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The golden star: an emotional repertoire of scientific discovery and legacy

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Abstract

This paper examines vocabularies of emotion in the discovery narratives of a group of genetic scientists. The discovery of the gene for myotonic dystrophy in 1992 was part of a unique and highly competitive phase of molecular genetic research into single gene hereditary conditions. Members of a small group of scientists who made a significant contribution to the discovery of the gene were interviewed sixteen years later about the impact of that discovery. They structured their memories into narrative accounts characterized by vivid recall, colourful language and use of an emotional repertoire to reconstruct the dynamics, relationships and personal meaning of the discovery. The focus of this emotional language was on what it meant to be a molecular scientist, the dynamics of the incremental work that led to eventual success, the networks surrounding the team and the legacy of discovery in relation to science and to the individual scientists. The emotional repertoire revealed subtle differences between accounts, where there was universal recognition of the importance of the discovery for a scientific career but ambivalence regarding its personal meaning for some key actors.

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