Lorraine Daston, "Rivals: How Scientists Learned to Cooperate" (Columbia Global Reports, 2023)


In Rivals: How Scientists Learned to Cooperate (Columbia Global Reports, 2023), Lorraine Daston, Director Emerita of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, delves into the 350-year history of one of the most elusive communities of all: the “scientific community.” For the apparent simplicity and relative ubiquity of the expression hides in fact a complex and constantly evolving reality. As Daston puts it to open her book, “The scientific community is by any measure a very strange kind of community. For starters, no one knows who belongs to it, much less who speaks for it.” The very word of “community” and its rather friendly connotation can also be deceiving, as scientists across the globe and throughout history have never ceased to compete and engage in all sorts of polemics and debates. 

Beginning with the Republic of Letters, Daston takes a closer look at a series of ambitious scientific enterprises that required the collaboration of a variety of scientific actors across the globe. Through her analysis of what made some of these collaborative endeavors possible, as well as what made them successful or not, Daston offers a dynamic portrait of the scientific community as something that had to be re-imagined and re-actualized in the face of global events and phenomena. The global environmental crisis and the post-pandemic context that we are now living in are, more than ever, putting to the test the ability of scientific actors to imagine themselves as a functional and purpose-driven community. Rivals provide its readers some well-needed historical insights to better understand the challenges ahead.

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Victor Monnin

Victor Monnin, Ph.D. is an early-career historian of science. He teaches History at John Jay College, City University of New York.

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