Putting Science in Its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge (science.culture)

Putting Science in Its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge (science.culture)

David N. Livingstone

Language: English

Pages: 244

ISBN: 022610284X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


We are accustomed to thinking of science and its findings as universal. After all, one atom of carbon plus two of oxygen yields carbon dioxide in Amazonia as well as in Alaska; a scientist in Bombay can use the same materials and techniques to challenge the work of a scientist in New York; and of course the laws of gravity apply worldwide. Why, then, should the spaces where science is done matter at all? David N. Livingstone here puts that question to the test with his fascinating study of how science bears the marks of its place of production.

Putting Science in Its Place establishes the fundamental importance of geography in both the generation and the consumption of scientific knowledge, using historical examples of the many places where science has been practiced. Livingstone first turns his attention to some of the specific sites where science has been made—the laboratory, museum, and botanical garden, to name some of the more conventional locales, but also places like the coffeehouse and cathedral, ship's deck and asylum, even the human body itself. In each case, he reveals just how the space of inquiry has conditioned the investigations carried out there. He then describes how, on a regional scale, provincial cultures have shaped scientific endeavor and how, in turn, scientific practices have been instrumental in forming local identities. Widening his inquiry, Livingstone points gently to the fundamental instability of scientific meaning, based on case studies of how scientific theories have been received in different locales. Putting Science in Its Place powerfully concludes by examining the remarkable mobility of science and the seemingly effortless way it moves around the globe.

From the reception of Darwin in the land of the Maori to the giraffe that walked from Marseilles to Paris, Livingstone shows that place does matter, even in the world of science.

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During the first half of the seventeenth century, court masques in Britain were often the vehicle for declaring the unity of the British Empire and its supposedly special destiny. This species of political theatrics routinely resorted to geographical factors to guarantee national identity under the wise authority of the monarch. In this way the court became an arena in which natural knowledge—of woods, mountains, ancient ruins, and so on—was mobilized to justify political order. Elite spaces have

a strong central government. Under the leadership of the Cassinis—a four-generation dynasty of astronomers—detailed topographical maps of the territory were completed, using the latest astronomical techniques (fig. 27). Earlier, the contours of French terrain had been known only in “literary mode,” that is, through lists of place-names, travel narratives, 27. A section from the topographical map of Paris and environs from the Carte de Cassini, published in 1793 and comprising 182 sheets at a

Observatory. Producing this terrestrial image required compiling a wide range of celestial observations collected all over the world and collated at the Paris Observatory. and two in particular quickly surfaced. First, the disclosures of seafaring eyewitnesses profoundly challenged ancient authority. Latterday travelers saw people and plants and places about which the ancients were in complete ignorance. No longer could Aristotle or Pliny or Ptolemy be unconditionally relied on. As some writers

course later cartographers would routinely disparage earlier mapping enterprises as primitive, erroneous, even monstrous. Medieval world maps, for example, were subsequently castigated as unscientific and relegated to the pit of “complete futility.” But the idea that truths about distant realms can be known through cartographic endeavor has been widely promoted. The Mediterranean sea charts of the late middle ages—portolans, as they are known—for example, progressively delivered more and more

we are witnessing the world. But they cannot, by their very nature, replicate the world. Maps are not facsimiles of the planet. And the extent to which we think they are demonstrates the influence the cartographic image has over us. picturing the unfamiliar If maps cannot accurately reproduce the world, perhaps pictures can more reliably bring the remote within reach. Writing in the Art Journal for 1860, one observer insisted that because the photograph could not deceive, “we know that what we see

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