There is a strong disciplinary element in science, which university politicians, research foundations and science managers prefer to emphasise.

What they usually don’t understand, but what most (younger) scientists know very well, is that there is also a strong playful and anarchistic dimension in scientific practice. Somewhat akin to the dichotomy between apollonian and dionysian.

A feature article in the last issue of The Scientist suggests that “creativity, do-it-yourself individualism, anti-establishmentarianism and attitude” make science more akin to punk music than most people would believe. Here are some quotes:

  • “Punk ethos is typified by a passionate adherence to individualism, creativity and freedom of expression with no regard to established opinions … Good scientific discipline is also typified by such qualities, including inquisitiveness and curiosity, with no entrenchment to established beliefs”.
  • Punk is “about the freedom to express what you want to express,” 
  • Both punk and science also value individualism and are not always embraced by society: “In that sense, I think both of them have a subcultural aspect to them.”
  • “We’re always looking for discoveries that challenge current thinking … Punk rock is like that, too”
  • “Scientist or not, anyone with an open mind [and a] passion for life has the punk ethos.”

Agree. But this scientific attitude isn’t restricted to punk music. The world is full of cultural activities of that kind. A lot of modern art, for example. Experimental theatre. Much of contemporary writing. Not to speak of a whole array of political movements.

But — how do you make an exhibition about the dionysian element in science? How do you display an attitude with the help of material and visual objects?

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