Theory, experiment and society in French and Anglo‐Saxon history of science

Iliffe, Robert (1995) Theory, experiment and society in French and Anglo‐Saxon history of science. European Review of History: Revue europeenne d'histoire, 2 (1). 65 - 77. ISSN 1350-7486

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This paper examines the analyses of the role of scientific experiment by three French scholars. It claims that while Anglo-Saxons were slow to embrace French anti-empiricism, French historians of science have been unwilling to consider that the content of science might itself be linked to the various social and cultural contexts that surround its production. Bachelard exalted modern scientific thought as epitomising creative thinking and he argued that theory guided research, although the manipulative processes of experiments 'realised' scientific objects. Like Bachelard, Koyr reckoned that pure thought was somehow 'prior' to observation and practice; he downplayed the achievements of artisans and castigated Marxist historians who sought to 'reduce' scientific progress to the development of mechanical skill. Reacting to the recent work of Anglo-Saxon historians of science, Latour's anthropological work emphasised the role of the laboratory in breaking down the divisions between 'science' and 'society'; despite some drawbacks of the 'inscriptional' bias to his work, Latour offers the best route for linking French and Anglo-Saxon approaches to the history of science.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA History of Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DC History of France
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Depositing User: Robert Iliffe
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 20:06
Last Modified: 13 Aug 2012 08:02
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