thesis concentrates on the essayistic late work of the Austrian-American biochemist Erwin Chargaff (19052002). As a pioneer of modern DNA research he evolved into one of the most prominent detractors of gene technology and became a prominent figure in the rising debates on genetic engineering. The aim of my thesis is to contextualize Chargaff within ecocritical movements which gained more and more attention especially in the last third of the 20th century. My thesis shows that scientific renegades play a decisive role in the formation of public debates: The role of critical scientists is not restricted to the hierarchical communication of knowledge from experts to amateurs. A popular audience gains access to new knowledge on genetic engineering from the combination of elements belonging to the scientific discourse with other lines of arguments stemming from religious, philosophical or moral debates. This amalgamation of discourses perpetuates discursive knots still found in todays public discussion on related delicate issues such as in vitro fertilization.
In the German-speaking world, the essay is esteemed as a genre predestined to link and unify both poles of the two cultures scale in an elaborate and responsive way. This characteristic seems to correspond to the ambivalent position of critical scientists with literary ambitions: Their social role can be described as a complex oscillation between expert, critical expert, critical intellectual and literary man standing for the principle of lart pour lart. Bringing together genre typological approaches with Bourdieus field theory, I argue that the ambivalent status the genre essay holds in the German-speaking world is related to its specific conditions of production and reception, involving different social fields (the literary and the scientific) and different types of social capital. Thus, apart from a first comprehensive investigation of Erwin Chargaff, his highly polemic and pessimistic critiques of the sciences, of language, politics and literature, my thesis provides significant results concerning the imparting and distribution of knowledge, particularly the role of scientists as critical intellectuals and the role of their respective publication organs as gateways of knowledge. Furthermore, my thesis provides a new approach to the genre essay using field theory that goes beyond the scope of traditional genre typologies.