Thursday, May 9, 2013
Saturday, April 13, 2013
From my notes from December 13, 2011 (!)
Author: Giovanni Arrighi, Terence K. Hopkins & Immanuel Wallerstein
Title (Year): Antisystemic Movements (1989)
The five essays that make up Arrighi, Hopkins, and Wallerstein’s Antisystemic Movements, all of which were presented between 1982 and 1988 at the International Colloquia on the World Economy, progressively theorize and explicate the new world-system and the antisystemic movements that shape and are shaped by it. Although system and resistance are dialectically related, all resistence is directly shaped by the structures and processes of the world-system; the purpose of this volume is to reexamine patterns and successes of antisystemic movements thus far. To theorize the world-system, AH&W expand on Weber’s distinction between class-based (economic) and status-based (prestige) political communities, which, in turn, is based on Marx’ base and superstructure. They articulate status-based communities to autonomous nation-states and class-based communities to the increasingly global world economy, where economic and political competition are increasingly being replaced by giant transnational corporations managing vast circulations of capital. States become striated into three rings of power: the core states, which conveniently include the US, USSR, Japan, China, and Western Europe; the semi-peripheral states, which are mostly communist, and the peripheral states which are going through various iterations of radical nationalism. As capitalism goes global, power becomes centralized in the core, but capital becomes decentralized as it goes further and further in search of Third World countries that can’t resist its exploitation. However, while increased globalization of capitalism leads to increased oppression of the world’s peoples, this process also leads to greater opportunities for transnational resistance, because capitalism’s “integrating tendencies” lend structure and organization to the resistence that is always-already fomenting just beneath the surface. When oppression becomes too acute, antisystemic activity responds. The dilemma of antisystemic activism, however, is that historically it has been aimed at overturning the state, but in the era of global capitalism it should really be aiming to overturn the capitalist system, because capitalism, not states, is where the power lies now.
I have to admit, I find a lot to like in world-systems theory, partly because it is clearly and succinctly theorized and partly because its global perspective helps explain processes that might be invisible or less logical at a smaller scale. Although the authors touch on a mere two dozen sources in their bibliography, they spend pages explaining each element of their theory and how they used Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Max Weber, or Emile Durkheim to derive it, a process which, while keeping their work solidly within the Enlightenment canon, clearly anchors their ideas in the history of Western thought. Thus, they are able to derive a political model from the familiar base-and-superstructure, explain that class is by definition a class in itself but nationalism is a class for itself (because it involves mutual recognition of non-economic similarities), and show that at a global scale, class and status become fused at the level of the state and therefore at the level of the (dialectically necessary) antisystemic movement. Likewise, they can show that while social movements generally occur in direct action against the state, the new global capitalism – and the resulting fusion between base and superstructure at the state level – make it possible for revolution to occur at the global scale, both because the theory works out neatly and because all of the states are thoroughly and irrevocably interconnected. The combination of theory and global scale makes world processes and world revolution visible and legible. It also has an eerie ability to make sense of the relationships between, say, the Arab Spring, the teetering Euro, and the Occupy Wall Street movement: increased interconnectivity both renders economics more important than statehood and helps protesters mobilize class- and status-based identities and rhetorics to protest the New World Order.
Despite my infatuation with neat theoretical explanations, however, AH&W’s world-systems version of social movement theory is not without its problems. Beyond the obvious lack of empirical evidence, world-systems theory, as Tilly reiterates in Big Structures, operates at such a large scale that only sweeping generalizations are possible; this leads to an erasure of the very differences between peoples and movements that can help explain their development, rise, and fall. Further, characterizing social movements as merely the dialectical partner of global capitalism assigns all agency to the capitalist system and leaves nothing but structurally pre-ordained crumbs for antisystemic activists – or for any social actors, for that matter. And far from being dynamic, the picture of the world that world-systems theory creates is resolutely static, with its three concentric rings of power, continually-suffering oppressed peoples, and linear trajectory from 1848 to 1968, which the authors call the “great rehearsal.” The great rehearsal for the glorious revolution? In spite of their insistence on a dialectical structure, the authors come off as rather heavy-handed Marxists, moulding world history into some slow but steady progress toward the final liberatory revolution.
Despite this heavy-handedness – and in some cases because of it – AH&W’s world-systems take on social movements is connected to many writers working on similar problems at the same time and has had a profound impact on the study of social movements. The authors cite Marx, Smith, Weber, and Durkheim as their primary influences, and these are all very visible in the text, but Foucault and Althusser are also quite present, particularly in their conception of politics as a closed system and power as inescapable. Although he disagrees with their choice of scale, Charles Tilly’s Big Structures shows that he was strongly influenced by their nation-state/world-economy tension as well as by the dialectical relationship between social movements and the structures they are moving against. Tarrow’s Power in Movement belies a similar understanding of these tensions, though he (and Tilly) insist that the large-scale theory be paired with empirical evidence of historically contingent social movements. Finally, and more recently, geographer David Harvey has adapted world-systems theory for the present day and has used it to advocate for revolution from within the system. Thus, despite its faults, world-systems theory has been incredibly useful for scholars of social movements, and I imagine it will continue to do so.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Using contemporary newspapers, census documents, traveller accounts, and other primary sources form about the 1780s to the end of the 19th century, Hunter shows that steam transportation technology was the result of many people's contributions (both English and American), not just those of a few great men. He also shows that in America, steam navigation started on the Atlantic seaboard but quickly moved inland to the Western rivers, where steamboats dominated inland transportation and commerce for a generation; and he argues that from 1925 to 1850 the steamboat was the main technological agent in developing the Mississippi basin from a "raw frontier society" to "economic and social maturity." Finally, he claims that the Western steamboat was known worldwide as the "typical" American steamboat partly because it was so important to the economy of the region and partly because it was unique in its design, construction, and operation. Published in 1949, this book was the scholarly survey of the development of steam navigation on the Western rivers that pulled together technology, operations, and governmental intervention into a consistent whole.
While Bilstein's sources and approach are somewhat top-down and conventional, his narrative does provide a clear history of aviation in the US. He traces aviation's early start in stunt planes (the Wright Brothers couldn't get the military to buy their invention, so they sold planes to the circus), post-WWI innovations in military aviation; 1920s mail routes, crop dusting, photography, professionalization, long stunt trips, crashes; 1930s streamlined passenger planes, trans-oceanic flying boats, and German rocketry; Fordist mass production, WASPs, and American air dominance during and after WWII, along with post-war fear of ICBMs, tech innovations by the military, and American desires for an intercontinental passenger network; the development of helicopters and the expansion of passenger travel and "jet setting" in the late 50s and early 60s, tech evolution of private planes (renamed "general aviation" in the 1960s to look less bougie), and the impacts of Vietnam, space exploration, the Cold War, and pop culture on flight. Deregulation and international collaboration across globalized aerospace industries in the 1980s led to some pretty incredible tech developments along with growing fears of bombs on planes and Soviet/US competition that led to the Challenger disaster.
Throughout, the book is illustrated with photos (though some, like those of the early stunt pilots, are creepy because you know they died flying), and Bilstein works to contextualize flight in American cultural history. He does spend a lot more time talking about military and defense projects and developments in industry and technology than he does talking about popular responses to flight. I wonder if that was a conscious choice, if it was conditioned by the archives he chose, or if it truly is difficult to link such capital-intensive and seemingly distant technologies to everyday life?
Flink's narrative covers many of the canonical topics within industrialization and automobility: the Fordist system of mass production/ mass consumption; transformations in social relations and the landscape as a result of automobility; Sloanism, bureaucracy, and flexible, style-based mass production; global automobility coupled with competition from Europe and Japan; and social and environmental critiques of automobility combined with the "world car." He discusses these processes by carefully tracing technological diffusion within the technological system of the automobile.
Jordan divides his study into three historical periods, each with its own reform projects. He locates the origins of rational reform (1880-1910) in Progressive reformers and sociologists like Veblen, who want to make the relationship between reformers and society less political and more like the relationship between engineers and nature. From 1910 to WWI, publications like Lippman's The New Republic and foundations like Russel Sage, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Carnegie Corp start arguing that "disinterested specialists" well-versed in social science and technology should lead the masses; Herbert Hoover called on manly men to be "officers in the great industrial army;" and Taylor and other efficiency experts made the efficiency craze visible.
Ferguson's emphasis on the visual is actually linked to a larger concern with engineering's loss of that holistic, experiential real-world experience on which the field was initially based - its retreat into scientific analysis. Thus, his history of engineering emphasizes its subjective nature before the scientific turn. In the Renaissance, engineers used improved drawing techniques to visualize and thus think through Scientific Revolution discoveries like planetary motion and human anatomy, and perspective drawing techniques (devised by Renaissance mathematicians) facilitated design by making representations more realistic. In the 18th and 19th centuries, formalized drawing techniques (especially orthogonal drawing), the use of models, and the development of visual systems for engineering calculation - slide rules, indicator diagrams, nomography, and graphic statistics - kept visual thinking at the forefront of engineering design and practice. After WWII, engineering education shifted away from an open-ended art and toward deductive, exact science: shop courses were replaced with theories of thermodynamics, mechanics, heat transfer; students have little interaction with the real world; graduating engineers have a hard time designing solutions for real-world problems.
Throughout, Ferguson's underlying argument is that the subjective, connected to real-world problems through visual thinking and representation, is incredibly important to engineers' ability to design effective solutions, and that engineering's scientific turn to abstract objectivity has had disastrous effects on the safety and utility of engineering projects. While his emphasis on the visual leads Ferguson to neglect larger systems of power in some of his examples (the Challenger failure), and I suspect that what he's actually getting at is fostering creativity rather than the visual per se, his argument for subjectivity and creative, real-world thinking in engineering certainly makes sense to me.
The Body Electric is divided into three general sections: Dudley Sarget and Gustav Zander's weight-lifting machines and training programs designed to "balance" the body through uniform muscle development and "unblock" energy trapped within; technologies like electric belts, vibration devices, and magnetic collars (mostly from 1880 to 1930) that supposedly injected energy into the body to increase its reserve force; and radium (radioactive) waters that were taken as tonics and in baths to flood the body with heat and energy, mostly from 1902 to 1940. Throughout, de la Pena examines the relationship between these technologies and gender (increasing male strength; electrically stimulating male sexuality; curing neurasthenia), class (upper classes went to gyms; middle classes bought a wide range of technologies; working classes bought radium dispensers), and race (a Dr. Pancoast at UPenn treated African Americans by applying x-rays for up to 15 minutes at a time "allegedly" to turn their skin white.) She also shows how these treatments were often supported with the language of science: the laws of Thermodynamics; offsetting entropy; electric transfer; energy.
Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about this book is that much of this "better living through technology" discourse held on until the atomic bomb, and some of it, like using physical fitness to cure neurasthenia, lives on in only slightly modified language today.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Strasser is interested in what 19th century housewives actually did and what technologies they really used, not in the history of the technologies per se; the date that most households seemed to have a particular kind of technology and how most housewives seemed to use it are a lot more important to her than the date the technology was patented or the technological innovations that went into it or when the first privileged few got ahold of it. Therefore, she uses new social history methodologies to access her subject. Her sources include reformers' reports on intolerable living conditions, government documents on standards of living, sociologists' descriptions of daily life, manufacturers' market research, ads, catalogues, travel accounts, letters, and advice manuals, cookbooks, and women's magazines. In all of these sources, she's looking not so much at the opinions or prescriptive advice but at the ways in which particular technologies and practices are framed - as new, old-fashioned, commonplace, etc. This strategy allows her to approximate what American housewives' lives might have been like at different points in time form 1850 to 1930.
Per Cooper, air conditioning development went through three major phases. From 1900 to WWI, engineers Alfred Wolff, Stuart Cramer and Willis Carrier adapted industrial heating, ventilation, and freezing systems to offices and factories. Their custom designs attempted to control both heat and humidity, though they focused mainly on humidity until the 1930s. The first custom systems were installed in stock exchanges, banks, and Southern textile mills. Because Progressive reformers were obsessive about healthy ventilation for schoolchildren, schools also became testing grounds for the new technology.
Working from the water management systems in several major American cities, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, Melosi traces the development of sanitation infrastructure through three phases:
- The "Age of Miasmas" (colonial times to 1880): basically, if you can't see or smell it, it isn't there; dilution of waste water will purify it.
The West, more than any other American region, was built by state power, state expertise, state technology, and state bureaucracy. That is another way of saying that it has been, and is, the most thoroughly modern of American regions, and therefore that its experience, particularly in the matter of water, has been most instructive for deciphering the confused messages of that modernity.
By positioning water as technology rather than nature and the West as a federally-funded, man-made landscape, Worster both deconstructs the West's self-image as independent and free of government control AND reconstructs the region not as a colony of the East but as the seat of a global American empire.
Licht synthesizes business history, economics, labor history, and the history of technology to situate American industrialization in its economic, social, political, and regional contexts. He begins in the early 1800s with regional diversity and the Jefferson/ Hamilton debates; examines the diversity of antebellum development in its mill villages, single-industry cities, diversified urban centers, and Southern "industrial" slavery; discusses artisan protests in Jacksonian American along with with evangelical reform; charts the relationship between the Civil War and government-sponsored industrialization and transportation; and analyzes regional industrial diversity, the rise of Carnegie, Rockefeller and anti-monopoly politics, and the labor disputes, single-issue reform movements, and utopian critiques of late-19th century urban disorder.
Licht's relentless contextualization, breakdown of industry into regions, and insistence that the voices of workers, women, and immigrants be heard are a welcome relief to the usual histories of 19th century technology.
Americans were using relatively interchangeable parts to manufacture standardized goods like window frames, guns, clocks, locks, and furniture in the early 19th century, but true interchangeability, where parts could be subbed out for another part with no reworking, was first achieved in federal armories, who had far more money to play with than did their civilian counterparts. This "armory practice"diffused to other companies when mechanics left the armories to work at Singer Sewing Machines, McCormick Reaper Works, or Pope bicycles, but armory practice didn't readily translate, partly because company owners and skilled craftsmen resisted (especially at Singer) and partly because true interchangeability, which at that point involved jigs, gauges, and fixtures as well as special purpose machine tools, could be pricey. However, all three companies lurched toward armory practice in an effort to meet rising demand by reducing rework/ assembly time. In the late 19th century, Ford began combining armory practice, the bicycle industry's pressed steel, inflexible, single-purpose machinery, and moving assembly lines into a new mass production system, but even he proceeded by fits and starts, so that the apex of mass production was only realized in the River Rouge plant - and then at a time when mass production was no longer the best business model.
Throughout, Hounshell details the genealogical process by which individual people diffused armory practices through American metalworking industries, and he traces this history not through the feats of heroic inventors and designers but through the mistakes and experiments of ordinary people. He shows empirically that demand drove production in the 19th century, not the other way around, though demand was at least partly driven by advertising and marketing. He also discusses regional variation in production techniques, as when New England bike manufacturers prefer welding/ forging, while Midwestern manufacturers prefer stamping, and shows how techniques in one industry filter into another, so that Ford's location in the Midwest, for instance, influenced his choice to use metal stamping rather than welding. And finally, Hounshell uses a history of technology approach - focusing on technology and asking how - rather than a social history approach - looking at social formations and asking why - which allows him to penetrate American manufacturing in detail without worrying about causality until he has the material evidence in hand.
While Hounshell's account would have benefited from further discussion of labor, this book is otherwise an incredibly thorough and wonderfully materialist history of American manufacturing.