Wallace, F.A.C. Rockdale Knopf 1978. pp. 73-239

This is the eigth in a series of notes to eleven lectures for my class Technology and Culture.

This is a classic study for an exploration of the consequences of both industrialization and capitalism. But it is also designed to give us a senseof the activity (agency, imagination) of all the participants in the variouspositions that were opened to them by a combination of social forces beyond their personal control.

  1. Briefly, the historical structures
    1. industrialization (machines and state controls -- Wittfogel)
    2. liberal capitalism (a particular form of state control)
  2. The historical situation:
    1. liberal capitalism in a still quite rural United States at a time of overpopulation and then famine in Ireland
    2. major continuing innovation in a kind of machine with major increases inproductivity, wealth, and power.
    3. Thus these relevance of chance (chaos theory?).
  3. And then, the players who, at the onset, could not know how it would proceed:
    1. the not-quite-yet industrialists
    2. the designers of the machines
    3. the workers
    4. Joint achievement in uncertainty:
      1. history as conversation.
      2. sequentiality.
      3. non-sequiturs.
      4. evolution
      5. education
  4. Check some of the difficulties mentioned p.187 and the implicit issues they raise in terms of any theorizing about motivation and the deterministic push of history"
    1. Resistance vs. acceptance:

      "In order to work to advantage, I was compelled to improve my machinery, and from my limited capital these improvements were made out of the daily produce of the mill"

      The resistance may be futile in the long run but it cannot be discounted. These industrialists were not moved by the love of machines, and "capitalism/greed" may only explain their staying with the task, not their relationship to the machines.

      1. This quote could be used as "evidence" for Max Weber's analysis of the "spirit of capitalism" (): the Protestant ethic requires that profit be reinvested rather than consumed. Such reinvestments (deprivation of immediate gratification) has major consequences for everybody caught within the sphere, not only the industrialists but also the engineers, managers, workers, etc.
    2. Bricolage vs. engineering (Lévi-Strauss):
      Not only was the machinery badly made, it was also "badly planned." But he and his mechanics worked with it and he added newer and better machines as well.

      The machines were never fully efficient to their task and had to be continually modified using tools probably not specifically designed for the task at hand. To this extent the work of the industralists and their workers is "wild" rather than fully domesticated.

  5. All this that applies to the relationship between the industrialists and the machines applies to the relationship between them and their workers (and between the workers and the machines.
  6. And it applies to the development and spread of all machines
    1. Kleifgen's work on workplace discourse in an electronics factory.
      1. local multi-lingualism
      2. global regulatory languages
Some questions in the context of this lesson
If you want to respond to these you can do so
by posting comments through the page for this lesson on StudyPlace.
  • imagine what a history of the technological responses to the current concern with global warming might say.
  • How might this relate to the history of computing? in general or in the context of personal computers.