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The multiple signatures of carbon

Abstract : How many modes of existence does carbon have? To be sure, carbon is an object of ‘pure research’. It emerged in the nineteenth-century as a chemical substance, as an abstract albeit material substrate underlying a range of simple and compound bodies. While scientific research was focused on what is conserved through change, the researchers’ attention shifted to what might be changed through the conservation of carbon: carbon came back as a menagerie of allotropes (fullerenes, nanotubes, graphene and many more) populating the ‘nanoworld’ and making it a rich source of possibilities or nanotechnology. We could thus portray carbon as a Janus and contrast its scientific and technoscientific identities: The ontological status of carbon in a scientific perspective answers the question ‘what is it?’ while in a technoscientific approach, the question answered is rather ‘what might be performed with it?’ or, more precisely, ‘what might it afford?’ However, this dual contrast provides a far too purified image of carbon. This ubiquitous and ever-circulating material entity has displayed so many profiles over the course of the centuries that it seems to create various ‘personae’ moving with a momentum of their own and creating new adventures while exhibiting surprising physical and chemical properties. This essay presents the various forms of carbon as ‘heteronyms’ (i.e.: real signatures of fictitious authors) – and not “pseudonyms” (fictitious signatures of the same real author). It gives a voice to the multiple heteronyms of carbon (carbon-mephitis, carbon-standard, carbon-substance, carbon-material, carbon-skeleton, carbon-surface, carbon-memory, carbone-fire and carbon equivalent) and let them write their own ontologies.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 4:41:04 PM
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Sacha Loeve, Bernadette Bensaude Vincent. The multiple signatures of carbon. Bernadette Bensaude Vincent; Sacha Loeve; Alfred Nordmann; Astrid Schwarz. Research objects in their technological setting, Routledge, 2017, History and philosophy of technoscience. ⟨halshs-01507185⟩

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