Skip to main content

Resuscitating the critical in the biological grotesque: blood, guts, biomachismo in science/education and human guinea pig discourse


This article draws on Bakhtin and other cultural studies theorists to understand the role of the grotesque as a libratory moment in biology education. Four examples of texts and moments are analyzed: Sylvia Branzei’s Grossology series of children’s books about the grotesque, observations of a pig heart dissection, a standard high school textbook, and zines by and for human subjects. Findings confirm a powerful social leveling effect within the biological grotesque, but limits are also identified. Specifically, the grotesque itself can become a form of social capital in itself, and thus the material for establishing new hierarchies. The paper also examines the ways that teachers and texts try to limit the leveling effects of the grotesque.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Penley has written of the K/S writers, mostly women Star Trek (1st generation) fans, who, frustrated with a lack of romantic arc in the story, created one between Kirk and Spock. These stories would be marked with a K/S to warn and advertise to readers about their explicit homoerotic and homosexual content. It is this convention of marking stories with a slash and initials that gives slash writers their name.


  1. Babcock, B. A. (1978). Introduction. In B. A. Babcock (Ed.), The reversible world. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bakhtin, M. (1988). Rabelais and his world (H. Iswolsky, Trans.). Massachusetts: MIT Press.

  3. Barton, A. C., & Osborne, M. D. (2001). Teaching science in diverse settings: Marginalized discourses and classroom practice. New York: P. Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Branzei, S. (1995). Grossology: The study of really gross things. New York: Price Stern Sloan.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Daston, L., & Park, K. (1998). Wonders and the order of nature (pp. 1150–1750). New York: Zone Books.

    Google Scholar 

  7. de Certeau, M. (1984). The practice of everyday life (S. Rendall, Trans.). Berkeley: University of California Press.

  8. Douglas, M. (1966). Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. New York: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Douglas, M. (1982). Natural symbols: Explorations in cosmology (1st Pantheon paperbacks ed.). New York: Pantheon Books.

  10. Dulce, T. (1998). Spanish fly guinea pig. Guinea Pig Zero (6).

  11. Dyer, R. (1993). Entertainment and Utopia. In S. During (Ed.), The cultural studies reader. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  12. GPZ. (1996–2000). Guinea pig zero: A journal for human research subjects. Philadelphia.

  13. Helms, R. (2002a). A guinea pig among the lepers: What I did once between drug studies. In R. Helms (Ed.), Guinea Pig Zero: An anthology of the journal for human research subjects. New Orleans, LA: Garrett County Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Helms, R. (Ed.). (2002b). Guinea pig zero: An anthology of the Journal for Human Research Subjects. New Orleans, LA: Garrett County Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Hogshire, J. (1992). Sell yourself to science. Port Townsend, WA: Loompanics.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Kristeva, J. (1982). Powers of horror: An essay on abjection. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Levine, J. S., & Miller, K. R. (1991). Biology: Discovering life (Instructor’s ed.). Lexington, Mass: D. C. Heath.

  18. Sidorkin, A. M. (1997). Carnival and domination: Pedagogies of neither care nor justice. Educational Theory, 47(2), 10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Stallybrass, P., & White, A. (1986). The politics and poetics of transgression. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Vidal, J. (1998). Students are paid to eat pesticides. Guinea pig zero (6).

  21. Weinstein, M. (2004). Science/education. In J. A. Weaver, K. Anijar, & T. Daspit (Eds.), Science fiction curriculum, cyborg teachers, & youth culture(s). New York: Peter Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Williams, R. (1977). Marxism and literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthew Weinstein.

Additional information

Permissions Grossology images used in this article © 1995, 2002 by Jack Keely, used with permission by Price Stern Sloan Press.

Photo of Grossology Museum exhibit, © 2004 by Matthew Broda.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Weinstein, M., Broda, M. Resuscitating the critical in the biological grotesque: blood, guts, biomachismo in science/education and human guinea pig discourse. Cult Stud of Sci Educ 4, 761 (2009).

Download citation


  • Cultural studies
  • Bakhtin
  • Grotesque
  • Dissection
  • Human subjects
  • Children’s books
  • Discourse