Thesis ID: CBB368756822

The Incorporeal Scientific Method: Gender, Hybridity, and the Rise of Material Science in American Literature, 1840–1900 (2020)


This dissertation demonstrates how nineteenth-century American authors deployed woman-centered fictional narratives to interrogate the rise of materialist epistemology brought about by scientific professionalization. Professionalization, which peaked in the 1840s, transformed American scientific practice by systematically invalidating immaterial sources of knowledge (such as intuition and folk expertise) and aligning the immaterial with feminine ways of knowing, a process that created scientific professions dominated by men and a material scientific method. The fiction I examine engages this trend by turning to the figure of the hybrid woman scientist—women such as the racialized plant-girl of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (1844). By tracing the figure of the hybrid woman scientist, I show how writers use her as the nexus where competing nineteenth-century scientific methodologies both stand in opposition to one another and coalesce into a method that rejects a dualistic approach. I draw upon Elizabeth Grosz’s incorporeal, which refers to the “subsistence of the ideal in the material or corporeal,” to define this third option as an incorporeal scientific method. This project alters our understanding of how American writers worked to understand, resist, or uphold the changing epistemologies of scientific practice throughout the nineteenth century. My project’s historicist treatment of the incorporeal method and hybridity provides a prehistory to current scholarship that considers the agency of non-human life by positing the equality of all matter (such as new materialism, posthumanism, and plant studies). Nineteenth-century hybrid women encapsulate the possibility of mixture both between races and between species while also deploying methods that are irreducible to strict materialism or idealism. Consequently, the term hybridity—re-contextualized via nineteenth-century literature—may provide a tool to address critiques that new materialist thought produces an overly reductive ontology and under-theorizes race and gender.

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Authors & Contributors
Jones, Claire G.
Atwater, Edward C.
Bergland, Renée L.
Canel, Annie
Creese, Mary R. S.
Creese, Thomas M.
British Journal for the History of Science
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Social Studies of Science
Ambix: Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry
American Heritage of Invention and Technology
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Beacon Press
Harwood Academic Publishers
Oxford University Press
Princeton University Press
Scarecrow Press
Women in science
Science and gender
Professions and professionalization
Fountaine, Margaret
Maunder, Annie S. D.
Mitchell, Maria
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
21st century
20th century, late
17th century
United States
Great Britain
Du Pont Company
Women's Engineering Society

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