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Fables of Attention: Wonder in Feminist Theory and Scientific Practice


Fables of attention are didactic stories about the consequences of how we attend to the world. They act on our sensoria; they teach us how to pay attention. In this dissertation, which is located in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), I use the genre of the fable to explore the relationship between attention and storytelling across different ecologies of practice. Specifically, I focus on wonder as a mode of attention in feminist theory and scientific practice. As I read and write fables of attention, wonder does not stay still; it transforms and accrues different meanings as the chapters unfold.

Chapter 1 looks at wonder as epistemological dilation in the scientific articles of American ichthyologist E.W. Gudger (1866-1965), showing how it shaped his scientific objects and guided his passionate empiricism. Chapter 2 tells the story of how STS scholar Helen Verran shifts her mode of attention from wonder to disconcertment as she struggles to remain accountable for the colonial inheritances of her knowledge-making practices. In Chapter 3 I return to wonder, refiguring it for speculative feminist theory. Isabelle Stengers is my guide as I read speculative wonder into the work of iconoclastic evolutionary biologists Joan Roughgarden and Lynn Margulis. Here wonder helps me to consider how to tell more responsive and response-able stories about life. The Conclusion is about thinking with aesthetics, the arts of enchantment, and the promise of an illuminated wonder.

Following in the tradition of feminist science studies, each of these chapters is guided by the cosmopolitical question: "What kinds of attention can foster more livable, breathable technoscientific worlds?"

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