On Naming Acts
Like counting, naming entities is a ubiquitous part of science and everyday life. This talk is a sustained reflection on the practices and politics of giving names to things made or found. With the Chimera (chimerism, microchimerism) as a dramatic test case, I recover the precise moments in the past century where a scientific researcher applied the Homeric name to a new phenomenon. The story visits a German botanist, a famous British transplant team working with cow twins, and a post-war human blood grouper, each of whom applies the moniker in a new way and thus makes kin of very different sorts of creatures. These “naming acts” (an allusion to Austin’s “speech acts”) are ephemeral and nearly arbitrary to their originators, and self-evident technical terms to subsequent users. In everyday practice, names have a feel of inevitability, of rightness. Conversely, I make the case that their consequences are performative, in a world-making sense.
Departments of Sociology and Science & Technology Studies, York University
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