This chapter introduces the main arguments of the book in relation to the current historiographical debates on the origin and character of the process dubbed “renaissance of general relativity.” It is argued that the return of Einstein’s theory of gravitation to the mainstream of physics in the post-World War II period was as much epistemic as it was social, for it involved the formation of an international community of scholars that coalesced around a newly created research field called “General Relativity and Gravitation.” These community-building activities led to an increasing degree of institutionalization that turned a dispersed set of scientists in the early 1950s into a well-defined organization—named the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation—in the mid-1970s. The various steps in this institutionalization process are summarized. Although they might appear to be a straightforward incremental development corresponding to the establishment of a new scientific field and its subsequent growth, it is shown that all the various steps were extremely controversial. The book focuses on two elements that led to many of the tensions related to the international community-building activities: the uncertain epistemic status of general relativity at the time, and the developments of the Cold War, which deeply affected institutional processes in the international arena.
KeywordsAlbert Einstein Cold War Community building Epistemic shift General relativity International Committee on General Relativity and Gravitation International relations International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation Scientific institutions Renaissance of general relativity
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