Dianne Newell


Donna Haraway has argued that women’s engagement with the masculine domain of science and modern culture usually occurs at the peripheries and from the depths, not from the platform of the powerful. This paper considers the popular culture fields of science fiction and nature writing, exploring the contributions of two American women writers who both operated at the peripheries of science and landed on the ‘platform of the powerful’: Judith Merril and Rachel Carson. Their domestic Cold War envisioning and conflation of literature and science and their insights into the inherently political nature of science anticipated the foundational feminist discussions on the intersections of feminism, literature, and science that followed in the 1970s and 1980s. Merril’s postwar, literary avant-garde ideas together with the stories of the later American feminist science fiction writers prompted Haraway’s challenging suggestion in her transformative study, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (1989) that we might read natural science as a narrative—potent fictions of science—and listen to scientists as storytellers. Rachel Carson, considered the founder of the modern American environmental movement and the author of the famous polemic Silent Spring (1962), had advocated the idea of natural science as narrative decades earlier. The paper traces how Carson links to Merril indirectly and Haraway to Merril directly. In the Cold War decades, both Merril and Carson struggled successfully from and within the margins of science to reshape literatures dealing with possible futures and alternative presents.


Donna Haraway, ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism as a Site of Discourse on the Privilege of Partial Perspective,’ Feminist Studies 14, no. 3 (1988), pp. 575-600; Haraway, ‘Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s,’ Socialist Review 15, no. 2 (1985), pp. 65-108. Both are reprinted (though with slightly altered titles) in Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge 1991).

Author Biography

Dianne Newell is Professor of History and Acting Director of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. She delivered a version of this paper at the 10th Biannual Swiss Congress on Women’s History: ‘Gender and Knowledge,’ University of Misericorde, Fribourg, Switzerland.