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.
Bio: Roberto Lalli received his PhD in 2011 in International History after gaining an MSc in physics in 2006. He is currently a Research Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. His research focuses on the social, political, and epistemic aspects of knowledge production in the physical sciences, including its circulation and certification, from the second half of the nineteenth century to the present.