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Placing or Replacing the Laboratory in the History of Science?

Graeme Gooday
Isis
Vol. 99, No. 4 (December 2008), pp. 783-795
DOI: 10.1086/595772
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/595772
Page Count: 13
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Placing or Replacing the Laboratory in the History of Science?
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Abstract

ABSTRACT This essay presents an alternative to interpretations of laboratories as institutions for controlled investigation of nature that are either placeless or “set apart.” It historicizes the claim by showing how the meaning of “laboratory” has both changed and diversified over the last two centuries. Originally a laboratory could be a site of organic growth or material manufacture, but it can now be a specialized domain for technological development, educational training, or quality testing. The essay then introduces some contingencies of geography and gender by showing how boundaries between laboratories and other spaces—especially domestic kitchens—could be permeable or nonexistent; importantly, some spaces served as experimental laboratories without ever being designated as such. A key corollary, however, is that there were limits to this permeability: not all social spaces could be turned consensually into laboratories, and laboratory users could be intolerant of certain imported technical cultures.

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