Tinkering: A Conceptual and Historical Evaluation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 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 pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780470319390
ISBN (Print)9780470034293
StatePublished - Jun 11 2007


  • Concept of tinkering in theoretical biology
  • Jacob's concept of bricolage and conceptual tinkering
  • Organic causation and tinkering and bricolage
  • Tinkering in phenotypic evolution patterns
  • Translating tinkering into empirical research programs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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