
the social and political dimensions of science and technology. In the
new situation, however, some of them – and especially their younger
pupils with academic ambitions – felt it their duty to downplay the
social dimensions of science and to preach the strictly “pure” character
of science. Higher and higher dykes were built to protect what was
perceived as the besieged citadel of science, and the history of science
itself, from what was felt as, and occasionally was, an extremely dangerous flood.
Within the besieged citadel’s atmosphere, highly peculiar strains
could develop. So in the 1970s, within the Italian context, Thomas Kuhn
could be accused of spreading a dangerously “irrational” philosophy
of science, not by scientists, neo-positivist philosophers, or moderate
Popperians, but by Marxist historians of science who were by the same
token circulating updated versions of Lenin’s dialectical materialism,
while also trying to distinguish themselves from the very far left. 5 So it
happened that, in the following decades, British, American or French
authors who were perceived – rightly or wrongly – as continuing or
bringing to more radical conclusions a line opened by, or attributed to,
Kuhn, were substantially ostracized in Italian academe.
. That was the stance adopted by some followers of Ludovico Geymonat. ����������
A list of
the abundant literature produced during the controversy includes: Attualità del materialismo dialettico, E. Bellone, L. Geymonat, G. Giorello, S. Tagliagambe eds., Editori Riuniti,
Rome, 1974; Giovanni Ciccotti et alt., L’ape e l’architetto, Feltrinelli, Milan,1976; Ludovico
Geymonat, Paradossi e rivoluzioni. Intervista su scienza e politica, Giulio Giorello and Marco
Mondadori eds., Mondadori, Milan, 1979; and Paolo Rossi, “La filosofia di fronte alle
scienze: alcune discussioni sui rapporti scienza-società”, in La cultura filosofica italiana dal
1945 al 1980, Guida, Milan, 19882, 143-158. Later assessments include the autobiography
of one of the protagonists: Marcello Cini, Dialoghi di un cattivo maestro, Bollati Boringhieri,
Turin, 2001 (on Kuhn pp. 154-157), a fine “laurea” dissertation by Christian Carletti, “Il
contesto della purezza. I science studies e l’ambiente intellettuale italiano”, University of
Bologna, 2004, and the monographic issue edited by Angelo Guerraggio, ‘Il ’68 e la scienza
in Italia’, PRISTEM/Storia, Note di Matematica, Storia, Cultura, N° 27-28 (2010).
Purification rituals / 239
One consequence has been that, for good or for bad, Italy was spared
the science studies epidemics that spread in most English-speaking
countries. The threat of such epidemics was countered by a highly peculiar mix of antibodies.
Judging from the history of science literature produced in Italy
over the past forty years, such antibodies included bits and pieces of
venerable authors like Koyré, Lovejoy, and Garin, plus the antibodies
dispensed by old-guard positivists and new breeds of Popperians, to
which other antibodies were added by Soviet-inspired Marxists and a
few Catholics, who were worried that the Italian science wars might
turn into another episode of the recurring conflict opposing secularized intellectuals against the Catholic Church.
Thanks to this powerful if implausible mix of antibodies circulating
within Italian universities, it took nine years to have Shapin and Schaffer’s Leviathan and the air-pump translated into Italian. 6 The book is still
an exceedingly rare item in the reading lists offered to Italian students
taking history of science courses. Thanks to the same antibodies, it is
taking more than seventeen years, in the country of Galileo, to have an
Italian translation of Mario Biagioli’s Galileo, courtier. 7
I understand that to some senior, English-speaking historians of
science accustomed to their “science wars” (and, happily, their aftermath) the Italian situation just sketched may elicit a sort of nostalgia:
nostalgia for what may appear as an enviable, Italian heaven, which
was spared their science wars. However, if I am right in pointing to the
intellectual, political and infrastructural circumstances that nurtured
the early outbreak of the Italian science wars, and imposed a retreat on
the neo-Enlightenment program, I trust in the end they will not envy
the Italian heaven.
Patrolling the borders
Heaven or not, the history of science as an academic field has boomed
in Italy over the past forty years (as I will show soon), on the condition of patrolling the borders of a field that, within the Italian national
. Steven Shapin, Simon Schaffer, Il Leviatano e la pompa ad aria, transl. by Roberto
Brigati, La Nuova Italia, Florence, 1994.
. Mario Biagioli, Galileo, courtier: the practice of science in the culture of absolutism, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993.
240 / Purification rituals
context, is overwhelmingly conceived as having to do strictly with the
intellectual, often purely philosophical content of science.
Patrolling of the borders has been both a matter of self-restraint and
control from above, as happens in academia. Control from above has
been implemented through the Italian national system of competition
for the appointment of new professors. The system requires that a committee be voted and appointed at the national level in order to select the
scholars who will be hired by a local university. The national system
has acted as a powerful grinding machine on the literature produced in
Italy in the field. The system has also perpetuated the strong ties linking
pupils to masters; ties whose strength has no strict equivalent, to my
knowledge, in other academic systems north or west of the Peninsula.
Another, powerful, homogenizing agent of the Italian literature on
the history of science has been the system of national, public financing
of academic publications. Almost the totality of Italian academic publications in the humanities are fully paid before they reach the bookshops, and (possibly) the readers. The funds used for the purpose stem
mostly from the Ministry for Universities in Rome. The money is distributed to the authors themselves, or to their academic and political
patrons, through a centralized system of allocation of resources similar
to the one used for selecting the new professors.
The system has not encouraged the competition, entrepreneurship,
and regard for the reader that have characterized the major university
presses in countries like Britain or the States.
The amount of autonomy from Rome that Italian universities have
been granted over the past two decades does not seem to be affecting
the system for the appointment of the new professors and the financing of academic publications just mentioned. The supposed lack of better models to be imitated is pushing local universities to reproduce, on
a smaller scale, the same centralized system already brought to apparent perfection at the national level.
To sum up the first, critical part of my reflections on the history of
science in Italy, I will suggest an interpretive model. I propose to call it
the “purification rituals” hypothesis.
As mentioned, patrolling of the borders of science and the history of
science – keeping anything smacking of social and political out of the
picture – has been a major preoccupation among Italian historians of
science since the retreat of the “neo-Enlightenment” program, and the
outbreak of the Italian science wars.
Purification rituals / 241
In these same decades, on the other hand, Italian professors have
favored a degree of intrusion of politics, including party politics, into
academia higher than what is deemed reasonable or advisable elsewhere. The professors have shown this inclination by displaying all
possible zeal in adhering – privately and publicly – to the parties that
have been crowding the Italian political scene. Quite naturally, our
scholars have shown a distinct preference for the same parties that
were already well-established among their senior colleagues who were
running the national system for appointing the new professors and
allocating resources. So the decision to keep the social and political dimensions of science and the history of science out of the picture being
circulated to the public has gone hand in hand with the political zeal
just mentioned.
It is this double, apparently contradictory behavior on the part of
the professors that I propose to explain with my “purification rituals”
The anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her well-known book entitled
Purity and danger, showed that purification rites should be taken quite
seriously, both in so-called primitive cultures and in our own societies. 8 According to Douglas, purification rituals usually express a desire for social order and stability. Whether you believe in the efficacy
of the rituals or not, by performing them you convey to the group you
belong to your faith or hope in the form of order evoked by the rite.
With my hypothesis I suggest that the patrolling of the borders of
science and the history of science, carried out by Italian professors
since the retreat of the “neo-Enlightenment” program, has been such
a purification ritual. By keeping whatever was regarded as too explicitly social or political out of our view of science and the history of science, our professors have expressed a desire for (or a regret of) an ideal
world in which science (or academia) and politics should each belong
to a proper, distinct place.
To qualify the “purification rituals” hypothesis, a remark or two are
appropriate. The first is that, perhaps, we should not blame our professors too much if, while performing their rites of purification, they have
themselves allowed a degree of intrusion of politics into academia (and
thus “science”, and the history of science) that in other contexts would
. Mary Douglas, Purity and danger: an analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London , 2002, chapt. 8: “Internal lines”.
242 / Purification rituals
have been regarded as inappropriate. I say this because (and this is
my second remark) by practicing the purification rituals the professors
have contributed somehow to keeping alive, in a period of national
history marked by outbursts of intolerance or worse, the ideal (though
not the reality) of a free, independent spirit of research, an ideal which
some of us eagerly subscribe to.
But enough of this. By formulating the purification rituals hypothesis I have myself performed a little purification rite. I should now feel
“pure” enough to enter the temple, and duly celebrate the achievements of the history of science in Italy.
The achievements I: jobs
As already mentioned, there were no tenured academic positions in
the history of science in Italy at the time of the Turin meeting in 1967.
Today, if we count the faculty belonging strictly to the disciplinary area
called by the Ministry “History of science and technology”, there are
68 such positions in the history of science in Italian universities. 9 If we
add the scholars teaching in neighboring fields (like the history of philosophy, history, the history of mathematics, the history of medicine,
or the natural sciences) whose publications display a regular commitment to research in the history of science, we can estimate the number
of Italian historians of science with tenure at about 120. In a span of
forty three years from the Turin meeting, this is a big achievement, one
we can definitely be proud of. Like any achievement this too has flaws,
however, and I should not omit to mention one or two of them.
One is the (almost) “inverted pyramid” pattern shown in the following numbers. Considering the positions held by our 68 (“strictly”)
history of science colleagues, 30 are full professors, 17 are associate
professors, and 21 belong to the younger rank called “researchers”.
The numbers suggest that the system meets serious difficulties when
it comes to attracting and keeping younger talents. This is one reason
why the “brain drain” of young Italian scholars towards countries offering more opportunities and a quicker turn-over has been such a no-
. http://cercauniversita.cineca.it/php5/docenti/cerca.php, last accessed: December
Purification rituals / 243
table phenomenon in the history of science, as in many other research
The other flaw is gender-related. There are only 3 women among the
30 full professors, 5 among the 17 associate professors, and 7 among
the 21 researchers.
The achievements II: publications
The Italian bibliography of the history of science has been listing
about 2,000 items per year since its first volume for 1982 appeared. 10
This is a huge number for a country like Italy, if you consider that Isis’s
Current Bibliography, since 2000, has been including new items at a
rate of 1,800-3,800 per year. 11 The high number of Italian publications
in the history of science is another, major achievement we can be proud
Yet here too there are caveats. One is the fragmented character of the
set of publications just mentioned. Over the years, only two major journals in the history of science produced in Italy have managed to preserve good quality standards: they are Nuncius in Florence, and Physis
in Rome. The Italian bibliography on the other hand – in order to put
together its high number of new items per year – is censing some 900
different journals. Most of these journals have a limited, often strictly local circulation. Typically, they also have a mixed record when it
comes to peer-review standards. This points to the uneven quality of
the Italian literature in the history of science, and to the dispersed character of the community of scholars producing it.
Having mentioned journals, a few more words about books are appropriate. As already noted, we do not have in Italy the kind of university presses well known in the English-speaking countries. There are
a few, to be sure, but typically they do not cultivate a general public
readership, nor do they reach the major national, book-distribution
Instead of the university presses, we have a number of “independent” publishers who cultivate especially the market of books meant for
10. http://www.museogalileo.it/esplora/biblioteche/biblioteca/bibliografiaitalianastoriascienza.html, last accessed: December 2010.
11. See the Current Bibliography published each year by Isis. In the text I refer to the
years 2000-2009.
244 / Purification rituals
university students. Over the years, a handful of these publishers have
launched series of books devoted specifically to the history of science.
The mixed success obtained with the readers, however, has led these
publishers to discontinue their series. At present, no series devoted
specifically to the history of science is being published.
Given this situation, the typical academic monograph in the history
of science by an Italian author is often to be found in the catalogue
of a publisher like Olschki, in Florence. Olschki does not sell through
bookshops, but directly, mostly to libraries. Their catalogue – rich in
3,000 titles – currently includes 287 history of science titles. 12 The overwhelming majority of these books are in Italian. Olschki claims to be
selling half of its books abroad, which may well be true for the many,
specialized books devoted to philology, bibliography, and early modern Italian history, including science. Typically, however, these books
do not contribute much to the circulation abroad of the studies on the
history of science produced in Italy.
The achievements III: the profession
In a survey focusing on infrastructures, one item should figure
prominently: the profession, meaning the set of tools and institutions
that sustain the daily life of an established field of expertise.
I have already alluded to the often dispersed character of Italian
publications in the history of science. I have also mentioned, on the
other hand, the homogenizing effect produced on the field by the national system used to appoint the new professors, and to allocate resources. Dispersion of the scholars and the homogeneity of the literature produced may seem two contrasting phenomena, but they should
probably be seen as the two aspects of yet another, more basic circumstance: the lack of a national arena for Italian historians of science to
compare notes, and to develop a shared professional identity.
Despite the noteworthy multiplication of jobs and publications over
the past four decades, and despite the homogenizing effect produced
by the national academic system, in Italy we have failed to establish a
professional society comparable to the British or American societies
12. From Olschki’s oline catalogue, under the rubric “Storia delle scienze”: http://www.
olschki.it/pagina.htm, last accessed: December 2010.
Purification rituals / 245
for the history of science, or to the several other, specialized societies
well-known internationally in the field.
It is as if, in the Italian context, the typical institutions, goals and
tools of the profession are destined to remain trapped within the powerful ties cementing the separate, local “schools”, the strong master-pupil relationships, and the political or semi-political loyalties enforced
through the national academic system.
An Italian society for the history of science, to be sure, was established in Pisa in 1983. But its failure – under several subsequent, excellent chairpersons and executive committees – to establish a working
professional association and an arena for Italian historians of science,
points to an inability on the part of the scholars that will probably take
generations to get round.
Under the circumstances, a basic coordinating role has been played
on occasion by institutions such as the Domus Galilaeana (Pisa), the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, recently renamed Museo Galileo
(Florence), and the Seminario di Storia della Scienza at the University
of Bari.
The substantial lack of a national, professional arena has generated
multiple effects. It is affecting, for example, the life of the few doctoral programs devoted to the history of science active in Italy. The
programs are run mostly as consortia, each one including several universities scattered over the Peninsula. The problems as far as training,
logistics, and communications are concerned, in the absence of regular
meetings allowing doctoral students to compare notes and develop a
common professional identity, are deeply felt.
Within the special domain of studies on science and technology
(STS), on the other hand, the young Associazione Italiana per lo Studio
della Scienza e della Tecnologia, established in 2005, seems bound to
overcome several of the problems just mentioned. But enough of my
tentative list of the achievements and failures of the profession. Here
are a few, concluding remarks.
For most of what I have been saying, the emergence and subsequent
expansion of the history of science as an academic field in Italy over
the past forty years has been, overall, a success. A blend of national and
246 / Purification rituals
international factors seems to account for this. The pace with which,
since the1960s, the field managed to put down roots, grow, and thrive
in Italian universities clearly owes something to an international trend
that we have somehow imitated, adopted and adapted.
To account for the success, I have alluded also to some obvious,
national factors, such as Italy’s impressive industrial take-off that followed World War II. That take-off, no doubt, helped spread an interest
in science and technology, and to a smaller degree also in the history
of science. Such an interest among the public at large contributed to
shaping the agenda of the few academics who, towards the end of the
1960s, developed a commitment to the history of science and technology as a new field of study; an agenda that, of course, owed much to the
country’s particular intellectual and political context in those years.
It is this blend of international and national factors, and its changing
balance over time, that I want to call attention to in closing. It seems to
me that, despite the international aspirations and commitments of the
neo-Enlightened founding fathers of the discipline forty years ago, the
field has developed over the years a strong national accent.
It is as if, in order to cope with the particular national context, and
to make the academic achievements mentioned possible, the discipline
had to develop (to insist on the linguistic metaphor) a local dialect.
That dialect has clearly eased the success of the field in the peninsula.
Yet it is now making the translation of substantial portions of the Italian literature in the history of science back into the field’s mainstream
language increasingly difficult.
The problem can be easily captured if we compare the number, and
weight, of the works published by the neo-Enlightened founding fathers which enjoyed an international circulation thirty or forty years
ago, and the, by comparison, much smaller international circulation
enjoyed by much of the literature in the history of science and technology produced in Italy today. Having granted the different orders
of magnitude, as far as the number of authors and of the publications
involved then and now, the decline cannot fail to strike one. Part of it,
no doubt, can be accounted for as the price that the field had to pay
in order to put down roots and prosper within our idiosyncratic national system of higher education. But perhaps more is at stake, more
is needed to explain the “dialect” that has developed in the field in
Italy in the past decades.
To explain this, we should probably mention once again the strong
Purification rituals / 247
national, political agendas which many Italian scholars in the field
have subscribed to over the years. These nationally-oriented agendas,
apparently, made it difficult for most Italian scholars to cope with the
fast growth that the field was undergoing in the English-speaking
If this interpretation is correct, I would suggest in conclusion (and
to revert to the “purification rituals” metaphor used at the beginning)
that, in order to further strengthen the discipline in the Italian context,
the rituals of the profession should take a firm step forward, while the
rituals of politics should be allowed to take a cautious step backward.
Armando Caracheo is a Ph.D. candidate in the doctoral program in Science, Technology, and Humanities at the University of Bologna. The
main target of his research is to understand how ideas, which were
fundamental for the development of science and technology at the
beginning of the twentieth century, also became part of the narrative and literary discourse of the period. Caracheo holds a Master in
History and Philosophy of Science from Utrecht University. During
2010 he joined the University of Exeter as a visiting doctoral student,
and submitted a paper at the annual meeting of the British Society
for Literature and Science.
Jan Cherlet is a Ph.D. candidate jointly in the doctoral program in Science, Technology, and Humanities at the University of Bologna,
and at Ghent University. He analyses the circulation of knowledge
and discourses in the global network of development aid actors,
in particular in the water sector. In his multi-sited ethnography he
observes actors at various levels, from the most “global” to the most
“local”. Local observation is conducted in the Inner Niger Delta, in
Mali. Jan Cherlet holds a Master in Civil Engineering from Ghent
University, and a Master in Social and Cultural Anthropology from
the University of Barcelona. He has published both as an engineer
and as a social scientist.
Daniela Crocetti is a Ph.D. candidate in the doctoral program in Science, Technology, and Humanities at the University of Bologna. She
is completing a doctoral project on DSD (Disorders of Sex Development), that looks at medicalization of the gendered body from
historical and anthropological perspectives. She is interested in the
relationship of genetic technologies to new models of defining pathology. Crocetti holds a Master degree in Anthropology from the
University of Bologna. In 2007 she organized the Italian portion of
an UK-based, EU analysis of transgender people’s experience with
health care. She currently participates in the Italian research group
‘De Morbo’, that focuses on a multi-disciplinary study of disease
and illness experience.
Andrea Grignolio has a Ph.D. in the History of Science from the University of Bari. His research focuses on the history of biomedical disciplines in the twentieth century, with special reference to immunology. In 2004 he studied at the Centre Cavaillès of the École Normale
Supérieure, Paris. In 2006-2007 he was a post-doctoral fellow at the
Center for Philosophy and History of Science of Boston University,
and in 2009 a visiting scholar in the Office for History of Science and
Technology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently
attached to the “Luigi Galvani” Center for Bioinformatics, Biophysics
and Biocomplexity at University of Bologna, and teaches philosophy
of science in the School of Economics and Management, University of
Bozen. He has edited Immunology Today. Three Historical Perspectives
under Three Theoretical Horizons (Bononia University Press, 2010). The
popularization of science remains one of his favorite side subjects.
Marco Liverani is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Exeter. He is
completing a doctoral project on the relationship between the process of European integration and the production of scientific knowledge (‘Knowledge Production and European Integration: A Case
Study in Stem Cell Research’) at the Egenis Centre for the Study of
Genomics and Society. He holds a Master in Social Anthropology
from University College, London, and has been a teaching assistant at the Department of Sociology and Philosophy, University of
Exeter. In 2009 he participated in the China-UK Summer School in
Beijing on ‘The Governance and Regulation of Emerging Biotechnologies’. In 2010 he has joined as Research Fellow the Health Policy
Unit of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where
he is conducting a study on regional mechanisms for the control of
infectious diseases in Europe and Asia.
Massimo Mazzotti holds a Ph.D. in Science Studies from the University
of Edinburgh. He has taught sociology of science at the University
of Exeter, and has been a visiting professor at the universities of
Bologna and Stanford. He is currently associate professor of history
of science at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is the
Director of the Office for History of Science and Technology. His
research focuses on the cultures of science and technology in Italy in
the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The driving questions of his
recent work concern the relationship between science and religion,
and the social dimension of mathematical knowledge. His publications include the edited volume Knowledge as Social Order: Rethinking
the Sociology of Barry Barnes (Ashgate, 2008), and the monograph The
World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God (Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2007).
Massimiliano Pagani has been recently awarded a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Exeter. His doctoral dissertation explores
a series of social and epistemological problems related to personal
identification practices through a detailed reconstruction of the development of scientific policing in liberal and fascist Italy. He has
contributed to the making of a documentary on the Bruneri/Canella
case, and is part of the IdentiNet network for the historical study of
individual identity, based in the UK and funded by the Leverhulme
Trust. Pagani has also a keen interest in science communication and
has worked for the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan,
and the Science Museum in London.
Giuliano Pancaldi is Professor of the History of Science, and Head of
the International Center for the History of Universities and Science
at the University of Bologna. His books include: Darwin in Italy. Science across Cultural Frontiers (Indiana University Press, 1991), and
Volta. Science and Culture in the Age of Enlightenment (Princeton University Press, 2003). He is currently working on a study of Lord
Kelvin’s laboratory at the University of Glasgow, and on a book
addressing the social history of the life sciences in a long-term perspective.
Matteo Serafini is a Ph.D. candidate in the doctoral program in Science, Technology, and Humanities at the University of Bologna. In
2009 he was a visiting doctoral student in the Division of History of
Science and Technology at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. His dissertation is a study of innovation in a regional context.
It focuses on the innovation strategies implemented over the past
fifty years by entrepreneurial, political, and academic actors in the
Italian region Emilia-Romagna. His interests range from the history
of science and technology, to innovation studies, to technical epistemic communities.
This index was prepared by Rupsha Banerjee
Adorno, T. W., 237
Allchin, Douglas, 80
Allen, Garland E., 62, 78, 80
Alongi, Giuseppe, 103
Annales, École des, 10
Aristotle, 57, 69, 113
Asheim, T., 145, 146
Auburn, David, 197
Bailey, S., 21
Barbin, Adelaide Herculine, 66,
Bardi, A., 130,
Barrow, John D, 197
Barry, Andrew, 187, 188
Benda, Julien, 178
Bertillon, Alphonse, 96, 97, 105,
106, 107
Bertini, S., 131
Bhashkar, Roy, 39
Biagioli, Mario, 6, 12, 239
Blaikie, P., 23
Blasio, Abele De, 105
Bloor, David, 8, 29
Blumenbach, Johann Friedrich,
Bocchini, Arturo, 118, 119,
Bourget, Paul, 151
Broca, Paul, 97
Brookfield, H., 23
Brusco, Sebastiano, 129
Bryant, R., 21
Bucchi, M., 41
Budgen, Frank, 155, 156, 158, 160,
Butler, Judith, 58, 68
Callon, Michel, 31, 36
Canestrini, Giovanni, 92
Canova, Antonio, 103
Caracheo, Armando, 17,149
Carnot, M. F., 103
Cherlet, Jan, 17, 19
Churchill, Winston, 176
Clagett, Marshall, 235,
Coenen, L., 146
Cohen, I. Bernard, 235
Collier, J. H., 38
Cox, Jane, 18, 195, 196,
Creighton, Harriet, 222, 223
Crick, Francis, 201, 202, 203, 204
Crispi, Francesco, 104
Crocetti, Daniela, 15, 57
Crombie, A.C., 235
Darwin, Charles, 22, 75, 78, 92
Dautry, Raoul, 179, 180
De Grazia, Victoria, 122
Djerassi, Carl, 197
Douglas, Mary, 47, 67, 241
Dreger, Alice Dormurat, 61, 66,
72, 85
Dujardin, Edouard, 151,
Edney, M., 160
Einstein, Albert, 210,214, 230
Emerson, Rollins Adam, 220,223
Falco, Giuseppe, 88, 112
Fani, Senator, 111
Federzoni, Luigi, 120
Fenwick, Jean-Noël, 196, 211
Ferri, Enrico, 97
Feyerabend, Paul, 9
Fisher, R. A., 79
Forsyth, T., 26, 27, 40, 42, 46, 50,
Fortunati, Vita, 211
Foucault, Michel, 25, 30, 31, 50,
66, 72, 237
Franceschi, Zelda, 211
Franklin, Rosalind, 195, 196, 201,
Frayn, Michael, 197
Friedman, R. M., 195, 196, 205
Fuller, Steve, 29
Funtowicz, O., 48, 49
Galen, 62, 69, 70, 72
Galton, Francis, 75, 99
Garin, Eugenio, 239
Garson, John, 99
Gasti, Giovanni, 106, 108
Gauss, J. C. F., 96
Gentile, Emilio, 121
Geymonat, Ludovico, 235, 238
Gilbert, Nigel, 30
Gilbert, Stuart, 150, 153, 169
Gillispie, Charles C., 235
Gini, Corrado, 122
Glacken, Clarence, 41
Gosling, Raymond, 202
Govoni, Paola, 211
Grignolio, Andrea, 17
Groden, Michael, 163, 164, 167,
Gubernatis, Angelo de, 98
Haeckel, Ernst, 92
Hahn, Otto, 205
Hajer, M. A., 31
Hall, Rupert, 235
Haraway, Donna, 58
Hegglund, Jon, 160
Herring, Phillip, 165, 166
Hoffmann, Roald, 197
Hunter, John, 73
Jasanoff, Sheila, 46
Jaspers, Karl, 178
Johannsen, Wilhelm, 79,
Joyce, James, 17, 149, 150-56, 158,
159, 160, 161, 162, 164, 168,
Kiberd, Declan, 154, 155, 162
Klinefelter, Harry, 63, 64,70,76,84
Konrad, Adenauer, 176
Koyama, Emi, 76, 81
Koyré, Alexandre, 239
Krige, John, 181
Kropotkin, Peter, 22, 23
Kuhn, Thomas, 7, 237, 238
Laqueur, Thomas, 61, 71, 72
Latour, Bruno, 12, 31, 33
Laubichler, Manfred D., 80
Lawrence, Ernest Orlando, 180
Lenin, Vladimir, 178, 238
Leonardi, Francesco, 103, 104,
Leto, Guido, 118
Linati, Carlo, 150, 153
Liverani, Marco, 16
Livi, Ridolfo, 97, 115
Lombroso, Cesare, 15, 87, 88, 89,
90, 91-95, 98-104, 106, 108, 110,
112, 113, 115, 116, 122, 123
Lovejoy, Arthur, 239
Lucas, Charles, 91
Lukacs, Georg, 178
Morgan, Thomas, H., 79, 209, 219,
Morris, Esther, 77
Morselli, Enrico, 98
Mulkay, Michael, 30
Mussolini, Benito, 117, 119, 121,
Nachtmann, Rita, 195,196, 197,
202, 203
Neumann, R. P., 27, 39, 40, 42
MacKenzie, A., 36
Macmillan, Harold, 176
Maddox, Brenda, 202
Mantegazza, Paolo, 98, 102
Marcuse, Herbert, 237
Marshall, Alfred, 129, 145
Marshall, George, 175, 181
Marx, Karl, 7, 24, 44,178, 237, 238,
Matteotti, Giacomo, 116
McClintock, Barbara, 18, 195, 196,
206, 207, 212, 231
Meitner, Lise, 196, 205
Mendel, Gregor, 78, 79, 209, 217,
218, 228
Merton, Robert K., 28, 46
Milward, Alan, 185
Mitterrand, François, 176
Miyoshi, Masao, 19
Moir, John, 85
Moneyu , John, 61, 74
Morel, Bénédict Augustin, 91
Pagani, Massimiliano, 15
Pancaldi, Giuliano, 13, 18, 233
Parker, Ester, 222
Peet, R., 27
Pende, Nicola, 113, 114, 115, 116,
122, 123
Perkowitz, Sidney, 195, 196, 197,
202, 203, 204
Perutz, Max, 202
Pestre, Dominique, 10
Petrillo, Tommaso, 119
Pigorini, Luigi, 98
Plato, 69
Pliny, 69
Poincaré, Henri, 17, 163, 165, 166,
168, 169, 170, 171, 172
Popper, Karl, 238, 239
Portin, Peter, 78,
Pullè, Franco, 98
Newton, Issac, 214
Olschki, publisher, 244
Ottolenghi, Salvatore, 88, 98, 104,
Quételet, Alphonse, 95, 96,97, 99,
100, 101, 102, 115
Rabi, Isidor, 180, 181
Randall, John, 204
Ravetz, R., 48, 49
Rhoades, Marcus, 221
Ribaudo, Brancaleone, 97
Robbins, P., 22, 23, 26, 37
Rossi, Ernesto, 175
Rossi, Paolo, 235, 238
Rougemont, Denis de, 177, 178,
Russell, Bertrand, 165, 166
Sergi, Giuseppe, 98, 99, 101, 102
Shapin, Steven, 11, 239
Siegbahn, Manne, 205
Sismondo, S., 32, 36
Smith, Adam, 49
Smith, N., 44
Snow, C. P., 198, 199
Spaak, Paul-Henry, 176
Spinelli, Altiero, 175, 176
Strassmann, Fritz, 205
Svensson-Henning, M., 145, 146
Sapir, André, 126
Sapir, Edward, 33
Saracini, Emilio, 103
Sarkar, Sahotra, 80
Sayre, Anne, 202
Schaffer, Simon, 10, 239
Schiebinger, Londa, 61
Scott, J. C., 26
Seidel, Michael, 158, 159
Sen, Amartya, 53
Sengenberger, Werner, 130, 136
Sengoopta, Chandak, 73
Serafini, Matteo, 16, 125
Vayda, A., 26
Virchow, Rudolf, 73
Walters, B., 26
Watson, James, 201, 202, 203, 204
Watts, M., 27
Weinberg, Alvin, 185
White, Gilbert, 24
Whorf, Benjamin Lee, 33
Wilkins, Maurice, 201, 202, 203, 204
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 9
Zacchia, Paolo, 71
“Bologna Studies in History of Science”
Editor: Giuliano Pancaldi
Frederic L. Holmes, Eighteenth-century chemistry as an investigative enterprise, 1989, 144 pp.
John L. Heilbron, Weighing imponderables and other quantitative science
around 1800, 1993, 337 pp.
Frederic L. Holmes, Between biology and medicine: The formation of intermediary metabolism, 1992, 114 pp.
Peter J. Bowler, Biology and social thought: 1850-1914, 95 pp.
I laboratori dell’università. Un incontro Bologna-Oxford, a cura di Anna
Guagnini e Giuliano Pancaldi, 1996, 127 pp.
Robert Fox and Anna Guagnini, Laboratories, workshops, and sites. Concepts
and practices of research in industrial Europe, 1800-1914, 1999, 214 pp.
Luigi Galvani International Workshop. Proceeedings, edited by Marco
Bresadola and Giuliano Pancaldi, 1999, 215 pp.
The structure of knowledge: Classifications of science and learning since the
Renaissance, edited by Tore Frängsmyr, 2001, 158 pp.
Electric bodies. Episodes in the history of medical electricity, edited by Paola
Bertucci and Giuliano Pancaldi, 2001, 298 pp.
Natura, cultura, identità. Le università e l’identità europea, a cura di
Giuliano Pancaldi, 2004, 213 pp.
Storia, scienza e società. Ricerche sulla scienza in Italia nell’età moderna e
contemporanea, a cura di Paola Govoni, 2006, 304 pp.
Impure cultures. Interfacing science, technology, and humanities, edited
by Massimo Mazzotti and Giuliano Pancaldi, 2010, 256 pp.