Tag Archives: USA

Book: Engineers for Change. Competing visions of Technology in 1960s America

Engineers for Change. Competing Visions of Technology in 1960s America

by Matthew Wisnioski



In the late 1960s an eclectic group of engineers joined the antiwar and civil rights activists of the time in agitating for change. The engineers were fighting to remake their profession, challenging their fellow engineers to embrace a more humane vision of technology. In Engineers for Change, Matthew Wisnioski offers an account of this conflict within engineering, linking it to deep-seated assumptions about technology and American life.

The postwar period in America saw a near-utopian belief in technology’s beneficence. Beginning in the mid-1960s, however, society–influenced by the antitechnology writings of such thinkers as Jacques Ellul and Lewis Mumford–began to view technology in a more negative light. Engineers themselves were seen as conformist organization men propping up the military-industrial complex. A dissident minority of engineers offered critiques of their profession that appropriated concepts from technology’s critics. These dissidents were criticized in turn by conservatives who regarded them as countercultural Luddites. And yet, as Wisnioski shows, the radical minority spurred the professional elite to promote a new understanding of technology as a rapidly accelerating force that our institutions are ill-equipped to handle. The negative consequences of technology spring from its very nature–and not from engineering’s failures. “Sociotechnologists” were recruited to help society adjust to its technology. Wisnioski argues that in responding to the challenges posed by critics within their profession, engineers in the 1960s helped shape our dominant contemporary understanding of technological change as the driver of history.

Book : Imperial Technoscience by Amit Prasad


The origin of modern science is often located in Europe and the West. This Euro/West-centrism relegates emergent practices elsewhere to the periphery, undergirding analyses of contemporary transnational science and technology with traditional but now untenable hierarchical categories. In this book, Amit Prasad examines features of transnationality in science and technology through a study of MRI research and development in the United States, Britain, and India. In an analysis that is both theoretically nuanced and empirically robust, Prasad unravels the entangled genealogies of MRI research, practice, and culture in these three countries.
Prasad follows sociotechnical trails in relation to five aspects of MRI research: invention, industrial development, market, history, and culture. He first examines the well-known dispute between American scientists Paul Lauterbur and Raymond Damadian over the invention of MRI, then describes the post-invention emergence of the technology, as the center of MRI research shifted from Britain to the U.S; the marketing of the MRI and the transformation of MRI research into a corporate-powered “Big Science”; and MRI research in India, beginning with work in India’s nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) laboratories in the 1940s. Finally, he explores the different dominant technocultures in each of the three countries, analyzing scientific cultures as shifting products of transnational histories rather than static products of national scientific identities and cultures. Prasad’s analysis offers not only an innovative contribution to current debates within science and technology studies but also an original postcolonial perspective on the history of cutting-edge medical technology.


Books: Indian and Chinese Engineers in the Silicon Valley

Anna Lee Saxenian, Yasuyuki Motoyama, Xiaohong Quan, Local and global networks of immigrant professionals in Silicon Valley. San Francisco : Public Policy Institute of California, 2002. 

“Foreign-born entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are becoming agents of global economic change, and their increased mobility is fueling the emergence of entrepreneurial networks in distant locations. In this report, AnnaLee Saxenian investigates this development by drawing on the first large-scale survey of foreign-born professionals in Silicon Valley. Focusing on first-generation Indian and Chinese immigrants, the report compares their participation in local and global networks both to one another and to that of native-born professionals. The results indicate that local institutions and social networks within ethnic communities are more important than national or individual characteristics in explaining entrepreneurial behavior. The report also suggests that the so-called brain drain from India and China has been transformed into a more complex, two-way process of “brain circulation” linking Silicon Valley to urban centers in those countries.” 


Bernard P. Wong, The Chinese in Silicon Valley. Globalization, Social Networks, and Ethnic Identity. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.

“The Chinese in Silicon Valley examines the complex and ever-growing role of Chinese American scientists and engineers in Silicon Valley. Globalization brings workers from many different countries and cultures together, impacting more than just their work environments. The Chinese who settle in Silicon Valley must learn to prosper despite changes in cultural identity, family life, and often citizenship. They learn how to utilize new social networks and make sense of a shifting ethnic identity. The Chinese community in Silicon Valley is being developed with the advantages and constraints of many factors: the new global economy, technology, the Chinese immigrants’ traditional culture, and the American host culture. Bernard Wong shows that the formation of Chinese American ethnic identity and community is a result of this globalization and transnationalism. This informative book presents important new knowledge on the connection between Chinese ethnicity and highly-skilled labor and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley. Secondary statistical data combined with primary personal interview data makes this a detailed and interesting study of globalization, social networks, and ethnic identity.”


Shenglin Chang, The Global Silicon Valley Home. Lives and Landscapes within Taiwanese American Transpacific Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.

“The economic boom of the 1990s that led to the rapid rise of computer hardware and software companies (on both sides of the Pacific Rim) also led to the rise of a trans-Pacific commuter culture, a culture in which thousands of Taiwanese-born high-tech engineers realized that they could greatly increase their career opportunities by establishing a life-style that allowed them and their families to regularly commute between two homes, one in Silicon Valley and the other in Taiwan. The Global Silicon Valley Home takes a close look at how participants in the jet-set, wired-to-the-Net, trans-Pacific commuter culture have invented new ways of thinking about how their homes reflect their personal identities.”


See Also:

Anna Lee Saxenian Silicon Valley’ s new immigrant entrepreneurs. San Francisco : Public Policy Institute of California, 1999.

S. S. Kshastriy. Silicon Valley greats. Indians who made a difference to technology and the world. Delhi : Vikas, 2003.

Book: Social Mobility

Jules Naudet, Entrer dans l’élite. Parcours de réussite en France, aux Etats-Unis et en Inde. Paris: PUF, 2012

“Cet ouvrage analyse la manière dont des personnes originaires de milieux modestes et ayant accédé aux positions les plus prestigieuses du secteur privé, de la haute fonction publique et de l’université, parviennent à s’ajuster à leur nouveau statut social. Réussissent-elles à se « convertir » à leur nouveau groupe ? Cherchent-elles à conserver des liens forts avec leur milieu d’origine?? Comment gèrent-elles la contradiction de cette double appartenance ? Jules Naudet répond à ces questions en s’appuyant sur une enquête menée en France, en Inde et aux États-Unis, où il a recueilli près de 160 récits de vie de personnes ayant connu une ascension sociale exceptionnellement forte. Tandis que les Indiens témoignent avant tout d’un attachement profond à leur milieu d’origine, les Américains minimisent le contraste, donnant l’impression que la réussite « va de soi ». Enfin, les Français opposent deux mondes profondément différents, voire irréconciliables. Pour mener à bien l’analyse de ce riche matériau empirique, Jules Naudet propose un renouvellement de la problématique de la mobilité sociale et des outils théoriques traditionnellement mobilisés par les chercheurs travaillant sur cette question.”

 See Also:

Jules Naudet, « Castes, untouchability and social success in India », Books & Ideas, 18 March 2010. Available online.

Jules Naudet, “Paying Back to Society. Upward Social Mobility among Dalits.”, Contributions to Indian Sociology, Vol. 42, n°3, Oct. 2008

S. M. Dubey, Social mobility among the professions: study of the professions in a transitional Indian city, Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1975.

Rajeshwari Desphande, Suhas Palshikar, “Occupational Mobility: How much does caste matter?”, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 43, n°34, 2008

C. Rajagopalan, Jaspal Singh, “The Indian Institutes of Technology: Do They Contribute to Social Mobility?”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 3, N°14, 1968

Book: “Body Shopping” in ICT India

Xiang Biao, Global “Body Shopping”: An Indian Labor System in the Information Technology Industry, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2006

“How can America’s information technology (IT) industry predict serious labor shortages while at the same time laying off tens of thousands of employees annually? The answer is the industry’s flexible labor management system–a flexibility widely regarded as the modus operandi of global capitalism today. Global “Body Shopping” explores how flexibility and uncertainty in the IT labor market are constructed and sustained through concrete human actions.

Drawing on in-depth field research in southern India and in Australia, and folding an ethnography into a political economy examination, Xiang Biao offers a richly detailed analysis of the India-based global labor management practice known as “body shopping.” In this practice, a group of consultants–body shops–in different countries works together to recruit IT workers. Body shops then farm out workers to clients as project-based labor; and upon a project’s completion they either place the workers with a different client or “bench” them to await the next placement. Thus, labor is managed globally to serve volatile capital movement.

Underpinning this practice are unequal socioeconomic relations on multiple levels. While wealth in the New Economy is created in an increasingly abstract manner, everyday realities–stock markets in New York, benched IT workers in Sydney, dowries in Hyderabad, and women and children in Indian villages–sustain this flexibility.”


Review: Salaam America

Aminah-Mohammad-Arif, Salaam America: South Asian Muslims in New York. London: Anthem Press, 2002. 355 pages.

Review by Pierre Gottschlich

In: Internationales Asienforum. 35 (2004), 3-4, pp. 373-375.

The South Asian Diaspora and especially the Indian-American community in the United States of America have received more academic attention during the last decade. The remarkably good education of this group, its quick economic success, and its perceived interior unity have made it not only a “model minority” as far as its adaptation into the socioeconomic environment of the U.S. is concerned, but also a more and more active and visible player in cultural and political affairs of the host country. Consequently, the last years have seen a couple of in-depth studies of certain parts of the community. Most if not all of these works, however, have focused on Hindu and, in part, Sikh immigrants to the United States. The large number of Indian Muslims that have come to America has widely been ignored. Aminah Mohammad-Arif’s study attempts to fill this gap of in-depth knowledge and is, therefore, from its mere intention alone of great value.

Although the author has conducted interviews with members of the Indian Muslim community all over the U.S., the main focus of her work is the New York metropolitan area. This region has been the setting of different other studies of the Indian-American community such as, for example, the books by Johanna Lessinger (1995) and Madhulika S. Khandelwal (2002) and provides, hence, a well-tested ground for academic research. In contrast to other works Mohammad-Arif concentrates on a special group within the community, a minority’s minority, and, thereby, obviously breaks with the myth of a uniform Indian-American origin, culture, or identity.

The book is divided into four parts. The first main section, “From the Indian Subcontinent to America”, starts with a chapter on the historical development of Islam in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Here, Mohammad-Arif describes the different Muslim traditions of Sunni, Shi’a, and Ahmadiyya in South Asia, thereby laying the foundation necessary for an understanding of intra-community dynamics in the United States. Since the South Asian Muslims in the U.S. represent a “microcosm of the Muslim population of the subcontinent” (p. 19), a short introduction to their original internal divisions is not only helpful, but essential. The second chapter focuses on the economic and demographic profile of the South Asian immigrant community in the United States. Besides a brief historical description, this section offers insights into issues like “Marriage and divorce” (p. 39ff) or “Ethnic business” (p. 42ff). Unfortunately, the statistics presented do rely heavily on the 1990 U.S. Census of Population, which renders several numbers obsolete. Nevertheless, this chapter proves to be very informative, especially because of the personal views presented in numerous interviews.

The second main part of Mohammad-Arif’s work deals with the process of adaptation to the new environment. The first chapter of this section concentrates on the role and importance of religion and religious practices for the South Asian Muslim community. Here, Mohammad-Arif successfully links theoretical aspects of religiosity to the specific framework of Islam and to the day-to-day performance of religious duties by the members of the community. She also includes many controversial issues such as the Muslim diet (p. 63ff) or the oftentimes questioned obligation of Muslim women to wear the veil (p. 66ff). These critical points of South Asian Muslim religiosity are described in context of their relation not only to the host society but also to Islam in general, since many features of Islam on the Indian subcontinent show remarkable differences to their Arab or African counterparts. In the following chapter, Mohammad-Arif explores the problems and challenges for the second generation members of the community. Their “’masala’ identity” (p. 84) between the religious, cultural, and social traditions of their parents and the everyday struggle for acceptance in school and work life is of prime importance to the community as a whole and certainly deserves the attention the author has devoted to it.

The third part of the book, “Redefining Islam”, investigates Islamic institutions and movements in the United States and their relations and adaptations to the host society. On the institutional side, Mohammad-Arif works with many well-researched and very informative, although possibly not necessarily representative, case studies of different mosques, Islamic centers, and Islamic schools. As for Islamic movements, she thoroughly describes two of the most important groups, namely the “Muslim Student Association (MSA)” and the “Islamic Circle of North America (INCA)”. These and other transnational operating movements and associations, as Mohammad-Arif clearly shows, do reflect the high degree of organization a well-educated immigrant group like the South Asian population can achieve (p. 189ff). The concluding part exclusively deals with the relationships of the South Asian Muslim community with others. In the first chapter of this section, the author returns to the idea of an immigrant community being a microcosm, but applies this concept to the whole Muslim world. According to Mohammad-Arif, the United States might see the “emergence of a ‘utopian umma’” (p. 193) reflecting an aspired unified Islam despite the internal diversity of the Muslim population in the U.S. Recent trends suggest the possible forming of a “pan-Islamic melting pot” (p. 206), a development that is fostered by the growing use of modern communication technology. The following chapter explores the oftentimes difficult relations between South Asian Muslims and Hindus in the light of events like the Ayodhya crisis (p. 214ff) and assesses the possibilities of a common South Asian identity. In the last chapter of this section, Mohammad-Arif turns to questions of integration into the host society, dealing with matters of mutual perception as well as with stereotypes and mechanism of discrimination. Hereby, she also touches on lobbying efforts by the community in order to raise awareness and acceptance, a point that seems to be becoming more and more important and may encourage further research. The book closes with a summarizing conclusion that reconstructs the main lines of argumentation in a straight manner.

Since the original, French version of this book was published in 2000, the consequences of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have not been included in the main body of the work. Because of the prime importance of the challenges posed by this tragic event to the South Asian Muslim community, the author has added an afterword, written in February 2002. Here, Mohammad-Arif reflects on the immediate impact the terrorist strikes had on the community and discusses some of the first implications. The book also contains a glossary of the most important terms and an extensive bibliography. The statistical appendix is, at least in part, outdated, which is largely due to the fact that the South Asian Diaspora in the United States is one of the fastest growing and dynamically changing ethnic groups in the U.S.

Overall, Salaam America provides a valuable and readable source of information on a subject that has not received much attention yet. Aminah Mohammad-Arif has very successfully combined a thorough analysis of the South Asian Muslim population with indepth interviews of individual members of this community that convincingly support the author’s arguments. The relatively narrow regional scope proves to be advantageous to the focus of the assessment. Nevertheless, future research may also include more information on the large Indian-American Muslim communities in California, Texas, and Illinois.

Review: Engineering Labour

Peter Meiksins and Chris Smith (eds), Engineering labour. Technical workers in comparative perspective. London, New-York: Verso, 1996.

Review by Charles Gadéa

This collective book is based on six case studies of engineers in Britain, Germany, France, USA, Sweden and Japan. It shows the importance of national differences in the training and the organization of engineering labour. In the two last chapters, Peter Meiksins and Chris Smith address the common issues that emerge from the case studies. They consider that the engineers play an ambiguous role within the enterprise as intermediate workers, engaging in complex and contradictory relationships with both employers and manual workers. These tensions, combined with local specificities, explain national configurations. Yet, at the same time, the authors stress that “there is not an infinite variety of ways of producing engineers. ”

“We know that there are underlying structural realities, but their effects are mediated in complex ways. We know institutional formation varies, but not infinitely. We know that the agencies involved in formation – the state, capital, labour, occupational associations- are common to all the societies, yet organized differently.” (p. 236)

Thus, the main question is how can we synthesize these variations into a limited number of models. According to Meiksins and Smith there are four main models which describe the ways of producing engineering workforce and define the social position of engineers. The first model is the craft model, in which engineers and technical workers are skilled workers at the top of the hierarchy of industrial workers: “the ‘engineer’ is constituted not by the possession of credentials, but by the laborious acquisition of practical experience” (p. 238). The second one, the managerial model, defines engineers as part of the managerial people and quite often they are trained in formal educational institutions that teach universal skills that can be easily transferred and adapted to different situations. In the third case, the “estate organization” is characterized by a stratified hierarchy of technical occupations, with formal school trained and rather elitist professionals on the one hand, but also a variety of other technical workers with claims to be recognized as engineers, on the other hand. The fourth and last model, the “company centred” model, is degree-based; the engineers are trained at the university, but the new staff are recruited by and promoted into the company; people are encouraged to show a sense of solidarity with the firm viewed as a whole rather than develop strong occupational identities and professional associations.

Book: Engineering and Concrete Building in American History

Amy E. Slaton, Reinforced Concrete and the Modernization of American Building, 1900-1930, John Hopkins University Press, 2001.

“Examining the proliferation of reinforced-concrete construction in the United States after 1900, historian Amy E. Slaton considers how scientific approaches and occupations displaced traditionally skilled labor. The technology of concrete buildings little studied by historians of engineering, architecture, or industry offers a remarkable case study in the modernization of American production.
The use of concrete brought to construction the new procedures and priorities of mass production. These included a comprehensive application of science to commercial enterprise and vast redistributions of skills, opportunities, credit, and risk in the workplace. Reinforced concrete also changed the American landscape as building buyers embraced the architectural uniformity and simplicity to which the technology was best suited.
Based on a wealth of data that includes university curricula, laboratory and company records, organizational proceedings, blueprints, and promotional materials as well as a rich body of physical evidence such as tools, instruments, building materials, and surviving reinforced-concrete buildings, this book tests the thesis that modern mass production in the United States came about not simply in answer to manufacturers’ search for profits, but as a result of a complex of occupational and cultural agendas.”

Book: Engineering and Race in US

Amy E. Slaton, Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in US Engineering. The History of an Occupational Color Line, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010.

“Despite the educational and professional advances made by minorities in recent decades, African Americans remain woefully underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, mathematics, and engineering. Even at its peak, in 2000, African American representation in engineering careers reached only 5.7 percent, while blacks made up 15 percent of the U.S. population. Some forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act sought to eliminate racial differences in education and employment, what do we make of an occupational pattern that perpetually follows the lines of race?

Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering pursues this question and its ramifications through historical case studies. Focusing on engineering programs in three settings—in Maryland, Illinois, and Texas, from the 1940s through the 1990s—Amy E. Slaton examines efforts to expand black opportunities in engineering as well as obstacles to those reforms. Her study reveals aspects of admissions criteria and curricular emphases that work against proportionate black involvement in many engineering programs. Slaton exposes the negative impact of conservative ideologies in engineering, and of specific institutional processes—ideas and practices that are as limiting for the field of engineering as they are for the goal of greater racial parity in the profession.”