Feminist Cultural Studies of Science and Technology by Maureen McNeil

By Maureen McNeil

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Case study 1: capturing the English imagination – Newton in late eighteenth-century English poetry The late eighteenth century is an interesting period for Newtonian studies, for there is a rich vein of Newtonian imagery in the poetry of the time – most notably, in that of Erasmus Darwin and William Blake. Darwin and Blake had much in common. Their social networks to some extent overlapped; they were both thought of as radicals and they explored within their poetry the world of natural philosophy.

A cultural studies perspective acknowledges that the contemporary meaning of science is not restricted to the domain of its formally designated practitioners, but rather registers that it is constructed across a range of disparate locations and material forms, including, as suggested previously, tourist sites, postage stamps and so on. Newton’s figure in these locations is just as much a locus of meaning as that reconstructed by historians poring over his primary texts. Indeed, this chapter has only hinted at the range of research projects which might be undertaken to provide a fuller picture of Newton’s significance in popular English culture.

This strand of cultural studies highlights the notion that an understanding of technoscience necessarily involves studying the multiple, diverse and complex interactions with science and technology that mark daily life in the contemporary Western world. This part of the field is also characterized by specific methodological and theoretical adaptations of British cultural studies. One example is the employment of the concepts of subculture and counterculture. Penley and Ross (1991b), for instance, in addition to their joint work, were also undertaking individual studies of specific subcultures and countercultures.

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