A fascinating study that shows how the intersection of technology and politics has shaped South African history since the 1960s.
This book details the development of an interconnected technological system of a coal mine and of the Matimba and Medupi power stations in the Waterberg, a rural region of South Africa near the country’s border with Botswana. South Africa’s state steel manufacturing corporation, Iscor, which has since been privatized, developed a coal mine in the region in the 1970s. This set the stage for the national electricity provider, Eskom, to build coal-fueled power stations in the Waterberg.
Faeeza Ballim follows the development of these technological systems from the late 1960s, a period of heightened repression as the apartheid government attempted to realize its vision of racial segregation, to the deeply fraught construction of the Medupi power station in postapartheid South Africa. The Medupi power station was planned toward the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century as a measure to alleviate the country’s electricity shortage, but the continued delay of its completion and the escalation of its costs meant that it failed to realize those ambitions while public frustration and electricity outages grew.
By tracing this story, this book highlights the importance of technology to our understanding of South African history. This characterization challenges the idea that the technological state corporations were proxies for the apartheid government and highlights that their activities in the Waterberg did not necessarily accord with the government’s strategic purposes. While a part of the broader national modernization project under apartheid, they also set the stage for worker solidarity and trade union organization in the Waterberg and elsewhere in the country. This book also argues that the state corporations, their technology, and their engineers enjoyed ambivalent relationships with the governments of their time, relationships that can be characterized as both autonomous and immersive. In the era of democracy, while Eskom has been caught up in government corruption—a major scourge to the fortunes of South Africa—it has also retained a degree of organizational autonomy and offered a degree of resistance to those who sought to further corruption.
The examination of the workings of these technological systems, and the state corporations responsible for them, complicates conventional understandings of the transition from the authoritarian rule of apartheid to democratic South Africa, which coincided with the transition from state-led development to neoliberalism. This book is an indispensable case study on the workings of industrial and political power in Africa and beyond.
Enlightenment-era writers had not yet come to take technology for granted, but nonetheless were—as we are today—both attracted to and repelled by its potential. This volume registers the deep history of such ambivalence, examining technology’s influence on Enlightenment British literature, as well as the impact of literature on conceptions of, attitudes toward, and implementations of technology. Offering a counterbalance to the abundance of studies on literature and science in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain, this volume’s focus encompasses approaches to literary history that help us understand technologies like the steam engine and the telegraph along with representations of technology in literature such as the “political machine.” Contributors ultimately show how literature across genres provided important sites for Enlightenment readers to recognize themselves as “chimeras”—“hybrids of machine and organism”—and to explore the modern self as “a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”
New Yorkers generate millions of tons of trash annually, which, through the magic of infrastructure and one of the largest waste management systems in the world, disappears from city sidewalks each night. Under pressure from environmentalists, activists, policymakers, and industry, the New York City Department of Sanitation started exploring ways to divert organic material from the waste stream, and in 2013, launched its composting pilot program.
Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork with community composters and microhaulers in New York City, alongside the rollout of the city’s curbside organics collection system, Composting Utopia describes how local, grassroots organizations intervened in the city’s waste system, enacting change and presenting an alternative vision of the composting city. As Guy Shaffer argues, movement-driven infrastructure projects develop new tools for organizing the world, give communities agency over urban design, and promote just sustainability.
An in-depth look at life in the “smart” city
Technology has fundamentally transformed urban life. But today’s “smart” cities look little like what experts had predicted. Aaron Shapiro shows us the true face of the revolution in urban technology, taking the reader on a tour of today’s smart city. Along the way, he develops a new lens for interpreting urban technologies—logistical governance—to critique an urban future based on extraction and rationalization.
Through ethnographic research, journalistic interviews, and his own hands-on experience, Shapiro helps us peer through cracks in the smart city’s facade. He investigates the true price New Yorkers pay for “free,” ad-funded WiFi, finding that it ultimately serves the ends of commercial media. He also builds on his experience as a bike courier for a food delivery startup to examine how promises of “flexible employment” in the gig economy in fact pave the way for strict managerial control. And he turns his eye toward hot-button debates around police violence and new patrol technologies, asking whether algorithms are really the answer to reforming our cities’ ongoing crises of criminal justice.
Through these gripping accounts of the new technological urbanism, Design, Control, Predict makes vital contributions to conversations around data privacy and algorithmic governance. Shapiro brings much-needed empirical research to a field that has often relied on “10,000-foot views.” Timely, important, and expertly researched, Design, Control, Predict doesn’t just help us comprehend urbanism today—it advances strategies for critiquing and resisting a dystopian future that can seem inevitable.
Hydraulic Societies explores the linked themes of water, power, state-building, and hydraulic control. Bringing together a range of ecological, geographical, chronological, and methodological perspectives, the essays in this book address how humans have long harnessed water and sought to contain its destructive power for political, economic, and social ends. Water defines every aspect of life and remains at the center of human activity: in irrigation and agriculture; waste and sanitation; drinking and disease; floods and droughts; religious beliefs and practices; fishing and aquaculture; travel and discovery; scientific study; water pollution and conservation; multi-purpose dam building; boundaries and borders; politics and economic life; and wars and diplomacy.
From the earliest large irrigation works thousands of years ago, control over water has involved control over people, as the essays in this volume reflect. The intersections of water and political, economic, and social power historically span international as well as domestic politics and operate at scales ranging from the local to the global. The authors consider the role of water in national development schemes, water distribution as a tool of political power, international disputes over waterways and water supplies, and the place of water in armed conflicts. They explore the ways in which political power and social hierarchies have themselves been defined and redefined by water and its control, how state leaders legitimized their rule both culturally and economically through the control of water, and how water management schemes were a means to impose and refine colonial power.
Over the past few decades, Austin, Texas, has made a concerted effort to develop into a “technopolis,” becoming home to companies such as Dell and numerous start-ups in the 1990s. It has been a model for other cities across the nation that wish to become high-tech centers while still retaining the livability to attract residents. Nevertheless, this expansion and boom left poorer residents behind, many of them African American or Latino, despite local and federal efforts to increase lower-income and minority access to technology.
This book was born of a ten-year longitudinal study of the digital divide in Austin—a study that gradually evolved into a broader inquiry into Austin’s history as a segregated city, its turn toward becoming a technopolis, what the city and various groups did to address the digital divide, and how the most disadvantaged groups and individuals were affected by those programs.
The editors examine the impact of national and statewide digital inclusion programs created in the 1990s, as well as what happened when those programs were gradually cut back by conservative administrations after 2000. They also examine how the city of Austin persisted in its own efforts for digital inclusion by working with its public libraries and a number of local nonprofits, and the positive impact those programs had.
An inquiry into how livestreaming can help us meaningfully connect
Livestreaming is ubiquitous in our Covid-19-inflected era. In this book, EL Putnam takes up the implications of this technology, arguing that livestreamed internet broadcasts perform aesthetic and ethical encounters that invite distinctive means of relating to others. Treating humans and technologies as inherently relational, Putnam considers how livestreaming constitutes new patterns of being together that are complex, ambivalent, and transformative. Understood in such a way, we see how livestreaming exceeds quantifying and calculating metrics, challenges emphasis on content generation, and introduces an entirely new—and dynamic—means of social engagement.
In the contemporary Western imagination, Asian people are frequently described as automatons, which disavows their humanity. In Model Machines, Long Bui investigates what he calls Asian roboticism or the ways Asians embody the machine and are given robotic characteristics.
Bui offers the first historical overview of the overlapping racialization of Asians and Asian Americans through their conflation with the robot-machine nexus. He puts forth the concept of the “model machine myth,” which holds specific queries about personhood, citizenship, labor, and rights in the transnational making of Asian/America.
The case studies in Model Machines chart the representation of Chinese laborers, Japanese soldiers, Asian sex workers, and other examples to show how Asians are reimagined to be model machines as a product of globalization, racism, and colonialism. Moreover, it offers examples of how artists and everyday people resisted that stereotype to consider different ways of being human. Starting from the early nineteenth century, the book ends in the present with the new millennium, where the resurgence of China presages the “rise of the machines” and all the doomsday scenarios this might spell for global humanity at large.
New Natures broadens the dialogue between the disciplines of science and technology studies (STS) and environmental history in hopes of deepening and even transforming understandings of human-nature interactions. The volume presents richly developed historical studies that explicitly engage with key STS theories, offering models for how these theories can help crystallize central lessons from empirical histories, facilitate comparative analysis, and provide a language for complicated historical phenomena. Overall, the collection exemplifies the fruitfulness of cross-disciplinary thinking.
The chapters follow three central themes: ways of knowing, or how knowledge is produced and how this mediates our understanding of the environment; constructions of environmental expertise, showing how expertise is evaluated according to categories, categorization, hierarchies, and the power afforded to expertise; and lastly, an analysis of networks, mobilities, and boundaries, demonstrating how knowledge is both diffused and constrained and what this means for humans and the environment.
Contributors explore these themes by discussing a wide array of topics, including farming, forestry, indigenous land management, ecological science, pollution, trade, energy, and outer space, among others. The epilogue, by the eminent environmental historian Sverker Sörlin, views the deep entanglements of humans and nature in contemporary urbanity and argues we should preserve this relationship in the future. Additionally, the volume looks to extend the valuable conversation between STS and environmental history to wider communities that include policy makers and other stakeholders, as many of the issues raised can inform future courses of action.
A sweeping critique of how digital capitalism is reformatting our world.We now live in an “ordinal society.” Nearly every aspect of our lives is measured, ranked, and processed into discrete, standardized units of digital information. Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy argue that technologies of information management, fueled by the abundance of personal data and the infrastructure of the internet, transform how we relate to ourselves and to each other through the market, the public sphere, and the state.The personal data we give in exchange for convenient tools like Gmail and Instagram provides the raw material for predictions about everything from our purchasing power to our character. The Ordinal Society shows how these algorithmic predictions influence people’s life chances and generate new forms of capital and social expectation: nobody wants to ride with an unrated cab driver anymore or rent to a tenant without a risk score. As members of this society embrace ranking and measurement in their daily lives, new forms of social competition and moral judgment arise. Familiar structures of social advantage are recycled into measures of merit that produce insidious kinds of social inequality.While we obsess over order and difference—and the logic of ordinality digs deeper into our behaviors, bodies, and minds—what will hold us together? Fourcade and Healy warn that, even though algorithms and systems of rationalized calculation have inspired backlash, they are also appealing in ways that make them hard to relinquish.
Questions the literal burying of the nuclear threat and how it relates to expectations for our future
A rising ocean. A falling building. A toxic river. Species extinguished. A nuclear landscape. In a world so configured, the state of contemporary ecological thought and practice is woefully—and perilously—inadequate. Focusing on the government’s nuclear waste burial program in Carlsbad, New Mexico, Signs of Danger begins the urgent work of finding a new way of thinking about ecological threat in our time.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad began receiving shipments in 1999. With a proposed closing date of 2030, this repository for nuclear waste must be secured with a sign, the purpose of which will be to keep people away for three hundred generations. In the official documents uncovered by Peter van Wyck, we encounter a government bureaucracy approaching the issue of nuclear waste as a technical problem only to find itself confronting a host of intractable philosophical issues concerning language, culture, and history. Signs of Danger plumbs these depths as it shows us how the problem raised in the desert of New Mexico is actually the problem of a culture grappling with ecological threats and with questions of the limits of meaning and representation in the deep future.
The reflections at the center of this book—on memory, trauma, disaster, representation, and the virtual—are aimed at defining the uniquely modern status of environmental and nuclear threats. They offer invaluable insights into the interface of where culture ends and nature begins, and how such a juncture is closely linked with questions of risk, concepts of history, and the cultural experience of time.
Winner of the 2005 Gertrude J. Robinson Book Prize of the Canadian Communication Association
An urgent reality check for America’s blinkered fixation on STEM education.
We live in an era of STEM obsession. Not only do tech companies dominate American enterprise and economic growth while complaining of STEM shortages, but we also need scientific solutions to impending crises. As a society, we have poured enormous resources—including billions of dollars—into cultivating young minds for well-paid STEM careers. Yet despite it all, we are facing a worker exodus, with as many as 70% of STEM graduates opting out of STEM work. Sociologist John D. Skrentny investigates why, and the answer, he shows, is simple: the failure of STEM jobs.
Wasted Education reveals how STEM work drives away bright graduates as a result of “burn and churn” management practices, lack of job security, constant training for a neverending stream of new—and often socially harmful—technologies, and the exclusion of women, people of color, and older workers. Wasted Education shows that if we have any hope of improving the return on our STEM education investments, we have to change the way we’re treating the workers on whom our future depends.
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