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From topos to oikos: the standardization of glass containers as epistemic boundaries in modern laboratory research (1850–1900)


Espahangizi, Kijan Malte (2015). From topos to oikos: the standardization of glass containers as epistemic boundaries in modern laboratory research (1850–1900). Science in Context, 28(3):397-425.

Abstract

Argument: Glass vessels such as flasks and test tubes play an ambiguous role in the historiography of modern laboratory research. In spite of the strong focus on the role of materiality in the last decades, the scientific glass vessel – while being symbolically omnipresent – has remained curiously neglected in regard to its materiality. The popular image or<jats:italic>topos</jats:italic>of the transparent, neutral, and quasi-immaterial glass container obstructs the view of the physico-chemical functionality of this constitutive inner boundary in modern laboratory environments and its material historicity. In order to understand how glass vessels were able to provide a stable epistemic containment of spatially enclosed experimental phenomena in the new laboratory ecologies emerging in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, I will focus on the history of the<jats:italic>material</jats:italic>standardization of laboratory glassware. I will follow the rise of a new awareness for measurement errors due to the chemical agency of experimental glass vessels, then I will sketch the emergence of a whole techno-scientific infrastructure for the improvement of glass container quality in late nineteenth-century Germany. In the last part of my argument, I will return to the laboratory by looking at the implementation of this glass reform that created a new<jats:italic>oikos</jats:italic>for the inner experimental milieus of modern laboratory research.

Abstract

Argument: Glass vessels such as flasks and test tubes play an ambiguous role in the historiography of modern laboratory research. In spite of the strong focus on the role of materiality in the last decades, the scientific glass vessel – while being symbolically omnipresent – has remained curiously neglected in regard to its materiality. The popular image or<jats:italic>topos</jats:italic>of the transparent, neutral, and quasi-immaterial glass container obstructs the view of the physico-chemical functionality of this constitutive inner boundary in modern laboratory environments and its material historicity. In order to understand how glass vessels were able to provide a stable epistemic containment of spatially enclosed experimental phenomena in the new laboratory ecologies emerging in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, I will focus on the history of the<jats:italic>material</jats:italic>standardization of laboratory glassware. I will follow the rise of a new awareness for measurement errors due to the chemical agency of experimental glass vessels, then I will sketch the emergence of a whole techno-scientific infrastructure for the improvement of glass container quality in late nineteenth-century Germany. In the last part of my argument, I will return to the laboratory by looking at the implementation of this glass reform that created a new<jats:italic>oikos</jats:italic>for the inner experimental milieus of modern laboratory research.

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Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:National licences > 142-005
Dewey Decimal Classification:900 History
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > General Social Sciences
Social Sciences & Humanities > History and Philosophy of Science
Language:English
Date:1 September 2015
Deposited On:12 Nov 2018 17:26
Last Modified:15 Apr 2021 14:51
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN:0269-8897
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1017/s0269889715000137

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