Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Intra-Active: The Child/animal in Children's SF

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Intra-Active: The Child/animal in Children's SF

Article excerpt

In 1979 Ruth Hubbard asserted that 'science is the most respected legitimator of new realities' (Hubbard et al 1979, p.8-9). Science, however, is quite clearly political, particularly the speed, competition, capital and power which underpins it's overarching cultural influence in constructing 'reality', importantly the 'reality' of being human. Science's authority over 'human-ness' is evidenced in contemporary legislation regarding, for example, stem cell research and current Australian parliamentary debates (requiring a 'conscience vote'), which points to the complex ethical and cultural issues that are inherent in the production of new scientific realities. A concurrent institutional and epistemological distinction between the humanities and the sciences renders dialogue between the two problematic, such a dialogue however is critical when, as Bruno Latour notes, somehow, science has 'take[n] all the important decisions' (Latour, cited in Flower 2003, p.104). While this schism remains, it hinders a responsible and accountable public and interdisciplinary engagement with scientific practices. The question that children's literature scholars might ask, and one that I attend to in this paper, concerns a function of children's literature; how does children's SF reflect and mediate these new realities?

In response to this polarised world and so directly speaking to this question, the connections between scientific practices and social practices are being more clearly elucidated in the area of feminist science studies. This growing critical field provides conceptual tools that alert us to the processes and practices, both social and scientific, through which 'reality' becomes sedimented. In this article I employ what Karen Barad (2000) calls 'agential literacy'--that is responsible science which acts or intra-acts between the sciences and the humanities. In Barad's work the term 'intra-act' represents a significant conceptual shift. Unlike the term 'interact' which designates activity between independent objects, and thus assumes the prior existence of independent objects, intra-act signifies 'ontologically primitive relations' (my emphasis, Barad 2003, p.815). For Barad, there is no such thing as a pre-existing autonomous object; there are only 'phenomena'. Phenomena are embodied concepts that have become meaningful through agential intra-actions. The term 'intra-act' signifies a primary science studies argument; that 'things' that come to be named or known are always relations. Extending this to notions of literacy, Barad writes that 'If by scientific literacy we simply mean the knowledge of scientific facts and methods, then this seems reasonable. But if our goal is agential literacy--knowing how to intra-act responsibly within the world--then we must all share the responsibility for preparing future generations to meet the challenges that lie ahead' (2000 p.246).

Children's literature, particularly that which traverses scientific and fictional discourse, functions as part of the traffic intra-acting in science and the humanities. The anxieties, pleasures and possibilities generated by technoscience are canvassed in many contemporary literary fictions with considerably more attention to socio-cultural ramifications than typically appears in scientific writing. There is a simultaneous disempowerment and freedom inherent in literature being relegated as 'fictive' space, against the 'factual' space of science. Fiction therefore has a significant role in constituting what Catherine Waldby calls the "biomedical imaginary", the site where 'medical ideas [...] derive their impetus from the fictitious, the connotative and from desire' (cited in Squire 2004, p.48). Childhood is a particularly potent material/discursive ground in this discussion. According to Elaine Ostry, children are the specific focus of biotechnologies, evident in their applications; creating "improved" children, designer babies, screening foetuses, and as the material site for the administration of neuropharmaceutical drugs (2004, p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.