Little science

Organisers

Xavier Roqué, Centre for the History of Science, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Argument

Compared to all that we know about Big Science, little is known about little science. The concept itself lacks a proper definition: what does “little” stand for? Inexpensive? Of scarce interest to the media? Little or slow? Little science risks being conceived of as the negative counterpart, the obsolete precursor, or the poor sister of Big Science, a scientific practice on its way to extinction.

The symposium will challenge these meanings and explore ways to think about little science on its own. For the sake of clarity, little science will be provisionally defined as a contemporary knowledge-making practice performed by small teams of researchers that know each other and acknowledge that personal relations are central to research; as a practice that does not necessarily entail transnational cooperation and certainly does not depend on multi-million budgets; as a practice that may focus on what appears to be well-trodden paths with little promise... But crucially and paradoxically, too, as a practice that is disproportionally relevant and disruptive, and contributes to a great extent to produce new knowledge.

The Superconductivity Group at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona provides an example. Consisting of seven members, combining theoretical and experimental physicists, and building prototypes from scratch in a tiny lab, its research on magnetic cloaks and wormholes was published in leading journals and featured in international news agencies. How does this fit with prevailing images of contemporary scientific practice? How does it relate to a broader argument about the long march of professionalization and the corresponding increase in size of the scientific enterprise?

The symposium will therefore dwell on the theme of unity and disunity in the sciences by looking at the relation between scale and relevance, broadly conceived. Papers are invited dealing with these themes, either as case studies or as reflexions on the pervasiveness, historical resilience, contemporary relevance, and the historiographical and political meaning of small-scale research.

Contact email

xavier.roque@uab.cat

Deadline for paper submission

Decembre 13, 2017