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Putting Science in Its Place

Geographies of Scientific Knowledge

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.

244 pages | 31 halftones, 5 maps | 5 x 8 | © 2003


Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: History of Ideas

History of Science


"As David Livingstone explains in Putting Science in Its Place, geography has always had a profound influence on both the generation and acceptance of scientific ideas. We assume that physical constants are the same when measured in Indiana or India but it seems that more abstract concepts must adapt to local conditions. So from the 16th-century Catholic church’s rejection of Copernican astronomy to the present day, there have been plenty of examples of scientific orthodoxy bending to religious, political or cultural pressures."

John Bonner | New Scientist

"No one will begrudge the idea that ’places’ are often important to the relevant science, or even that ’micro-geography’ could be useful for discussing them.... David Livingstone’s mission is to convert to the micro-geographical cause all who are guilty of treating place as a poor relation of time."

John North | Times Literary Supplement

“[Putting Science in Its Place] offers researchers and the public an informative perspective on how space shapes the development and reception of scientific knowledge. Livingstone’s concise, eminently readable account unveils the politics of place and demonstrates how geography has made the scientific enterprise a moral undertaking based on trust.”

Cristina Gonzalez | Science

“In putting science in its place in a metaphorical as well as a literal sense, Livingstone is not attempting to ‘unmask’ or debunk science as ‘nothing but’ a social construct. He takes the enormous achievements of science for granted . . .  but he insists that science is always grounded in particular times and places. It is a brilliant achievement.”

John Stenhouse | Books and Culture

“Scientific knowledge and scientific work are inherently geographical. Its very claims to universality betray science’s inherently spatial nature. Surveying the places where science happens, the regional and territorial impress upon its constitution and reception, and the channels through which scientific materials and ideas travel, David Livingstone provides a coherent and convincing demonstration of science’s geographies, elegantly enriching our understanding of both endeavours.”

Denis Cosgrove, University of California, Los Angeles

“A model of its kind, Putting Science in Its Place is accessible and well written, yet packed with information and carrying a coherent and important message--that space does indeed play an important role in the constitution of knowledge. Livingstone provides a survey of the actual ways in which it does so, using deft historical examples and masterfully tying them together. Nobody has worked through this claim with this consistency or coherence."

Adrian Johns, author of The Nature of the Book

“It might seem strange that an enterprise as obviously universal and successful as the natural sciences depends decisively on where it is pursued. But in this perceptively written and fascinatingly illustrated survey, David Livingstone shows conclusively just how the spaces and places of knowledge work and why they matter. An expert historian of science and thoughtful analyst of geography’s relation with social change, Livingstone is superbly equipped to deliver this important lesson: He turns a mass of detailed studies into a moving story of laboratories and museums, hospitals and gardens, illuminates the range of sites at which science has been pursued and explains how these sites have affected the knowledge made there. The scope of this short book is remarkable. From now on, we will read maps, charts and floorplans with more understanding of their meanings for the way we know the world. Challenging and vital issues such as the variation of scientific styles between Europe and Asia, the dramas of the Scientific Revolution, the comparative reception of Darwinism, or the relation between theology and the sciences, are all given freshly compelling approaches in this clever work. A closing chapter offers exciting prospects for advances in the new field of historical geography of knowledge—Livingstone restores scientists’ biographies and sciences’ rationality to their proper places. This highly accessible book will be indispensable for citizens concerned with the situation of the sciences in our society, and especially for those who care about the fate of local expertise in global knowledge economies."

Simon Schaffer, University of Cambridge

"In this highly readable and richly detailed study, Livingstone addresses familiar issues about the use and abuse of geographic tools and concepts, but his primary emphasis is on the sites of the production of scientific knowledge and the diffusion of ideas and practices from those sites. . . . It is also a reader-friendly book with ample and often intriguing illustrations and a carefully prepared and comprehensive bibliographic essay. . . . Livingstone’s lively narrative and breadth of knowledge make it a book of interest for the expert and general reader alike."

J. Nicholas Entrikin | Annals of the Association of American Geographers

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. A Geography of Science?
2. Site: Venues of Science
3. Region: Cultures of Science
4. Circulation: Movements of Science
5. Putting Science in Its Place
Bibliographical Essay

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