Art Imitating Study

Inherently generative, the placenta is sometimes represented or used in artistic practice. Some people are grossed out by this, while others appreciate commemorations of this special organ that is integral to bringing a new life into the world. In my case, the placenta is my object of study and I spend a lot (A LOT) of time thinking about it from a scientific, theoretical and philosophical standpoint. For a gift for generous new friends, and as a way to think placenta from a different angle, I stitched this:

Cross Stitched Placenta by Rebecca Scott

Text on the side reads “Thank you” – to my friends, and to this thing I’ve had the pleasure of studying for the past three years.

Placenta as Protagonist

A casual fireside conversation about the placenta with a new friend last summer inspired a wonderful short story about studying placenta. It’s by Chris Benjamin, author of the new novel Drive-by Saviours. The story is a wonderful mashup of worlds… just like the placenta is a mashup of biological and social worlds occupied by mother, father, and fetus. I’m utterly impressed at Chris’ insight into this enigmatic organ which is typically so little understood and appreciated, and a little tickled that my commentary on the placenta reached into the world of literature. An excerpt from the story:

“Well,” she said, “Thank God I don’t work with the Kaili of Central Sulawesi. I’d never get the chance to study a placenta if everybody buried them.”

I smiled and nodded, wondered if she was perhaps a bit crazy. I hoped so. Crazy women liked me.

“I’m a placental scientist,” she said.

I nodded, as if that was only natural, but the revelation shocked me. “Small world,” I said. “I study ethnographic interpretations of the placenta.”

“Excuse me?”

“Um, I study various indigenous cultures and their treatments of the placenta. What it means to them and what they do with it.”

“Fascinating,” she said.

I smiled.

Chris is always looking for avenues to publish material like this. Contact him here.

Bits of Knowledge

(Un)becoming Brontosaurus

This beautiful, becoming image was painted in 1897 by Charles R. Knight when there were still brontosauruses. Not, of course, when brontosauruses actually lived. Rather, it was painted when ‘brontosaurus’ was what we called the prehistoric animal that so captures our imagination with its long neck and tail and tiny (relatively speaking) head. This painting is a delightful mashup of imagination, art, taxonomy, naming, competing truth claims, and the historicity of knowledge – that is, the ways in which knowledge is not ‘truth’ that is ‘known,’ but an evolving production (if you will excuse the pun), an accumulation of past events, be they ‘discoveries,’ ‘namings,’ postage stamps or movies (like Jurassic Park). This is a production in which ‘non-scientists’ participate, even to the chagrin of scientists. We’re now supposed to call this beast Apatosaurus, but most of us don’t, and I think there’s  something political in that. Trumping the conventions of naming that fueled the bickering described in Stephen Jay Gould’s Bully for Brontosaurus, it insinuates imagination, culture, and memory into the fold of scientific knowledge. 


Dinosaurs are a favorite topic of mine to read about on the internet. When I do this, I’m participating in a phenomenon we might call ‘internetting,’ an activity I think many of my generation, milieu, and proclivities spend a great deal of time doing. It entails seeking and consuming vast amounts of information from the internet, following the links to the next interesting subject that catches one’s attention. This comprises a chain of knowledge consumption that can go in wild trajectories.

What is significant to me about internetting are the ways in which it adds dimension to our understandings of the role of knowledge in everyday life. The purpose of internetting is not to find out information that I need in order to do or accomplish something; it is similarly not a form of study for the purposes of gaining competency or expertise. Internetting is experiencing information for the purposes of enjoyment. It is about experiencing knowledge, and finding pleasure in that experience beyond any ‘use value,’ including even retaining the information to memory.

The idea that knowledge is pleasurable is not new, but perhaps the incredible accessibility that some people have to the knowledge that fuels this pastime is unprecedented. I’d love to see a qualitative study  that analyzes the nuances of knowledge enacted by internetting. I suspect that like myself, other prolific internetters must be spurred by great curiosity.

Digital Painting by Katie Scott

Recent Publication

My first sole-authored, peer-reviewed publication was recently published in a special issue of Poroi on the rhetoric of science. It is entitled “Meat My Hero: ‘I have a Dream’ of Living Language in the Work of Donna Haraway, Or, Ride ‘Em Cowboy!,” Poroi: Vol. 6: Iss. 2: p. 3-14, available at: .

I start the paper with inspiration from a favorite blog of mine,, and from a particular “fail” on that blog.

In the introduction to the special issue, the editor had this to say about my piece:

It is a well-known feature of rhetorical discourse that it treats examples as more than mere illustrations. It allows them to guide inquiry and, if they are compelling, to count as proofs. Rebecca Scott’s Meat My Hero explores a funny but telling example of a child’s mistake to explicate and commend Donna Haraway’s approach to science studies. Scott’s close analysis of the example makes the main points of Haraway’s approach clearer than they sometimes are in academic paraphrases, or, truth be told, her own writings. In its very clarity, Scott’s explication constitutes an argument on behalf of Haraway’s insights into the institutional folkways and value-laden commitments of science, especially its masculinist gender bias.

I’m eager to hear any comments or feedback you might have on the article.