Lecturer in Science Communication
Imperial College, London
Something Made: Fashioning a post-positivist science documentary
This thesis is a practice-led exploration of how science is represented in the documentary film. The practice part is a science documentary that deliberately eschews a number of key stylistic elements common to what may be called the ‘classic’ science documentary. The aim is not to arbitrarily restrict the filmmaker but rather to explore what sort of a documentary of science might be possible in the absence of certain features that, on the face of it at least, appear to be predicated on an out-dated positivism.
The film, Hopeful Monsters: An Experiment, is not in itself an argument for these post-positivist ideas but an experiment that implicitly critiques the philosophical underpinning of the classic science programme. This written dissertation is designed, therefore, to make that critique explicit. It demonstrates, first, how the classic science documentary is indeed informed by an outdated view of the nature of science —the so-called ‘received view’—and second, it develops an alternative, ‘constructivist’ view of science in light of which the film, Hopeful Monsters is evaluated. The dissertation concludes that in its combination of documentary modes and its inconclusive narrative structure, Hopeful Monsters, succeeds in representing science and the scientific-self as distinctly different from the representation of science in the classic science documentary. Furthermore, this alternative representation is indeed consonant with a post-positivist, ‘constructivist’ view of the nature of scientific practice and of the experience of the scientist in carrying out his or her work.