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The Theater of ExperimentStaging Natural Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Britain$
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Al Coppola

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190269715

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190269715.001.0001

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The Culture of Spectacle

(p.1) Introduction
The Theater of Experiment

Al Coppola

Oxford University Press

This project offers a fresh perspective on a familiar thread of anti-modern discourse that runs through Enlightenment culture. Plays that satirized experimental philosophy offered critiques of the new science that necessarily located it within wider networks of emergent modern practices such as party politics, commodity culture, proto-capitalist investment, and spectacular entertainment. In restaging what was, in multiple, crucial ways, already a performance, these plays articulated a critique of the new science, fundamentally grounded in its spectacular character, that was by its very structure positioned to ask, in whose interest was it to do science in this manner? In this project follows the thread of those plays to analyze the complex cultural work performed by the new science in order to produce its truths and assert its authority. My project coordinates with the recent wave of revisionist histories of early modern science that, broadly speaking, recover the sociology of the new science to critique the emergence of the “matter of fact” that might speak for itself. As such, this study treats early modern science as an embodied, dynamic amalgam of ideas, technologies, and procedures that produce natural knowledge out of what Andrew Pickering has evocatively called “the mangle of practice.” These knowledges are articulated within and propagated across the actor-networks of persons, objects, and institutions described by Bruno Latour that radiate out from the lab in all directions, linking specimens and scientists, politicians and playwrights, mechanics’ workshops and middle-class households in a web of “matters of concern” that resonate to this present day and continue to structure our modernity.

Keywords:   Latour, Pickering, “matter of concern”, objectivity, modernity, natural philosophy, early modern science, sociology of science, performance

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