Tinkering: A conceptual and historical evaluation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

4 Scopus citations


Francois Jacob's article 'Evolution and Tinkering' published in Science in 1977 is still the locus classicus for the concept of tinkering in biology. It first introduced the notion of tinkering to a wide audience of scientists. Jacob drew on a variety of different sources ranging from molecular biology to evolutionary biology and cultural anthropology. The notion of tinkering, or more accurately, the concept of bricolage, are conceptual abstractions that allow for the theoretical analysis of a wide range of phenomena that are united by a shared underlying process - tinkering, or the opportunistic rearrangement and recombination of existing elements. This paper looks at Jacob's analysis as itself an example of conceptual tinkering. It traces the history of some of its elements and sketches how it has become part of an inclusive discourse of theoretical biology and evolutionary developmental biology that emerged over the last 30 years. I will argue that the theoretical power of Jacob's analysis lies in the fact that he captured a widespread phenomenon. His conceptual analysis is thus an example of an interdisciplinary synthesis that is based on a shared process rather than a shared object.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTinkering
Subtitle of host publicationThe Microevolution of Development
Number of pages10
StatePublished - 2007

Publication series

NameNovartis Foundation Symposium
ISSN (Print)1528-2511

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Tinkering: A conceptual and historical evaluation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this