Abstract

During the "institutional revolution" between 1870 and 1910 almost two dozen physics institutes were newly erected in Germany. The design of these buildings was largely determined by sets of precautions against various sorts of disturbances. These undertakings were by no means unique. Recent historical studies have identified similar attempts in physics institutes outside Germany. But as yet, hardly a word has been wasted on the necessity of these precautionary measures. It seems to be self-explanatory that disturbances should be precluded from scientific investigations. My paper criticizes this approach. The evidential nature of this assertion rests on the questionable assumption that disturbances are "external factors," which hinder physical research. I examine the 'architecture of disturbance' and show that it is the set of precautions itself which sometimes produces 'disturbing' effects. I then focus on particular sources of disturbance that were taken into account in the design of the buildings, and analyze the aporias that characterize the 'external' definition of disturbances. In conclusion, an alternative understanding of disturbances is offered. Following Michel Serres's concept of the parasite, I suggest that disturbances indicate the "being of relation" in physics research around 1900. From this point of view I finally sketch two novel features that governed the design of physics institutes after the turn of the century.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9274
Print ISSN
1063-6145
Pages
pp. 173-195
Launched on MUSE
2001-06-01
Open Access
No
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