Roberto Lalli (Philosophy) - Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
Title: The Socio-Epistemic Networks of General Relativity, 1925-1970: The low-water mark, the renaissance, and the astrophysical turn
Abstract: In the last years, a complex historical debate has emerged on the causes, origins, and manifestations of the process dubbed the ‘renaissance’ of Einstein’s theory of gravitation starting. After a thirty-year period of stagnation of the theory, known as its low-water-mark phase, the renaissance marks the return of general relativity to the mainstream of physics after the mid-1950s. On the basis of a multi-layer network analysis of the general relativity research landscape between 1925 and 1970 (including the social, information and conceptual networks), I will argue that the renaissance process should be understood as a two-step reconfiguration of research agendas resulting initially from the interplay of social and epistemic factors. A first phase of theoretical renaissance, driven by social transformations, occurred between the mid-1950s and the early 1960s, and transformed the general theory of relativity to a bona fide physical theory. The second phase of this process, which can be called the astrophysical turn, was an experiment-driven shift toward relativistic astrophysics and physical cosmology, and was strongly related to discoveries in the astrophysical domain in the 1960s.