Details for Organising the experimental life at the early Royal Society

Name:Organising the experimental life at the early Royal Society

This paper, based in part on work originally pursued with Dr Alan B. H. Taylor, examines how knowledge claims were manufactured and communicated at the early Royal Society. We approach the problem by studying the organisational features and dynamics of the Society—its organisationally sedimented patterns of decision-making and action-taking. This work cuts across attempts by Shapin to characterise ‘the new Experimental Science’ in terms of a supposedly new 'form of life' which purportedly broke with the previously dominant culture of natural philosophical contention.

Shapin (and many of his followers) see the Royal Society as having been functionally taken over by this 'experimental life'. Using three case studies of experimental projects at the Society, we argue that the institution was more complex in its internal workings and that the Europe-wide, contested, culture of natural philosophy continued to play through and be played upon within the Royal Society, particularly by dominant actors, such as Boyle and Hooke, who could navigate and exploit the decision/action pathways. We conclude by proposing modifications to Shapin's concepts of the 'matter of fact' and 'epistemological decorum', and by pointing out strong parallels to our findings in recent work by Luciano Boschiero on the Accademia del Cimento.


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