James J. Bono, Ph.D. , Associate Professor
Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences
Department of Medicine, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
State University of New York at Buffalo

Draft Only: Do Not Cite or Reproduce without Author’s Permission

Narrating Science:
Toward a Performative Metaphorics of “Practice” and the
Cultural History of Science

The representational idiom casts science as, above all, an activity that seeks to represent nature, to produce knowledge that maps, mirrors, or corresponds to how the world really is. In so doing, it precipitates a characteristic set of fears about the adequacy of scientific representation that constitute the familiar philosophical problematics of realism and objectivity. . . .
Within an expanded conception of scientific culture, however--one that goes beyond science-as-knowledge, to include the material, social, and temporal dimensions of science--it becomes possible to imagine that science is not just about representation. . . . it is both possible and necessary to escape from the representational idiom if we are to get to grips with scientific practice. The point is this: Within the representational idiom, people and things tend to appear as shadows of themselves. Scientists figure as disembodied intellects making knowledge in a field of facts and observations . . . But there is quite another way of thinking about science. One can start from the idea that the world is filled not, in the first instance, with facts and observations, but with agency. The world, I want to say, is continually doing things , things that bear upon us not as observation statements upon disembodied intellects but as forces upon material beings. [1]

In traditional accounts of science metaphor plays, at best, a pedagogical role in the explication of already made [sic: discovered!] science to new generations of students and to the nonexpert public. At worst, it constitutes an unwarranted and unwanted rhetorical flourish, a glittering but albatross-like ornament weighing heavily upon the public face of science, ultimately boding ill for all that it captures in its seductive grasp. Within triumphalist narratives of Western science, metaphor remains an outcast and renegade character threatening the internal economy of science with debasement as, in Locke's diagnostically purgative words, a "perfect cheat." [2]
It is no accident that, as representational theories of language and the literal-figurative distinction have lost favor under intense philosophical and cultural scrutiny, the role of metaphor in science has in the last decades of the twentieth century attracted serious scholarly attention. Yet, within the most revisionist, not to say "revolutionary," cadres of social studies of science, the turn toward metaphor, it seems to me, still carries with it a badge of dishonor that evokes suspicion and a tendency to keep one's distance for fear of contamination. For metaphor, I suspect, to many who would trumpet the virtues of social analysis of science as a complex, material, and social form of practice, suggests the lingering persistence of an abstract, intellectualist, a-social, and even "disembodied" vision of science.
I find this fear understandable, if misplaced and ultimately wrong. Not only do I wish to suggest--as I have in a number of other venues--that metaphor plays an important role in science and that an understanding of the metaphorics of science is essential to critical study of the sociocultural dynamics of science, I argue in this paper that metaphor and the metaphorics of science--understood as performative aspects of science--are indispensible components of what we have come to label scientific "practices." In so arguing, I wish to transgress and reject the misleading assumption that "metaphor" belongs to a domain of "discourse" that is somehow distinct from that of "practice," the one identified with the realm of "texts," the other with the realm of the "material" and "instrumental."
Rather than inhabiting two separate domains, discourse and practice are themselves inseparable and interdependent. [3] Moreover, metaphors, and the underlying metaphorics of specific scientific practices, constitute elements of scientific practice that, together with material and "machinic" actors, [4] allow for the emergence of "agencies" in a world of narratively engaged and thus temporally activated performances. [5] Indeed, I shall argue that the world, following Pickering's example, is "filled with . . . agencies" and that scientific practices and the production of scientific knowledge are "embodied" practices and knowledges, in part, precisely because they are situated in and temporally emergent from narrativized networks of agents: humans, machines, things. Such an approach, I hope, will serve to renovate the complementary nature of "discourse" and "texts" in relation to "practices" and the "material/machinic/social" and point to a continuing role for intellectual and cultural histories within an emerging cultural paradigm for "science studies." [6]
As part, therefore, of an ongoing book project that seeks to renovate discussion of the metaphorics of science and to establish the critical role of tropes in analyzing change and the sociocultural dynamics of stability and instability in scientific discourses, this paper builds upon earlier essays that outlined my notion of metaphor. [7] That notion stressed metaphor as a "medium of exchange" among both "scientific" ("intrascientific") and other "cultural" discourses ("extrascientific"); it pointed as well to my particular emphasis in this paper upon how tropes mediate relations among social, cultural, and technical dimensions of scientific practice and knowledge.
While I have argued that metaphors are sites of discursive change in science, I want to indicate how in my view this notion of metaphor enriches our understanding of performative practice(s) as a site of change in science. To do this, I shall argue, we must shift from a representational to a performative understanding of metaphors. We must, I argue, think of metaphors not as inadequate or "improper" representations of "natural kinds," [8] but rather as social, cognitive, and discursive tools for engaging nature and making knowledge. As a result of this shift, we can, I believe see a role for tropes and narrative structures not only in the epistemic "foundations" of science, but also in a view of scientific activity as dynamic and emergent. [9] This view of metaphor, tropes, and narratives in science enables us, I argue, to grasp these discursive aspects of science as themselves socially and culturally located practices embedded in material practices and as sites for complex contestation and negotiation. [10]

Practice and Discourse

Before I turn to a consideration of metaphor and the metaphorics of science as performative tools, I want to take a preliminary look at recent use of the term, practice, in science studies, since deployment of that term crucially limits the space within which metaphor may be allowed to operate. My purpose here is not to be exhaustive, nor even to provide a rough map of the terrain of “practice,” but only to highlight some critical assumptions and tendencies that can help put my own approach in context. Indeed, precisely because his emphasis on “practice” and “performative” idioms strikes me as so promising and important, I shall take some of Andrew Pickering’s comments as my chief example. Pickering, of course, wants to redirect attention within science studies from scientific practices (and their elaborate historical, anthropological, and sociological analysis) to practice itself. This distinction, of course, does not constitute a rejection of the former, which have proven so fruitful to science studies disciplines, but, instead, a reorientation toward those elements that Pickering sees as especially distinctive and important in the turn toward practice(s). I take these elements to be, in particular, the dynamic, open (perhaps even open-ended), and emergent nature of scientific practice. Rather than emphasizing the structurally (and socially, and culturally) proscribed nature of individual practices accepted by scientific communities, Pickering seems to be insisting upon practice as a “real-time” arena for the emergence of agencies, of intentional goals, of cultural reconfigurations and extensions, and of social relations (pp. 20-21).
This view of practice clearly emphasizes the temporal nature of science and explicitly addresses the dynamics of change and transformation. Machines, material agencies, human agencies, the culture(s) of science, and intentional goals are all crucially important to Pickering’s analysis of science as practice, but all are regarded not as predetermining structural factors so much as pliable, adaptive, and adapting components and products of scientific practice. “Rather than controlling practice from without,” goals (and, I would add, all of the above components) for Pickering, “should be seen as in the plane of practice ” (p. 20).
Pickering’s insistence on such an emergent, temporal, and performative understanding of practice provides fertile ground for the operation of metaphors in science, as I hope to suggest. Unfortunately, this possibility must contend against further assumptions about practice that Pickering shares with other science-studies scholars. Specifically, Pickering seems to construct demarcations and maps of cultural terrains and interactions that exclude the metaphoric from practice. More generally, Pickering’s analysis enacts distinctions between “practice” and “discourse,” between “practices” and “texts,” that prove too constraining and ultimately, I would argue, untenable.
Thus, in a section on “Cultural Studies and the Mangle” in the last chapter of his book, Pickering distinguishes his approach to “practice” from recent “cultural studies of science”: the latter is “about what scientific culture is at some given place and time,” whereas his own consideration of the mangle of practice is “about how culture changes in time” (p. 218). In a footnote to this passage, Pickering elaborates on what he characterizes as the “orthogonality of the two approaches” by quoting Simon Schaffer:
Much recent historical inquiry has been devoted to the labor processes in [the workplace of physics]. Two important changes have accompanied these inquiries. First, attention to texts has been displaced by attention to practices. . . Second, histories have been displaced by maps. Chroniclers of the sciences often assumed that their task was to tell stories about the temporal development of natural knowledge. Contemporary science studies, however, appeal at least as much to the metaphors of geography. . . Maps of science and networks of skills and techniques
have become commonplace in recent work. [11]
This quotation serves to reinforce Pickering’s point that his own approach, however compatible with and complementary to new directions in science studies, diverges from the latter fundamentally through its obsession with “cultural transformation” and “the temporality of practice” (p. 219). Pickering’s concern with “practice” as a “real-time” phenomenon of science represents a subtle movement beyond the analysis of scientific culture through the mapping of practices (“networks of skills and techniques”) to study of scientific practice as itself a temporal process, one in which various human and nonhuman agencies are themselves emergent and through which transformations of scientific culture are produced.
As a characterization both of new, practice-oriented cultural studies of science and of Pickering’s compatible, if “orthogonal,” relationship to it, there is not much with which I would wish to quarrel here. What is worth noting, however, is that in attempting to distinguish his own position while simultaneously seeking “an alliance with cultural studies of science” (p. 219), Pickering gives perhaps unwitting support to the construction of a dichotomy between “practice” and “texts” or “practice” and “discourse.” Schaffer’s description of the methodological shift in historical inquiry from “texts” to “practices” is itself an accurate characterization of a trend that gained much currency with publication of Leviathan and the Air Pump in 1985. But such a shift in the focus and methods of historical inquiry do not, in themselves, entail or warrant the construction of such dichotomous categories. Even Shapin and Schaffer’s analysis of Boyle’s scientific practices, including his construction and use of the air-pump, depends upon the reading and interpretation of texts. And while their famous characterization of Boyle’s deployment of “literary technologies” does relegate the literary and linguistic dimensions of science to after-the-fact efforts to win adherents for the innovative matters-of-fact and the “experimental life” generated by Boyle’s scientific “practices,” this restriction of the literary, the “textual,” and the “discursive” is hardly self-evident or the last word on the matter.
In any case, Pickering’s arguments concerning practice and the mangle exhibit, to my mind, a tendency to identify practice precisely with the realm of material agencies, whether human or nonhuman, and what he calls the “machinic.” The transformations of scientific culture, the temporally emergent “dance of agency,” and the “dialectic of resistance and accommodation” (p. 22) that Pickering sees as characteristic of real-time scientific practice all tend to focus, in his account, on just such material agencies and machines. Within this mangle of practice, the “tuning” of machines and agents, the response to the resistance and recalcitrance of material/machinic performances, drive the temporal emergence of agents, powers, things that science seeks to capture. This characterization of practice and the mangle, I suggest, leaves the impression that practice, and human agency exhibited “in the plane of practice,” are materially driven and stand quite apart from the “textual” and the “discursive.” And yet, a quite telling tension within Pickering’s own formulation of the mangle of practice opens up the possibility of questioning the apparent divorce of discourse from practice in his analysis of science, allowing an alternative formulation that I shall attempt to sketch out in the remainder of this paper. In speaking of the intentionality that informs the construction of machines and their deployment in experimental situations (in practice?), Pickering reflects upon the origins of such goals and plans:
The goals of scientific practice are imaginatively transformed versions of its present. The future states of scientific culture at which practice aims are constructed from existing culture in a process of modelling (metaphor, analogy). This, stated in a few words, is my basic idea of how existing culture predisciplines the extended temporality of human intentionality. [11]
Here the discursive, the textual, enters only—but all-importantly—as a parenthesis, as a supplement to the seemingly and strictly material logic of practice. Tellingly, Pickering glosses his own admission in an accompanying footnote, “I prefer to speak of modelling since I want to apply the idea to the material and social, as well as the conceptual, aspects of scientific culture, while metaphor and analogy are usually taken as having textual referents” (p. 19). Within this tension that simultaneously accepts and rejects the discursive and textual imbrications of practice and metaphor, resides the space that a theory of practice as discursive and a theory of metaphor as practice can hope to occupy. Such hopes, I suggest, depend upon reconstituting metaphor within a performative idiom and exhibiting the function of narratives in localizing and temporalizing metaphoric performances in science. I now turn to envisioning such a prospect.

Toward a Useable Genealogy of Metaphor

Within the text of Western philosophy metaphor has traditionally been depicted as a powerful, even rich, linguistic and rhetorical tool, but one that must ineluctably be judged inferior to the unadorned literal meanings attached to words as proper definitions of the things for which they stand. Proper, essentialist, meanings trump the figurative and, within the representationalist regime, the “fanciful” and merely “fictive.” [12] Consider, however, an alternative genealogy of the metaphoric whose traces not even Aristotle has entirely erased.
Aristotle’s philosophy, in a sense, is quintessentially the philosophy of a land dweller, a philosophy grounded as it were in and upon terra firma . Firmly rooted in the stable this-ness of solid shapes—in the identifiable contours, textures, heft, and qualities of stable things—, Aristotle’s philosophy explores the coming and going out of being—the becoming—of things, of substances and of the qualities and dynamic elements ( dynameis) that comprise their accidents and essence. Yet, such dynamism and change exhibited by nature remains for Aristotle, true land-dweller that he is, graspable as successive and stage-like manifestations of material things and therefore recuperable to the stability of underlying forms. Hence, Aristotle’s explanations of change marshal vivid examples serving as paradigmatic icons for a philosophy of perduring (if cyclic and changing) substances: matter and form. And these iconic examples are themselves suffused with tropes of solidity, tropes signifying the unshifting bedrock of a terra firma upon which stable things and determinate, literal, proper meanings can be anchored: the sculptor’s solid piece of marble; the architect’s solid building materials--to which each adds, like the divine craftsman, form and motion.
Unlike his mythic forebearer, Odysseus, tempest-tossed upon the unforgiving sea, Aristotle from his vantage on dry and stable land can look askance from the perspective of theoria upon the fables and cunning deeds of such heroes and dismiss, along with nettlesome and misleading storytellers, mere muthos for the solidity of his logos.[13] Consider, instead, the reversal of such a theoretical, representationalist perspective occasioned by forcible exposure to unrelenting flux and the need for improvisation, where sea and shipwrecks powerfully destabilize the certainties of life on solid ground. Such was the world of Odysseus: a world turned upside-down, where ends have no certain fulfillment for want of predetermined and effective means, and where simple words fail for want of stable, unenigmatic meanings.
Into this world was Odysseus thrust,
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the
man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course,
once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and
learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick
on the open sea
fighting to save his life and bring
his comrades home. [14]
Odysseus’s is a world in which he and his men are not at home: where things are not what they seem to be and where once familiar words no longer ring true. Instead of the familiar at-home-ness of words and things, all falls to “the man”—the Muse’s hero—to find a way home. His one resource?: he is the man “of twists and turns”; literally the man of tropes— tropoi! Armed not with the domestic certainties of the philosopher’s logoi, Odysseus must find his way through unchartered seas with only his cunning wit to guide him. He must, that is, forbear no longer useful certainties for improvised “twists and turns,” responding in real time to the unpredictable challenges thrust upon him. Odysseus’s very ability, his noteworthy example, is to be the man of twists and turns, to turn this way and that, and hence to grasp at the unfamiliar, the un-home-like, with improvised tropes, with the aid of metaphors ( metaphorai) that enable him to turn and “translate” ( metaphora) the unfamiliar into the now graspable, allowing the man of cunning and wit the tools and opportunity to “transfer” ( metaphora!) him and his comrades from the unfamiliar to the familiar, from endless wandering to new found home.
It is this adventure with the unknown and un-home-like, with the ever changing sea and the uncertainties it raises up to the surface in constant challenge of our most settled and stable knowledge ( scientia/theoria), that may serve as starting point for a fitting and usable genealogy of metaphor. One in which the familiar world of representation gives way to real-time exploration of the unknown, to emergent agencies and unpredictable materialities, to the multiple twistings and turnings of humans toward fleeting things in the attempt to capture things within finely woven and rewoven webs of metaphors or retuned tropic networks/models that have been laid and continually rearranged for them.
To glimpse how and why this tropic performativity might be transferred from sea to land, from myth to science, I’d like to consider briefly a recent novel, E. Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Shipping News .[15] A number of aspects of this novel will prove helpful in articulating a role for metaphor as performative that is the purpose of this paper.
The Shipping News is the story of a sad and hapless soul, Quoyle, who is, to borrow the title of an early chapter, “cast away” from the safe haven of ordinary domestic life and set adrift on the sea of life by the all too contingent, shifting, and unpredictable happenstances of the modern world. At the urgings of a long lost aunt, he escapes from New York State to their ancestral, but long abandoned, home—“half ruined, isolated, the walls and doors of it pumiced by stony lives of dead generations” (p. 47)—in Newfoundland where he lands a job writing the shipping news for the local weekly newpaper, The Gammy Bird .[16] Quoyle, then, sets to work fixing the house and writing what his editor and the locals call the shipping news: the comings and goings, the odyssey of strangers and strange events that drift in and out of the harsh and fog-bound Newfoundland landscape, where the storm-prone ocean meets the cold and sparsely populated margins of North Atlantic civilization.
The newspaper itself assembles an odd and outcast collection of staff; its staple news is but a congeries of disparate events, catastrophes, accidents, and assorted horrors, local and international. In its lack of coherence, its lack of anything like a cohesive narrative ethos and a corresponding cohesive community, The Gammy Bird mirrors the marginal existence of the novel’s characters. Like those characters, the newspaper occupies a social and physical hinterland, a borderland between more securely rooted communities firmly linked to the larger communities of the North American landmass and the physical vicissitudes and uncertainties of a wild and unforgiving sea. Both newspaper and a character such as Quoyle find no ready-made ties nor personal narratives, but instead must forge links among people and things by sheer will and inventiveness.

It is the will of the drifter and outcast in a New-Found-Land that desperately attempts to make a home out of the ruins and uprooted remains of a fragmented, postmodern landscape. Indeed, Quoyle is something of a postmodern Odysseus—minus the cunning and extended sea journey! Despite living on land, Quoyle occupies a precarious, ever shifting existence: the very ancestral home that brought him to Newfoundland was itself dragged across the frozen bay and located on its isolated cape where it is literally lashed to the earth by seamen’s ropes, rather than permanently rooted to the earth itself.
Further episodes and experiences serve to remind Quoyle of the contingency and arbitrariness of life on land. One of his fellow reporters, Billy Pretty, a wizened, long time resident of the island, takes Quoyle by boat to Gaze Island where he tells the story of the “Home Boys”—young boys from three to twelve years old given up by families in Britain before the First World War and shipped from custodial “homes” to lives as indentured hands on Canadian farms. Billy’s own father was a home boy, saved from a life of unspeakable hardship and loneliness by a tragic shipwreck off Gaze Island in 1909. One of only 24 survivors from a ship carrying 314 children, he was the lucky one, kept by a family who claimed he had died when a new ship came for the surviving children. Like the awestruck survivors of Shakespeare’s The Tempest , Billy Pretty’s father found himself alive on a new found island. Unlike Shakespeare’s motley survivors whose fates were in the hands of the magician, Prospero, Billy’s father owed his very existence and life, his new found, if purloined, identity to the vagaries of the sea and the contingency of events.
Within this starkly evocative land-and-sea-scape, where identities are easily and randomly lost, found, and exchanged, the very solidity of foundations themselves—solid bed rock itself—takes on the elusiveness and contingency of the sea, and of man-made artifacts and arbitrary associations. On their way out to Gaze Island, Billy Pretty’s discourse is filled with talk of rocks, those breaking the waves of the sea and set in the way of would be sailors. For Billy, each has its name; not, however, “proper” names, but rather such names as the ram and the lamb, the comb, shag rock, and hell’s rock. Names that are properly not names, but analogies that seek to domesticate wild and un-home-like features of nature—to map, plot, and bring under some semblance of order features of a larger, humanly inhospitable and unpredictable environment. Lest we take this naming, hubristically, as a comfort and source of mastery, Billy prettily disabuses us of this sense of mastery, reminding Quoyle instead of the dangers and uncertainties that lie just beneath the surface: “We spoke of the names of rocks on the way out, you’ll remember, but there’s other things in the sea that’s a mortal danger, and they can never have names because they shift and prowl and vanish” (p. 167).
In the face of such constant flux and contingency Proulx fabricates a wonderfully fitting metaphor that works its way throughout the book: that of knots and the fashioning of knots. Drawing, as we’re told in the Acknowledgments, on Clifford W. Ashley’s 1944 reference work, The Ashley Book of Knots , Proulx frequently cites definitions of various knots and uses of marine ropes as epigraphs to many of her chapters. Visually, the breaks in her chapters are marked by a stylized illustration of a knot. Unlike the chaotic and fragmented news that is Quoyle’s shipping news and the reportage of The Gammy Bird , Proulx’s The Shipping News , despite its dizzying juxtaposition of episodes, is tied together by the image and metaphor of the knot. Perhaps it is more just to say that, like Quoyle’s work, relationships, and life narrative, Proulx’s book owes its power and coherence to its skillful use of just that metaphor. For, out of the very liminality of character, event, and place, Proulx shows her character, Quoyle, through sheer will and dumb-luck invention (no heroic and cunning Odysseus, he, but merely a mortal, postmodern wanderer and hero, malgré lui ), knotting together a kind of existence, a set of relationships, and a livable narrative, out of the arbitrary things and contingent circumstances that life throws his way.
In the end, we can say that, for better or worse, it is his twisting and turning in response to disturbing shifts in the sea of life that causes Quoyle—whose very name means “a coil of rope”—to knot and tie things together: things, home, family, community. While fabricated and “artificial,” such ties nonetheless serve both healing and constructive purposes for Quoyle and many of those around him. Like Odysseus, Quoyle, too, is a man of “twists and turns”: through necessity and invention, he, too, is able to grasp hold of unfamilar things, to transform the un-home-like into something like a home. And it is this ability to respond performatively to the flux of circumstances and things by knotting them together in unanticipated ways that makes Quoyle something of a postmodern Odysseus and potential icon for a mode of reasoned response to the flux of agencies and materialities emergent from scientific practice. In like manner, The Shipping News ’s trope of knots and knotting constitute a fitting trope for metaphor itself and its use, in a performative idiom, within science. Metaphors, we may suggest, are precisely the ties that bind: the very artificiality/artifactuality of links that “create” things, or rather create stability, out of the shifting/mobile/unmoored things-at-hand.
As a step toward a usable genealogy of metaphor, we can suggest that metaphor, like knotting, is both a performative and an embodied activity, one, that is, that is and must be responsive to the contingencies and material resistances of practice that evoke and require accommodations. Metaphor is, then, both part of embodied practice and a tool of reason. Yet, it suggests a kind of reason that is multiple, contextual, performative, and to some extent public and negotiated. Metaphor, then, deploys a kind of reasoning that is closer to the wit and cunning of an Odysseus than the abstract intelligence and disembodied reason of a Plato.
Hence, as a final genealogical gesture, let me point toward the sort of regime of reason suggested by Bruno Latour’s recent critique of the Platonic “settlement” in which reason—as “Right”—came to be opposed to “Might”! Latour, who has insistently championed the artifactuality of the Nature/Culture dichotomy and its foundational role in delineating modernity itself, [17] pursues the implications that pervasive cultural narratives (such as the one evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin highlights as operating in the “doctrine of DNA” [18]) have for science, science studies, and for political discourse. Specifically, in “Socrates’ and Callicles’ Settlement—or, The Invention of the Impossible Body Politic,” [19] Latour turns to Plato’s Gorgias in order to characterize and criticize what he sees as a misguided “settlement”: one in which “knowledge” is conceived as abstract demonstration produced invariably by “reason” and (here is the crucial move) utterly opposed to politics conceived as the rule of the many. For Latour, this settlement has created an “impossible Body Politic”: a body politic, that is, in which the many—figured as mere “might”—are always trumped by right—that is, “reason” figured only as abstract geometrical demonstration. Here the body as metaphor powerfully enacts a familiar cultural narrative not unlike that revealed by Lewontin's analysis of the rhetoric of molecular biology and its doctrine of DNA. In both cases, a hierarchical, top-down schematic is at work narratively reconfiguring its respective theaters of operation. In the one case, Lewontin finds the master molecule, DNA, producing and controlling the molecular and cellular stuff of the body and life itself. In the other, Latour finds a body politic saved from the anarchy of its unruly members only by the stringent, and unrelenting, top-down rule of “reason.”
Both narratives effectively diminish the role of the body, which, indeed, barely seems to matter. Lewontin emphatically claims that this is wrong. Latour reveals the great price paid—by science, by politics, but ultimately by democratic society—for the settlement that would accept this top-down narrative of the body politic. His challenge to us to reimagine the body politic through reimagining science and politics carries with it far reaching implications.
Just as Lewontin would deny the frictionless, undeformed translation of DNA-as-code-as-information in a top-down model of biological development, so, too, Latour seeks to reveal the ideal of undeformed top-down dissemination of information within the body politic as a myth that disguises the myriad bottom-up microprocesses that actually produce political consensus and, yes, knowledge. In Latour’s vision, politics must acknowledge the multiple translations and negotiations that occur in the body politic not as a fall from grace, not as a corruption of the rule of reason, but, rather, as the very practice of reason—of political reason—itself and as a necessity. [20] We may dare to say that, in this Latourian vision of politics and science—of a possible Body Politic—reason must always be embodied, must always have and enact a history.
In challenging Plato’s ideal of knowledge as undistorted representation and in his plea to resurrect the open space of public debate and with it a kind of emergent, practical reason that is responsive to the changing agencies and material, embodied vicissitudes of sociopolitical life, Latour contributes to the reclaiming of an alternative genealogy of reason that intersects with our effforts to sketch the outlines of an alternative genealogy of metaphor. Latour’s insistence on the necessity of “perturbations”—seen by Plato as the kind of distortions of pure reason that transforms the agora into a site of counterfeits—on the necessity, that is, of multiple translations and negotiations of knowledge in the practice of collective reasoning, complements my emphasis on the performative nature of metaphors and their narrative emplotments in science.

Metaphor and Science: Discourse, Practice, Narrative, and the Performative Idiom

Where, then, does this leave our understanding of metaphor of science, and where do we go from here? Let me briefly summarize some major points that our previous discussions and, especially, the attempt to suggest a useable genealogy of metaphor, leads us to:
-Metaphors are not “improper” representations, or distortions of timeless, rational truths. Rather, metaphors may be grasped as fabricated linguistic “knots” : they are, precisely and unashamedly, humanly produced, constructed, confabulated tools performatively translating collective knowledge-trajectories into possibilities for concrete practices. Through such translations, metaphors tie together “things,” “practices,” and “theories.”
-The performative nature of metaphors—taken together with their informing and temporally specific, situated narratives—are necessary to the embodied and situated practices of communities.
-Hence, a performative understanding of metaphor and narrative in science leads to a notion of science—of science as practice—as emergent (as per Pickering) and therefore as an emergent cultural product/process: cultural processes of repetition, recollection, and reconfiguration are therefore processes central to the production of scientific knowledge, meaning, and practices.
In what follows, I shall merely try, as briefly as possible, to suggest ways to flesh out and illustrate these key points and link them to my prior articulations of the role of metaphor, narratives, and the metaphorics of science.

  1. Linguistic Knots: Translating Collective Knowledge-Trajectories into Practices
In an earlier essay, I argued that metaphors operate as mediums of exchange between and among discourses and that, from the perspective of any one scientific discipline or field at any given moment, such metaphoric exchanges served to constitute an ecology of discourses or what might alternatively be called a synchronic discursive network. These notions of an ecology or network represent instantiations of what, in a more explicitly performative idiom, I have been referring to as the work done by metaphors as fabricated linguistic knots . That is to say, such key metaphors serve as tools that not only help to articulate the specific practices of a given scientific field, but also forge links to other discursive practices.
Through such links, metaphors work to translate (or transfer) trajectories of knowledge in one field into the possibility of specific, and quite concrete, practices in scientific discourses. For example, the ancient Greek, and especially Athenian, experience of political life created a trajectory of political knowledge that enabled the Greek polis to conduct an orderly political life through the demarcation of boundaries and categories of appropriate action. Through a shared metaphor—that of balance, or the rule of equals ( isonomia),—political discourse was linked to medical discourse, the body politic to the corporeal body. By tying together these two discourses through the metaphoric knot of “balance,” the concrete medical practices of “Hippocratic” medicine came to take shape. Practices aimed at restoring the body to its characteristic and healthful balance—diet, regulation of one’s physical and domestic environment, etc.—are at once material, embodied manifestations of an underlying metaphoric order and embodied links between medical and political practice.

Similarly, we could invoke other examples of such metaphoric links and embodied practices, ranging from the early modern metaphorics of the Book and the exegetical or descriptive practices of Paracelsian medicine, Galilean science, and Baconian “natural and experimental history” to the modern metaphorics of information, recognition, or networks in post-War molecular biology and immunology.

b. Performative Metaphors and Embodied Practice of Communities
Just as Latour’s critique of Plato’s deployment of a disembodied, abstract notion of reason as the only legitimate basis for establishing “right” and therefore a solid basis for a polity opens up, in his view, the possibility of a “possible Body Politic”—that is, a polity in which political practice can operate from the bottom up to negotiate in real time the emergent problems of a disparate community, so, too, the rejection of representational understandings of metaphor and the recognition of the importance of narrative redescriptions of metaphoric formations opens up the possibility of a possible scientific community. That is to say, rather than focusing upon an idealized communitity in which stable meanings located in abstract scientific knowledge and theories are exchanged and extended without perturbation, distortion, or the messiness of constant negotiation, the dynamic of metaphoric modeling responding and accommodating to the performative flux of events and material-human agencies through the simultaneous reconfiguring of narratives and re-tuning (in Pickering’s sense) of machines puts back into the picture both the embodied scientist and her textualized, if temporally emerging, actions.
Pickering, I would argue is quite correct to insist upon the temporal emergence of agencies in practice. But the question that must always be asked is: emergence from what? This question does not suppose, nor still less seek, some transcendent and originary, quasi-theological answer. Quite to the contrary, what it seeks are the circumstances that provoke the emergence of agencies that can be grasped, measured, studied, even manipulated out of the flux of things that, otherwise, remain unfamiliar and ungraspable. If, as Pickering vividly suggests, transformations of scientific culture emerge from the “dance of agency” and the “dialectic of resistance and accommodation” what is it that sets the dance of agency in motion and what is it that creates the possibility of resistance and therefore the need for accommodation? I would answer that it is the “twists and turns” of metaphor—of the metaphorics of scientific discourse and practice embodied in machines and in human and nonhuman agents. Metaphoric construction of practices as simultaneously discursive and material allow for the modeling of experimental situations that in turn produce the “dance of agency” and resultant resistances of which Pickering speaks. But, in re-tuning machines and agents to accommodate such resistance, it must not be forgotten that particular deployments of the metaphoric—in, for example, Pickering’s “models”—are driven by implicit narratives that shape, not just the meanings (semantics), but the performative possibilities (pragmatics) of such metaphors/models. Hence, I would argue, that it is precisely the situated, context-responsive, and socially located narrative redescriptions and reconfigurations of metaphors/models that produce the kind of re-tuned performances that Pickering sees as the very embodiment of practice. [21]

c. Science as Emergent and Cultural Processes of Repetition and Reconfiguration
From the previous section, the process of narrative or cultural redescription emerges as an important component of a performative understanding of metaphor. I have highlighted this process elsewhere, [22] but much more needs to be said and this is neither the place nor the time to say it. I would only like to suggest that this process is allied with a host of related cultural processes—such as repetition, reconfiguration, recollection, retranscription, and now, perhaps, remediation—that are emerging as part of the discourses of history, anthropology, neurosciences, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies of media. Many, if not all, of these processes allow us to begin to imagine temporal and cultural transformation: the process of change itself. And each of them, I hope to argue elsewhere, provide a way of envisioning how structures—that conundrum of poststructural discourse in the humanities—may be subject to change. For—to anticipate another argument—repetition and associated processes are never simply [mechanical] reproduction.


[1.] Andrew Pickering, The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 5-6.
[2.] "If we would speak of Things as they are, we must allow, that all the art of Rhetorick, besides Order and Clearness, all the artificial and figurative application of Words Eloquence hath invented, are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong Ideas, move the Passions, and thereby mislead the Judgment; and so indeed are perfect cheats." John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding , book 3, p. 146. See Geoff Bennington, "The Perfect Cheat: Locke and Empiricism's Rhetoric," in The Figural and the Literal: Problems in the History of Science and Philosophy, 1630-1800 , ed. Andrew E. Benjamin, Geoffrey N. Cantor, and John R. R. Christie (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987), pp. 103-123; p. 103.
[3] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life , trans. Steven F. Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. For a different view, see Roger Chartier, On the Edge of the Cliff: History, Language, Practices , trans Lydia G. Cochrane (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977). I am indebted to Jonathan Dewald and his unpublished manuscript, “Roger Chartier and the Fate of Cultural History,” for bringing Chartier’s recent views to my attention.
[4] Note on Pickering.
[5] On narrative and science, see Joseph Rouse, Engaging Science: How to Understand Its Practices Philosophically ; idem, “The Narrative Reconstruction of Science,” Inquiry 33 (1990): 179-196; and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997). See also my work cited below.
[6] See James J. Bono, The Word of God and the Languages of Man: Interpreting Nature in Early Modern Science and Medicine (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995); and idem, Figuring Science: Metaphor, Narrative, and the Cultural Location of Scientific Revolutions (Stanford: Stanford University Press, in progress). For a reading of Aristotle’s positive views of metaphor, and for an important book on metaphor, see Gemma Corradi Fiumara, The Metaphoric Process: Connections between Language and Life (London/New York: Routledge, 1995).
[7] James J. Bono, “Science, Discourse, and Literature: The Role/Rule of Metaphor in Science,” in Literature and Science: Theory and Practice , ed. Stuart Peterfreund (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990), pp. 59-89; and idem, “Locating Narratives: Science, Metaphor, Communities, and Epistemic Styles,” in Grenzüberschreitungen in der Wissenschaft: Crossing Boundaries in Science , ed. Peter Weingart (Baden-Baden: Nomos Velagsgesellschaft, 1995), pp. 119-151.
[8] Richard Rorty, “Is Natural Science a Natural Kind?”in his Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, Philosophical Papers , vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 46-62.
[9] Cite Pickering.
[10] Bono, “Role/Rule of Metaphor”; idem, “Locating Narratives.”
[11. Pickering, Mangle of Practice, p. 218. Cited from an unpublished paper by Simon Schaffer, “Empires of Physics,” presented at a conference, “Empires and Knowledge,” at the University of Cambridge, March 1993. ]
[11] Pickering, Mangle of Practice , p. 19.
[12] Bono, “Role/Rule of Metaphor,” p. 72. See also Jacques Derrida, “White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy,” in Margins of Philosophy , trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 207-271.
[13] For metaphor, the metaphorics of shipwrecks in Western culture, and the perspective of theory legitimated by the distancing trope of the landlubber, see Hans Blumenberg, Shipwreck with Spectator: Paradigms of a Metaphor for Existence , trans. Steven Rendall (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997). On myth, storytelling, and logos in Aristotle, see G. E. R. Lloyd, Demystifying Mentalities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
[14] Homer, The Odyssey , trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Viking, 1996).
[15] E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News (Simon & Schuster, 1993).
16 As the epigraph to chapter 7 tells us, “The name is related to the days of sail, when two ships falling in with each other at sea would back their yards and shout the news. The ship to windward would back her main yards and the one to leeward her foreyards for close maneuvering. This was gamming” (p. 56). The newspaper’s name thus suggests the contingency, arbitrariness, materiality, and liminality of communication and social interaction under harsh, demanding, and isolated circumstances enforced by the surrounding sea.
[17.] See especially, Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern , trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).
[18.] Among many scientific and popular publications, see Richard C. Lewontin, Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA (New York: Harper Collins, 1991); and, idem, "The Dream of the Human Genome," New York Review of Books , May 28, 1992, pp. 31-40.
[19] Bruno Latour, “Socrates’ and Callicles’ Settlement—or, The Invention of the Impossible Body Politic,” Configurations 5 (1997): 189-240.
[20.] For an important reformulation of reason in relation to desire, and its necessarily intersubjective nature, that points toward its public role see Susan Wells, Sweet Reason: Rhetoric and the Discourses of Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
[21] Note on Pickering and Rouse’s emphasis on narrative and the temporality of science. By linking metaphor and narrative, my account, I believe, includes both those elements of narrative and time that Pickering finds in Rouse’s important work and allows for an account of the discursive dimensions of practice itself.
[22] See Bono, “Locating Narratives.”