2020 Day 1: 25th May Presentation

The CEO of the Cell: How Centralized Thinking and Dominance Hierarchy Pervade in the Discourse on Living Cell

Charudatta Navare
Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR, Mumbai, India 

This paper looks at the way the ideology of social dominance hierarchy influences the discourse on biological cells. Through the use of various visual and verbal metaphors, the cell is portrayed as a centralized system, with the nucleus as the leader or the control center. Although metaphors, like models, are nothing more than working hypotheses, often used metaphors become jargon of the field, and become an ideological lens that shapes the way we see and investigate. I dissect the visual representations as well as metaphors to note the tendency of postulating centralized systems and attempt to trace the appeal of such centralized narratives. I problematize these centralized narratives by borrowing from complex systems research (Resnick, 1996). Alternative narratives are explored wherein DNA is input data for the biochemical computing network of the cell (Altman and Koppel, 1990) instead of the program, or simply a book of ingredients instead of being a recipe or instruction manual. I argue for a decentralized view of the cell, one without a single stable locus of control within the cell. Finally, I discuss the two-way interaction of scientific narratives with the social discourse and analyze the ways in which scientific narratives can be used to justify and reinforce social dominance hierarchy.