Science and Metaphor

Patrick Nagle, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

Emily Martin has applied textual analysis to scientific explanations of bodily processes. She examines how the use of metaphor in these accounts naturalizes historically contingent assumptions about human society and culture:

As an anthropologist, I am intrigued by the possibility that culture shapes how biological scientists describe what they discover about the natural world. If this were so, we would be learning about more than the natural world in high school biology class: we would be learning about cultural beliefs and practices as if they were part of nature. In the course of my research I realized that the picture of egg and sperm drawn in popular as well as scientific accounts of reproductive biology relies on stereotypes central to our cultural definitions of male and female. These stereotypes imply not only that female biological processes are less worth than their male counterparts but also that women are less worthy than men. Part of my goal in writing this article is to shine a bright light on the gender stereotypes hidden within the scientific language of biology. Exposed in such a light, I hope they will lose much of their power to harm us. (485-6)

Martin's work highlights an important role for critical literary readings of scientific texts.


Works Cited

Last modified 18 December 2006