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Father, Son and the Scientific Spirit: Otto Pettersson, Hans Pettersson and the imitation of oceanography
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of History of Science and Ideas.
(English)In: Science as Culture, ISSN 0950-5431, E-ISSN 1470-1189Article in journal (Refereed) Submitted
Abstract [en]

Families have historically facilitated a migration of science across generations, but how has this repetition been achieved? The Swedish oceanographer Hans Pettersson (1888-1966) inherited oceanography, primarily through is father, Otto Pettersson (1848-1941). Academic power was transferred from father to son, and one of Otto’s major concerns was to find a successor from his family. By exercising control over the early institutions of oceanography, he created a regime where that goal was achieved. Nonetheless, the process of transferring knowledge was multifaceted and paradoxical. Resources were exchanged between father and son, and Hans did accept the academic kingdom, but their relationship was marked by severe tensions.

The key analytical concept to capture these contradictions here is imitation – drawn from Gabriel Tarde’s sociology. Hans Pettersson did not so much overtake his father’s research as he imitated a posture – including attitudes, desires and embodiments – towards science. The right posture included dedication and asceticism in the laboratory setting as well as an ambition to produce new results. Pettersson imitated the desires of an academic entrepreneur. He learned how to design strategies, create his own institutional setting and a research field to dominate. In sum he imitated efforts to create renewal. Moreover, a key feature of the posture towards science was the willingness to struggle for academic survival, often through controversies. Imitating science thus meant repeating a historically specific culture.

Keyword [en]
Imitation, family, Hans Pettersson, oceanography, early twentieth century, Sweden
National Category
History of Ideas
Research subject
History of Sciences and Ideas
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-186095OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-186095DiVA: diva2:572398
Swedish Research Council
Available from: 2012-11-27 Created: 2012-11-27

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Bergwik, Staffan
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