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Milbourne, Chelsea Redeker and Sarah Hallenbeck

Winter 2013, 43:5, pages 401-424

Gender, Material Chronotopes, and the Emergence of the Eighteenth-Century Microscope


This essay expands on previous feminist rhetorical scholarship to account for the ways that material, spatial, and temporal rhetorics operate together to enable gender performances and relations. Extending M.M. Bakhtin’s concept of the literary chronotope, we offer the concept of the ‘‘materialchronotope’’ to examine how routinized engagements with material objects, such as emerging technologies, and their surrounding material–rhetorical contexts facilitate particular embodied performances of gender. Drawing from the example of the eighteenth-century microscope, we demonstrate how three coexisting designs—the pocket microscope, the solar microscope, and the standard microscope—each positioned women users differently in time and space, facilitating different relationships to science, nature, and femininity. Whereas previous scholarship has emphasized the extent to which new technologies are incorporated into existing social institutions, becoming complicit in the maintenance of gender dichotomies, we draw from this example to argue that these boundaries are not simply maintained but constantly under renegotiation.

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