The “Borderlands” part of the project challenges the myth that there is a clear boundary line between science and the rest of society. It suggests instead that there are shifting borderlands – where the distinctions between science and the citizen are much more blurred. In these borderlands we can see how science is embedded in society and embodied in people, places, objects and practices.
Borderlands travels back in history to trace the origins of the ‘scientist’ as a distinct species – it explores how the disciplines and practices of science have become regarded as separate from other forms of culture and learning – and it considers the consequences for both science and the individual in a future world of mass data, genetic profiling and Big Pharma.
It explores these borderlands through a history of the “scientist” and the scientific imaginary.
Scientists are some of the most powerful people in society. They tell us how to live our lives. Their work has helped build the world that we live in. Their ideas have shaped not only what we know and think, but also the way that we know and think it. Yet one of their guiding principles is to pretend that they do not exist. In the 19th century the new professional scientists could be trusted because they were professionals. By the 20th century we could trust objective knowledge because trained experts had removed themselves from the picture so as not to obstruct the view. The most important quality for a scientist was to be invisible. The early 19th century was a time when we could all be heroes, when we could make significant contributions to the study of nature – a time when we were invited to join The Republic of Science. However, inventing the scientist also meant inventing a new relationship with the public.
Above all what are the stories that we tell about science and the stories that scientists tell about themselves. Scientists’ stories of “the olden days” separate their heroes from the society that created them and the trick of invisibility gives a convenient way for heroes to avoid becoming villains – accept the credit when things go well and blame the “abuse” of science when they do not.
Storytelling is central to our understanding of science, scientists and the scientific imaginary. RESHAPE explores the messy, porous boundary between ourselves and science by looking at its language, its literature, its ideas, its history. Through its own reimagining and storytelling it examines not just how science is part of society but also how science is defined through its interaction with the social, cultural and political world around it. Through the power of storytelling RESHAPE shows that encounters in the borderlands are filled with real-world, personal and sometimes painful consequences. After all, they are where we all live.