Featured post


Today, the engineering profession, more than any other, seems to embody the transformations which affect contemporary India. It simultaneously symbolizes the rise of the hypothetical « middle classes » and the positioning of India as an emerging power in the international job market, since the country has become one of the preferred destinations of large technological firms. Each year, India awards 3,50,000 engineering degrees. Continue reading

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: The Birth of an Indian Profession. Engineers, Industry and the State, 1900-1947, by Aparajith Ramnath

The Birth of an Indian Profession. Engineers, Industry and the State, 1900-1947.

by Aparajith Ramnath

Oxford University Press, India, 2017

Charting the development of the engineering profession in India from 1900 to 1947, The Birth of an Indian Profession is the first synoptic history of engineers in modern India. Through detailed case studies of public works, railways, and industrial engineers, this book argues that changes in the profession were both caused by and contributed to industrialization in the country.


Review article: Bangalore and its IT Industry (EPW, June 2017)

Review article: Bangalore and its IT industry. A changing landscape of work and life in urban India. By Michael Baas.

Askew—A Short Biography of Bangalore by T J S George, New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2016 (hardback).

Reengineering India—Work, Capital, and Class in an Offshore Economy by Carol Upadhya, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp xiii + 384, ₹995 (hardback).

Encoding Race, Encoding Class—Indian IT Workers in Berlin by Sareeta Amrute; Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016, pp x + 268, price not mentioned (paperback).

See more at: http://www.epw.in/journal/2017/24/book-reviews/bangalore-and-its-it-industry.html#sthash.L9M1xnQu.dpuf


Was your (great-) grandfather a Bombay PWD engineer during the colonial period? Share documents, images and stories

As part of an Indo-French project on the history and sociology of Indian Engineers, I am working on the Indian personnel of the Public Works Department of the Bombay Presidency from c. 1850 to c. 1950.

If your (great-) grandfather happened to be an engineer in this Department (please check the following table which lists the names, dates of birth, etc. of engineers employed in the PWD at that time), I will be happy to share with you the details I have collected in the archives about his career. And I would also be more than interested to learn about your family history.

Please feel free to contact me at the following address: vanessacaru@hotmail.com for more information and to circulate this call. Thank you!

Photography: Bust of C. M. Murzban, Murzban Colony, Tardeo, erected in 1936 ©AbodhAras  Continue reading

“Engineers who read accounts”. Technical and managerial knowledge from the standpoint of cost accounting (1850-1950)

Call for papers for a special issue of Cahiers d’Histoire du Cnam

“Engineers who read accounts”. Technical and managerial knowledge from the standpoint of cost accounting (1850-1950)

 edited by Marco Bertilorenzi (DISSGEA, University of Padua) and Ferruccio Ricciardi (CNRS, Lise-Cnam)

Since the second half of the 19th century, engineers’ tasks have been progressively re-oriented to help the rationalisation of supplies, of flows and of human capital. This transition from a mere technical level role to another in which managerial capabilities were included happened in the midst of a broad transformation of the industrial economy and, more specifically, in sectors such as the mining and steel industries. It is no coincidence that at the beginning of the 20th century, two engineers – Frederick Winslow Taylor et Henri Fayol – significantly contributed to the casting of the conceptual kernel of the new science of modern management. Workforce administration went hand in hand with the management of resources, linking the ability to administer current business with skills in forecasting and anticipating. This new management knowledge – still blurred and not yet formalised – was equipped with a range of new tools, such as for instance Gantt charts, flow charts and descriptive forms of job positions. Among these new tools, cost accounting had a special place because it served both to guide the enterprise and to manage the workforce. The organisational needs of the big enterprise included the necessity of knowing and taking control over costs by anticipation, and contributing to the definition of production and investment plans. Both in France and abroad, engineers played a central role in the managerial transformation of the enterprise. In this special issue of the Cahiers d’histoire du Cnam, we aim to gather contributions concerning the relationship between engineers and cost accounting during the historical development of major industrial enterprise (1850-1950).

Continue reading

Book : Epic Engineering. Great Canals and Barrages of Victorian India

image1Epic Engineering. Great Canals and Barrages of Victorian India, Beechwood Melrose Publishing, 2013

Alan Robertson and Jeremy Berkoff

“In India in the early nineteenth century, young British officials in their twenties could find themselves in charge of huge projects. With little or no relevant experience, they had to learn on the job.

Proby Cautley designed and built the Ganges Canal. Over 700 miles long, it remains the biggest construction in the world built without mechanical help – using only man and animal power, wheelbarrows and shovels. In the south of India, his rival and exact contemporary Arthur Cotton built a barrage across the four-mile wide Godavari river, turning its vast delta into productive land.

The achievements of Cautley and Cotton were recognised by knighthoods and public acclaim. But they were completely different in characters and they quarrelled fiercely and publicly. This is their story.”

A review of the book in the Hindu

Interview : In Conversation with Jan Brouwer

jan-brouwerIn Conversation with Jan Brouwer

Sreekala Sivasankaran interviews Jan Brouwer, a pioneer in the field of anthropology of the artisans in India

“Dr Jan Brouwer is a pioneer in the field of the anthropology of artisans in India. A versatile personality of several accomplishments, he lives and works in the quiet confines of Mysuru, South India. Author of The Makers of the World (1995) and Coping with Dependence (1988), he recently donated his personal archive on Visvakarmas in Karnataka to the Southern Regional Centre (SRC) of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), Bengaluru. Dr Sreekala Sivasankaran, Associate Professor and Project Director of ‘The Worldview of Visvakarmas’ project at IGNCA, New Delhi, makes a vignette of the man and his work in this conversation with Dr Brouwer (conducted on October 11, 2016).”

Interview available here


Book: Des ingénieurs pour un monde nouveau. Histoire des enseignements electro-techniques (Europe-Amériques)

9782807600010Des ingénieurs pour un monde nouveau. Histoire des enseignements électrotechniques (Europe, Amériques) – XIXe–XXe siècle

Marcela Efmertová et André Grelon

 À partir des années 1880, l’électricité est progressivement devenue une technologie centrale, qui va procurer des biens et assurer des services nouveaux, bouleversant ainsi la production industrielle, l’économie et les pratiques sociales et culturelles. De confidentiel, son usage ne cessera de s’étendre, devenant massif et planétaire, et aujourd’hui indispensable jusqu’aux détails de la vie quotidienne. Pour fonder et déployer un système de production, de transport et de distribution efficaces de l’électricité dans tous les pays, pour concevoir, fabriquer et diffuser les machines, outils et objets divers fonctionnant par ce moyen, en somme pour former un monde nouveau, il faut former un corps de techniciens spécialisés : ce seront les ingénieurs électriciens, pour lesquels seront élaborés et mis en œuvre des cursus dédiés. Cet ouvrage retrace la naissance et la croissance de ces formations, à partir de la fin du XIXe siècle, en Europe et sur le continent américain, et leur rôle dans le développement des différents États. Issu des travaux d’un colloque international tenu à Prague, il rassemble les contributions de 28 historiens portant sur 15 pays.


Article : “IT firms have changed the game of entrepreneurship”

Published in The Hindu, 18th October 2016

An interview with Roland Lardinois

From studying the economic strength of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) firms in India to analysing the background of the person at the helm of these firms, a French senior sociologist has attempted to take a closer look into the sociography of the major companies of the ICT sector in India.

Continue reading : http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/it-firms-have-changed-the-game-of-entrepreneurship/article9232740.ece

Article : The historical roots of our engineering obsession

by Aparajith Ramnath

“The birth anniversary of M. Visvesvaraya (September 15) is marked each year as Engineer’s Day. As another Engineer’s Day arrives, the now-familiar statistics will be rolled out again: lakhs of engineering graduates are produced in India each year from the thousands of engineering colleges that dot the country. This should lead us to examine some questions. What is the secret behind Indians’ love affair with engineering? Are there socio-cultural factors that make the Indian particularly suited to engineering, or that make engineering particularly desirable to Indians?… “

Continue reading here : http://www.thehindu.com/thread/reflections/article9110857.ece


Book : Une histoire des ingénieurs civils des mines

Marco Bertilorenzi, Jean-Philippe Passaqui et Anne-Françoise Garçon, Entre technique et gestion, une histoire des « ingénieurs civils des mines », XIXe-XXe siècles, Paris, Presses des Mines, 2016

Présentation générale 

Les « ingénieurs civils des mines », longtemps restés dans l’ombre de ceux du Corps des mines, ont pourtant exercé une influence décisive dans le processus d’industrialisation en France et ailleurs. Issus tout d’abord des Écoles des mines de Paris et de Saint-Étienne, auxquelles se sont ensuite ajoutées celles d’Alès, de Douai, de Nancy, et enfin de Nantes et d’Albi, les ingénieurs civils des mines ont été, au cours des XIXe et XXe siècles, des acteurs majeurs, omniprésents, de l’industrialisation.

À quoi est due une telle réussite ? Le « complexe technique » des mines est intrinsèquement lié à d’autres industries, telles que la métallurgie et la chimie, et implique la maîtrise de compétences diversifiées, étoffées, afin de mener une exploitation rationnelle des ressources nationales. Cependant, les seules compétences techniques sont insuffisantes ; elles doivent être associées à une maîtrise complète de la gestion et de l’administration d’une entreprise industrielle, un savoir-faire dont disposent les ingénieurs civils des mines.

Continue reading