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This chapter explores questions about the social and cultural aspects of the making and the reading of a scientific theory. What is a mathematical proof? What does it mean to understand a mathematical work? To shed light on these questions, this chapter compares Évariste Galois’s memoir and some of the various ways that it was read and used in the making of Galois theory. It shows that Galois’s successors did far more than simply fill in the gaps in Galois’s paper. Each of them made several additions and reorganized the paper. In fact, Galois’s readers constructed not one but several theories out of his work. Far from being neutral and natural operations, reading and using Galois’s work were subjective exercises conducted in particular cultural environments, where knowledge, practices, representations, epistemological values, institutions, and social configurations all influenced the final result.

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