This section introduces two interrelated themes that historically contextualise the reader. Firstly, this section emphasises the historical and geographical specificities to the emergence of science. Research undertaken by historians of science, historical geographers and sociologists both illustrates and underpins the intellectual commitments in this reader to the spatiality of science. A second intertwined thread is thus the history of this ‘spatial turn’ in science studies itself. This section therefore locates both the emergence of contemporary technoscience and this arena of academic work.
Whiggish or ‘Great Name’ histories of science have tended to locate the foundation of science and the experimental method with Francis Bacon and the scientific revolution (Hall 1992; Pepper 1996). As Bacon advocated, science was by definition universal, a triumph over place and nature (Merchant 1992; 2006). This ‘view from nowhere’ transcended association with any space or social place (Shapin, 1998:5). It was as an enterprise ‘untouched by local conditions’ that science was distinguished from other local forms of knowledge (Livingstone 2003:1). Therefore, while science could have a history, with meanings and practices that varied over time, a geography of science was a contradiction in terms (Withers 2002). The constitution of the historical geography of science required nothing less than a complete reconceptualisation of ‘science’.
There are now a number of excellent reviews on the emergence of the field of the historical geography of science (Finnegan 2008, Naylor 2005, Powell 2007). Powell suggests that the engagement with spatiality in science studies was influenced Kuhn (1962); his work on paradigm shifts dismantling ‘universalist aspirations to indicate that scientific knowledges might be plural in gestation and local in character’ (2007:310). This introduced a fundamental question; if it is not its ‘universality’ or ‘truthfulness’ that makes scientific knowledge credible in different places, then what is it? In questioning how the status of scientific knowledge as truth was achieved, focus turned to the grounds for producing local credibility (Ophir and Shapin 1991). Crucially, the place of knowledge production is seen as constitutive of the acceptance of that knowledge as truth. Place thus becomes important to both the conduct and the content of knowledge production. We illustrate this historically here with four papers, by Simon Schaffer, David Livingstone, Anne Secord and Gregg Mitman. The contemporary challenges of knowledge production are explored further in the following section of this reader.
The first paper by Schaffer (1998) considers the link between the space of the laboratory within the Victorian country house and the credibility of the knowledge produced there. The second paper expands from the laboratory, ‘the site par excellence of scientific plausibility’ (Livingstone 2003:3), to introduce other privileged spaces of science such as the zoological garden, the field and the museum. These examples highlight that science is not simply spatialized, but that science also creates spaces, places and geographies (Naylor, 2005). There are links between the design of places where science is practiced and the practical activities that occur in these sites, including the materials, technologies, bodies, and disciplinary practices that can be mobilised there (Gieryn 2002; Shapin, 1988). Such practices allow sites to function as ‘truth spots’ (Gieryn, 2006), whilst the practical activities that sustain them are situated, embodied and plural. Attention has subsequently expanded from a focus on the laboratory to consider the significance of other sites historically productive of scientific knowledge, with rich empirical stories emerging of the coffee house (Stewart, 1999), the botanical and zoological garden (Cunningham 1996; Pyenson and Sheets-Pyenson 1999, Outram (1996), the pub (Secord 1994), the field site (Dettelbach, 1996; Mitman, 2003), the ship (Sorreson, 1996), and the boundaries and connections between these sites (Kohler 2002).
We illustrate this growing diversity here with two further historical papers on the places of knowledge production, which also develop understanding of the relations between the spaces of science, social context and spaces of application. Secord’s paper documents a different space and social dynamic for the production of knowledge, one which was marginalised with the professionalisation of ecological knowledge. She charts the way working men in late eighteenth-century Lancashire co-opted one everyday space – the public house – so that they might engage in botanical debates. Mitman’s paper broadens out from the single scientific site – whether located in the laboratory or pub – to trace a regional history of the understanding and treatment of allergy in America, exploring the relationship between the laboratory, clinic and field. Physicians worked closely with botanists knowledgeable about the local flora, drawing on local expertise to increase the success of the hayfever product.
Historical attention to relatively circumscribed localities of science is increasingly complemented by attention to wider geographical and often geopolitical contexts. The historical geography of science has thus grown and diversified theoretically (Livingstone 1995; Withers 1999). This brings the historical geography of science into dialogue with a range of other spatially and historically important processes: of urbanisation, of regional development and differentiation, and of colonialisation. Research has included the significance of urban settings to the development of British Science (Naylor, 2005), the regionalisation of scientific styles (Livingstone 1995; Lorimer 2003), the production of science in national contexts, and even the reception of science in the ‘English-speaking world’ (Numbers and Stenhouse, 1999). This has expanded consideration from the geographies of scientific production to include the geographies of scientific reception (Gingerich, 2004; Keighren 2006; Numbers and Stenhouse, 1999; Rupke, 1999).
This widening of focus raises the question of how scientific knowledge can ‘spread from one context to many, how is that spread achieved, and what is the cause of its movement?’ (Ophir and Shapin, 1991:16). Schaffer (1991:190) draws a distinction ‘between the processes of “localization”, through which local techniques get to work at sites like labs via the concentration of widely distributed resources’ and ‘“spatialization”, through which techniques which are efficacious within the lab. manage to travel beyond it’. This ‘travelling turn’ within historical geography has included attention to both the centrality and problem of human travel to the historical formation of scientific knowledge (Harris 1998; Outram, 1999; Secord, 2004), and ‘the movement of scientific ideas, information and communications, [and] technological objects’ themselves (Naylor, 2005:11). The formation of trust emerges as a crucial focus within this work. This shift also raises more directly questions about the links between science and technology, and the role of technologies in creating new spatialities of science. The fourth paper in this section, by Arnold (2005), explores the connections between Europe and its former colonies in the development and reception of particular technologies. In following these technologies away from laboratories, foundries and factories, and into villages, towns and everyday lives, Arnold explores technology’s local context and signification, as well as reflecting on the shifting historiographical approaches to the history of technology in Asia and Africa.
Taken together, such papers have the potential to provide a sketch map of some of the key contemporary concerns emerging over the geographies of technoscience. In place of the unfolding histories of science, there is now a narrative of both geographical privilege – in those sites and specialists providing authoritative knowledge – and of geographical expansion – as the globalisation of this way of seeing the world replaces or alters existing practices. This telling resonates with contemporary policy concerns regarding the ubiquity, but also opaqueness of science, in many areas of public life. Yet these historical geographies of science tell us stories not only about processes of production and acceptance of scientific knowledge, but also about contestation. As Livingstone suggests, ‘[s]paces of resistance and indifference tell as much about the culture of science as spaces of acceptance and appropriation’ (Livingstone 2003:15). Significant research within this vein includes attention to the debate over the experimental method and the Royal Society (Driver 2000); and the archetypal debate between Humboldt and Cuvier over the ‘field’ or the ‘armchair’ as the premier site for the production of science (Outram 1999).
Schaffer, S (1998) ‘Physics Laboratories and the Victorian Country House’, in C. Smith, J Agar, G Schmidt (eds), Making Space for Science: Territorial Themes in the Shaping of Knowledge (Basingstoke: Macmillan): 149–80.
Livingstone, D (2003) Putting Science in Its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge, Chapter 2: ‘Site: Venues of Science’, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press): 17-86.
Secord, A (1994) ‘Science in the pub: artisan botanists in early nineteenth century Lancashire’, History of Science 32(3): 269-315. Available free here
Mitman, G (2003) ‘Natural History and the Clinic: The Regional Ecology of Allergy in America’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 34: 491–510.
Arnold, D (2005) ‘Europe, Technology, and Colonialism in the 20th Century’, History and Technology, Volume 21, Number 1, March 2005, pp. 85-106(22).
References and Further Reading
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