Saturday, April 13, 2013

165: Arrighi, Hopkins & Wallerstein's Antisystemic Movements

From my notes from December 13, 2011 (!)


Author: Giovanni Arrighi, Terence K. Hopkins & Immanuel Wallerstein
Title (Year): Antisystemic Movements (1989)

Abstract:

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

164: Louis Hunter's Steamboats on the Western Rivers

In Steamboats on the Western Rivers: An Economic and Technological History, Louis Hunter situates a detailed history of the development of steamboat technology in the social, technological, and economic context in which it developed; he argues that "the growth of the West and the rise of steamboat transportation were inseparable; they were geared together and each was dependent upon the other."

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.

163: Roger Bilstein's Flight in America

In Flight in America: From the Wrights to the Astronauts, Roger Bilstein places the technological developments in aviation, space exploration, and the American aerospace industry in a broad social, economic, and political context.  This survey relies heavily on archival sources from the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the FAA, NASA, and oral history, aviation, and transportation collections in Denver, New York, and Wyoming, as well as his personal experiences learning to fly in 1972.  

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?

162: James Flink's The Automobile Age

In James Flink's The Automobile Age, the automobile, and its attendant complex of technologies, mass-production techniques, industrial development, roads, economic and public policy, and changes in American "lifeways" resulting from "mass personal automobility," are central to the history of capitalist development in general and to American history in particular.  Flink's materialist approach combined with the scope of this book - he attempts to cover the rise and fall of the Automobile Age in its social, technological, business, and global contexts, from the turn of the last century to the early 1970s - make it both a fascinating history of automobility and an argument for human agency even in what looks like global domination by the car.

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.

161: John Jordan's Machine-Age Ideology

In Machine-Age Ideology: Social Engineering and American Liberalism, 1911-1939, John Jordan argues that early 20th century "rational reform" was the product of the top-down, antidemocratic, technocratic politics of the machine age, and thus American liberal reformers in this era became less interested in helping the poor gain their voices as citizens than in engineering and controlling society.  Jordan's cultural history, which relies primarily on the papers of reformers, statements and theories of prominent engineers, writers, and academics, and popular lit sources, shows how technological language and notions of Progress, control, and hierarchy filtered into social reform and the institution of liberalism as a whole.

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.

160: Reyner Banham's Well-Tempered Environment

In The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, Reyner Banham argues that architecture is not just about beautiful building facades - it's also about the mechanical systems that make those buildings function.  Frustrated by the lack of attention paid to mechanical systems by architectural histories (in the late 1960s, when Banham was writing, there were apparently none), Banham pored through trade catalogues, lectures to professional societies, specialist periodicals, building plans and patent-office records, and other primary sources in pursuit not of firsts, but of mosts - of the point at which most buildings had incorporated a new technology and thus the point at which that technology had begun to shape architectural design.  His descriptions of particular buildings are thus discussions of the "typical" rather than the iconic.  With this approach, he takes architecture out of art and subsumes it into a larger category of "environmental management," an interdisciplinary, problem-based profession that treats architecture as context-dependent technological systems or "habitable volumes."

159: Eugene Ferguson's Engineering and the Mind's Eye

In Engineering and the Mind's Eye, Eugene Ferguson argues that the current (since the 1950s) privileging of math and science over the visual and nonverbal in engineering education is both a historical aberration and a dangerous practice.  Using a well-illustrated history of engineering design, Ferguson argues that not all engineering problems can be solved by mathematical analysis; without the ability to visualize machines, structures, and the environment, engineers often make poor judgement calls that lead to disastrous failures in bridges, nuclear power plants, refrigerators, and other technologies.

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.

158: Carolyn de la Pena's The Body Electric

In The Body Electric: How Strange Machines Built the Modern American, Carolyn de la Pena examines the relationship between bodies and machines in American from the 1850s to the 1950s.  Using novels, cartoons, trade mags, health fraud investigation records, newspapers, manuals, and other primary sources, de la Pena recovers a wide range of technologies and devices designed to restore the body to its natural state.  In doing so she shows how industrialization led not just to a reorganization and mechanization of production and society, but to a technologically-mediated experience of the body as well.

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

157: Susan Strasser's Never Done

In Never Done: A History of American Housework, Susan Strasser argues that housework, the job done by more people in America than any other, "cannot be separated from the broader social and economic history of the United States."  The women who did housework supported the men who built factories and cities, and the manufactured products and urban culture produced in those factories and cities in turn shaped women's housework.  Strasser thus brings 19th century housewives into history AND provides an exhaustive history of household technologies.

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.

156: Gail Cooper's Air-Conditioning America

In Air-Conditioning America: Engineers and the Controlled Environment, 1900-1960, Gail Cooper examines the development of air-conditioning technology and the tensions between engineering philosophy and consumer preference that shaped its design.  Working from a variety of sources, including trade literature, popular magazines, newspapers, and corporate records, Cooper argues that air-conditioning developed via a process of contestation, and that the three systems that resulted - custom-built systems, centralized air, and window units - are each an imperfect mix of the interests of engineers, corporations, and various consumer groups, legacies of the times when each group was more dominant than the other two.

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.

155: Martin Melosi's Sanitary City

In The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present, Martin Melosi shows that the technologies chosen for a city's sanitation infrastructure depended heavily on the prevailing environmental concerns, available technologies, money, and politics of the day.  Because most American sanitation systems were built around the turn-of-the-century, when permanence was more valued than flexibility, and because this infrastructure is costly (socially, politically, functionally, economically) to replace outright, American sanitation systems are path dependent in that they are constrained by choices made early in their construction, and they are also determinist in the sense that they shape/ constrain development around them.  Melosi thus argues that "to function effectively the American city has to be a sanitary city."

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.  

154: Donald Worster's Rivers of Empire

Donald Worster's Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West is a history of the development of the American West through the lens of water management technology.  Building on substantial archival research, Worster argues that

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.

153: Walter Licht's Industrializing America

In Industrializing America: The Nineteenth Century, Walter Licht complicates the process of industrialization in the United States during the 19th century by re-examining both the context of American industrial development and the composition of American industry.  In the first move, he situates manufacturing within a rapidly expanding market, which was fueled by a growing population, immigration, westward settlement, expanding cities, and developments in transportation and communication infrastructure; industrialization was a result of these changes as well as an active shaper of market relationships.  In the second move, he expands the focus of industrial manufacturing from large-scale industrialization to the broader business landscape of small factories, specialty shops, and regional diversity, which allows him to separate 19th century industrialization from late 19th century corporate consolidation.  Licht therefore deconstructs the old narrative of 19th century production-driven Progress, arguing instead for a declension from ordered mercantilism to a chaotic market economy that was only beginning to organize toward the end of the century.

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.

152: David Hounshell's American System

In From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932, David Hounshell takes a materialist, history of technology approach to the history of American industrialization.  Tracing American manufacturing from federal armories to civilian gunmakers, clockmakers, bicycle manufacturers and automakers, Hounshell examines the complex and often non-linear process by which American manufacturing moved from standardized, interchangeable parts to the Fordist system of mass production.  By focusing on technological development instead of social change, he overturns several long-held interpretations of this history, including processes of technological change, the economic forces driving mass production, and the definition of mass production itself.

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.

151: Lindy Biggs' Rational Factory

In The Rational Factory: Architecture, Technology, and Work in America's Age of Mass Production, Lindy Biggs examines the relationship between rationalized, mechanized mass production and the buildings in which the new assembly lines were housed.  Focusing primarily on the Ford Motor Company, with supporting evidence ranging from Oliver Evans' flour mill to the professionalization of engineering, Biggs argues that the rational factory combined people, machines, and architecture into an organic, highly efficient machine.

Biggs tells a rather linear narrative of the development of the rational factory.  While Oliver Evans had designed a mill in the 1780s that could continuously process wheat into flour (wheat entered the top floor and exited the bottom floor as flour), his integration of form and workflow was relatively ignored until the second half of the 19th century.  Early 19th century textile mills had only minor interest in controlling workflow.  However, after the civil war, the rise of the new profession of industrial engineering, in combination with the proliferation of new "processing industries" like meatpacking and steelmaking, led to renewed interest in workflow design, especially in the context of both a competitive market and worker resistance.

150: David Nye's American Technological Sublime

In American Technological Sublime, David Nye investigates the history of the social construction of the sublime in America from about 1820 to the early 1990s.  Nye's American sublime is somewhat like 18th century European concepts of the sublime, which involve human apprehension of something so big, beautiful, and incomprehensible that the mind is seized with terror, awe, and pleasure all at once; these extremes dominate the human mind, so that the person transcends the material world and comes into contact with the divine.  However, while the European sublime was a category of experience accessible only to educated individuals in contact with nature or sacred architecture, the American sublime has distinctly populist, nationalist, and capitalist overtones.  As early as the 1830s, American travellers in the West were reporting on the sublimity of the natural landscape, while people in the presence of massive new technologies were experiencing a transcendence usually reserved for nature or high art, and revivalists were recommending sublime tourist sites like Niagara as places to get in touch with the divine.  The American sublime was thus a popular, communal experience rather than an elite individual one; it was associated with emotions of awe, pleasure and terror rather than worldly transcendence; it could involve feats of engineering as well as high art and natural beauty; and its ties to American technological transformations of the landscape meant that the experience could be incorporated into nationalist narratives (love of country) and commodified into landscapes of fantasy and pleasure (Disneyland).  As Nye argues, the American sublime is key to American cultural identity.

Although the chapters are roughly chronological, Nye is more interested in talking about sublimeS rather than THE sublime, so that differences of time, place, and personal experience only add to his discussion.  Technological sublimes include the railroad as a "dynamic sublime" that awed in its ability to unite, expand, and enrich the nation; bridges and skyscrapers as a "geometric sublime" that "appeared to dominate nature through elegant design and sheer bulk.... the triumph of reason in concrete form;" factories, electric power plants, and other manufactories as a new "mechanical sublime, which regulates the mind and technologically supersedes nature;" the electrified urban landscape as an accidental "electrical sublime" that dominated night, embodied the values of capitalism and "transformed the appearance of the world;" the atomic bomb as a new, more terrifying form of the dynamic sublime, and Vegas and Disneyland (with nods to Niagara and the Grand Canyon) as the "consumer sublime," commodified pleasure landscapes that provide the rush associated with dislocation from the world of work in simulation of the sublime.

Throughout, Nye traces the ways in which increased articulations between the sublime and mass American culture have led to a watering down of what was once a transcendent, otherworldly dislocation from reality, even as they make that experience accessible to more people.  While he argues that the sublime is at once an individual and collective experience, he also shows how top-down and structurally conditioned that experience has been.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

149: Cecelia Tichi's Shifting Gears

In Shifting Gears: Technology, Literature, Culture in Modernist America, Cecelia Tichi traces the change in metaphors, images, and methods of composition used by American writers from the 1890s to the 1920s as evidence of a change in worldview, a "shifting of gears" from a romantic view of the world to a mechanical one.  Incorporating a wide variety of texts, including popular journalism, ads, kids' books, westerns, medical textbooks, government publications, modernist poetry, novels, and books on technology, not to mention toys, movies, and buildings, Tichi argues that the new "gear and girder" technology altered the ways writers used language - and that by adopting the tools, logic, and aesthetic of their surroundings, Machine Age writers made technology legible.

148: Howard Segal's Technologial Utopianism

In Technological Utopianism in American Culture, Howard Segal argues that a strain of utopian literature produced in American between 1833 and 1933 firmly linked human improvement to technology.  While technological utopianism may have been a marginal thread in popular culture, it had a huge influence on both European and American intellectuals' thoughts on technology and American movements like scientific management, the conservation movement, and technocracy.  In tracing the careers and writings of 25 American technological utopians, Segal hopes to make their ideas more accessible and also to show that utopianism is a useful tool for social criticism.

According to Segal, American technological utopianism has four unique characteristics that distinguish it from other utopian traditions:

  • technological utopians envision a world very similar to the one in which they live; the difference is more quantitative than qualitative
  • versus Europe, America in the 19th century was perceived as a place where utopia could still be built
  • American technological utopians were less revolutionary and more practical than their European counterparts
  • these writers used utopianism not to fantasize about the future but to critique and suggest improvements for present-day society.

147: Terry Smith's Making the Modern

Terry Smith is an art historian, and Making the Modern: Industry, Art, and Design in America is a study of the relationship between the visual imagery of the 1920s and 1930s and the era's cultural, economic, and industrial configurations.  Far from focusing on high modern art and design, Smith studies modern architecture, painting, photography, design, advertising as gleaned from sources as varied as Ford Motor Company photos of plants and work processes, architectural plans for office buildings, and documentation of the 1939 World's Fair in New York.  Methodologically, Smith deconstructs each work or artifact via a rigorous investigation of its historical setting for signs that the work documents conflict or social change.  Working across disciplinary boundaries, the book draws together a "visual regime" or "ensemble of processes of visualization and representation" of modernity, where visual representation and sociocultural processes work together to create a uniquely modern worldview called the "iconology of modernity."

146: John Kouwenhoven's Made in America

In Made in America: The Arts in Modern Civilization, John Kouwenhoven links an emergent American aesthetic to our unique status as a "technological civilization," the "only major world power to have taken form as a cultural unit in the period when technological civilization was spreading throughout the world."  Enterprising Americans have shaped this aesthetic by combining vernacular culture, derived from the democratic people, technology, and the American wilderness, with high culture brought back from Europe by elites; when vernacular and high culture compete, the vernacular usually wins.  And as far as Kouwenhoven can tell, that vernacular considers beauty to take the form of useful objects.

To get at this technology-based American vernacular culture, Kouwenhoven reads a wide variety of American authors, including John Hersey, Jonathan Edwards, Poe, Whitman, Horatio Greenough, Harriet Monroe, Melville, Twain, Anderson, Dos Passos,Hunter, and Emerson.  Through these writers, he finds American art in long-barrelled frontier rifles used in the American Revolution, the 'hot jazz in stone and steel' of skyscrapers, steel (instead of iron) farming tools, the Colt revolver, the Corliss engine, clipper ships, steamboats, locomotives, and even Whitney's invention of mass production.  He finds American art in fine art, too, like Gershwin's music and Sheeler's paintings, but even these are uniquely American blends of high and low culture.  And American artists for Kouwenhoven are the people who make industrialism run: engineers, mechanics, farmers, carpenters - as well as writers, painters, and musicians.

Although ascribing a uniform aesthetic to any group of people as large as the United States doesn't make much sense, nor does seeking that culture solely in the work of American writers, Kouwenhoven does make some hugely wonderful contributions to the study of technology and culture.  He erases the divide between high and low art and at the same time between commodity production and artistic production, so that the economic base and cultural superstructure - and thus, with a little elision, technology and culture - are one and the same.  And hey, I totally get what he's saying about the Corliss engine.

145: John Kasson's Civilizing the Machine

The five essays that make up John Kasson's Civilizing the Machine: Technology and Republican Values in America, 1776-1900 all examine different aspects of the relationship between technology and Republican ideology.  Using a wide variety of primary sources, including speeches, newspaper accounts, sketches, and writers like Emerson, Bellamy, Thomas Jefferson and Tenche Cox, Kasson shows that Americans first rejected technological development because they feared becoming corrupt like Europe; then incorporated Republican ideology into industrialization to stave off that same corruption by lending moral purity, industry, and restraint to technological development; and then found themselves being exploited by the very technologies they hoped to control, all in the name of Republicanism.  Kasson thus uses the relationship between political ideology and industrialization in the 19th century to complicate the relationship between technology and culture.

144: Thomas Hughes' American Genesis

In American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, Thomas Hughes argues that the 100 years from 1870 to 1970 were the years in which Americans made the country over into the modern technological nation; American "technological systems" revolutionized both technology/ technological development and American culture.  American Genesis is not a celebration of American industrial might, but a critical history: because inventors, industrial scientists, engineers, and system builders created modern America via technological systems, their values have become our values, so examining the messy history of technological development can both release us from the burden of the past and free us to turn technology to our own ends.

Hughes divides the century of technological enthusiasm into several overlapping processes:

143: Ruth Schwartz Cowan's Social History of American Technology

Like many other historians of American technology in the 1990s, Ruth Schwartz Cowan argues in A Social History of American Technology that the American technological experience is unique, shaped by a range of factors including geography and cultural diversity.  Cowan emphasizes that the social history of technology (SHOT) involves "integrating the history of technology with the rest of human history," and accordingly she integrates familiar SHOT topics like invention, the American system of manufacturing, technological systems, scientific management, electrification, automobility, flight, and biotechnology with histories of business, economics, and the environment.  She also incorporates groups previously overlooked by SHOT folks, including housewives, engineers, scientists, and people of color (including Native Americans.)  She handles all of these different elements by using case studies rather than grand narratives; the result is a series of deep contextualizations of historical technological development.

142: Marcus & Segal's Technology in America

Alan Marcus and Howard Segal's Technology in America: A Brief History is a clear, readable, social constructivist history of technological development in the United States from the early 17th century to the late 20th.  While its scope keeps the history of any particular technological development to the length of an encyclopedia article, its investment in social construction means that technologies are contextualized within social, economic, cultural, and historical developments.  The result is a history of America told through the history of technology, with an emphasis on the ways in which American culture determines technological development.

Throughout, Marcus and Segal focus not on why things didn't happen, but on how things did happen.  What made a technology acceptable and therefore applicable was a) how it was conceptualized and b) how it was explained to and understood by the people who would use it.  Both technologies & their implementation are the products of what their inventors, investors, and potential users understand of their situation and whether they think a particular

141: Lewis Mumford's Technics and Civilization

Lewis Mumford's Technics and Civilization (1934) is a massive history of technological development in the Western world in three phases: the Eotechnic, from AD 1000 to the 18th century, which was characterized by diverse, unsystematized inventions and ideas; the Paleotechnic, from the late 18th century to the late 19th, which was "reckless to the point of barbarism" in its war, death, brute strength, and industrialization; and the Neotechnic, which began in the early 20th century and is hopeful that new alloys, electricity, communication technologies will lead to better, more organic social and technological projects.  Throughout, Mumford argues that "No matter how completely technics relies upon the objective procedures of the sciences, it does not form an independent system, like the universe: it exists as an element in human culture and it promises well or ill as the social groups that exploit it promise well or ill."   He advocates a more egalitarian technopolitics via an increased understanding and assimilation of the machine.

140: Siegfried Giedion's Mechanization Takes Command

In Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History, Siegfried Giedion studies the history of the mechanization of everyday life to determine how mechanization has affected human beings and what the political limits of mechanization might be with regard to humans.  In doing so, he creates an "anonymous history," a study of "our mode of life as affected by mechanization - its impact on our dwellings, our food, our future," as well as links between industrial methods and extra-industrial practices in art and literature.  This book is thus an early (1948) cultural history of technology, with which Giedion intends to restore faith in human agency by revealing how human "work and... innovation - whether they know it or not - are continually shaping and reshaping the patterns of life."

Working from a wide range of sources, including models, manufacturing records, catalogues, advertising leaflets, etc. (he was frustrated to find that most inventors and businesses did not keep records of failed inventions), Giedion traces the development of mechanization in Western history, from ancient and medieval times to the mid-20th century, with an emphasis on the 19th and 20th century.  The books is arranged first thematically and then chronologically, and technologies, photography, painting, and business history are all intermingled, so that the reader can get a sense of the social and cultural context of different kinds of technologies in addition to a general sketch of their development.  For instance, his section on movement includes Oresmi's 15th century diagrams of planets in motion, Marey's 19th century photographic studies of birds in flight, Muybridge's photos of men at work and Gilbreth's abstract lines of time and motion studies; as movement becomes more abstract, representations of it (Joyce, Picasso) become more fragmented and sad about the loss of human continuity.  Perhaps mechanization, as linked to this rationalization of living movement, separates thought and feeling?

139: Wiebe Bijker's Bicycles, Bakelites and Bulbs

In Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change, Wiebe Bijker uses cases studies on the development of the bicycle, Bakelite, and GE's fluorescent lamp to show that technologies have politics, but like society, they are socially constructed; "artifacts are not only shaped by the power strategies of social groups but also form the micropolitics of power, constituting power strategies and solidifying power relations."  Power relationships materialize in technologies, and the technologies themselves become embedded in politics, so exploring the social construction of particular technologies reveals the politics of technology and the relationship between technology and power.

Each of Bijker's three case studies reveals a piece of his theory of sociotechnical change:

With the bicycle, Bijker shows how technological change is actually a social process, so the context of the invention and the meanings applied by social groups had more of an impact on the bicycle's design than did its intrinsic technological specifications.  Relevant social groups assigned meanings that favored some designs over others, and the bicycle's interpretive flexibility meant that particular designs "worked" while others didn't largely because they had been accepted by relevant social groups.  Once a particular design (the Safety bicycle) was accepted by a majority of people, bicycle design had achieved closure, and both design and meaning became stabilized.

138: Langdon Winner's Autonomous Technology

Published in 1977, Langdon Winner's Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-control as a Theme in Political Thought examines the idea of autonomous technology as a "convenient receptacle for a host of  contemporary anxieties." Using literary and political writings from a wide range of historical moments, he shows how autonomous technology has been associated with fears about a loss of human agency and self-governance, both at the individual and the societal level, to machines of our own creation.  Technology therefore has a politics, and if humans are to regain control and autonomy, we need to dismantle technologies, learn how they work, and rebuild them so that they serve human needs rather than their own dominance and reproduction.

Winner argues that while technology has been central to political thought for some 200 years, the 20th century proliferation of technologies and their integration in everyday life has made technology into a "vast, diverse, ubiquitous totality that stands at the center of our modern culture."  This diversity makes the word "technology" so complex as to be meaningless, or at least illegible, with the result that technology itself becomes a rather terrifying black box, appearing to usurp political power and move forward of its own volition.  In modernity, the complexity of technology requires a new ruling class, engineers, to interface with it, and an environment conducive to its operations, with which architects and engineers happily comply.  Technology also requires a particular social order to fulfill its operational requirements - which is to say that technology creates a particular form of technological politics, where the claim that "man controls technology" looks more irrational than the opposite.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

137: Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Rhodes is a novelist, and The Making of the Atomic Bomb is, as most reviewers have noted, a readable, and at times engrossing, epic (or as Hacker calls it, an “Atomiad.”)  It traces the development of the atomic bomb from the early 1900s, when physicists were just beginning to suspect the existence of an atom (though he locates belief in the “atom” as “an invisible layer of eternal, elemental substance” in ancient Greeks Leucippus and Democritus) through Los Alamos and WWII, and on to the development and testing of the “Super” or hydrogen bomb in the 1950s.  Various reviewers put their own political slants on Rhodes’ thesis, but Broad, I think, captures it most fairly: since 1945, when the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, science has for the first time become powerful enough to challenge the state.  Critically, unlike technological determinists, Rhodes sees that though atomic technology has changed the way politics is enacted, the relationship between politics and technology is a two-way street – which means, following Bohr, that a peaceful, unified, global system is just as possible in the Nuclear Age as the current system of warring states.

on to technology and culture!

Nayoyuki Kato (1980)


136: Richard Schein's Landscape and Race

With the edited collection Landscape and Race in the United States, Richard Schein aims to get the reader thinking about the relationship between race and the cultural landscape of everyday places; following Toni Morrison, he argues that "all American landscapes can be seen through a lens of race, all American landscapes are racialized.  For Schein and his contributors, cultural landscape is material, visual, and epistemological, and landscape itself is a process: we shape it to reflect our cultural values, and then the cultural "framings" it contains come back to shape culture, so that whether material or symbolic, "cultural landscapes are constitutive of the processes that created them in the first place."  Further, following Cornel West, Schein argues that race is an anti-essential, social, and political construct that "matters" as if it were ontological.  Examining race in the landscape allows us to understand, in Omi & Winant's worlds, "the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed."  In other words, studying racialized landscapes can help us understand the process of racialization.

135: Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory

In Landscape and Memory, Simon Schama argues that "even the landscapes that we suppose to be most free of our culture may turn out, on closer inspection, to be its product," and that this mutually constitutive relationship between nature and culture is "a cause not for guilt and sorrow but celebration."  Accordingly, while Landscape and Memory digs deep into the histories of a wide variety of landscapes, Schama's is an "archaeological" method rather than a critical one.  His goal is not to expose capitalist exploitation in the landscape but to dig deep "below our conventional sight-level to recover the veins of myth and memory that lie beneath the surface."  By situating landscape myths in their historical-cultural moments, Schama shows how socially-constructed meaning and memory become embedded in a landscape.

Schama applies his archaeological approach to a variety of landscapes: the primordial Bialowiez forest in Poland, which the Germans wanted to raze and replace with "a great, living laboratory of purely Teutonic species: eagles, elk, and wolves" (and bison) during WWII, because it was the symbolic and heart of Poland;   Gianlorenzo Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome as an embodiment and co=optation of the ancient obsession with circulation and flow; Mount Rushmore and sculptor Gutzon Borglum's obsession with dominating nature by carving human heads into stone; and "both kinds of arcadia, the idyllic as well as the wild," as escapist "landscapes of the urban imagination," responding to cities by providing pandemonium when cities are too ordered and bucolic countryside when cities are too chaotic.

Throughout, Schama relies on a narrative form to weave many disparate threads into each chapter's coherent whole.  This book is neither a call to action nor a complete history of particular places nor even a landscape study; it's more of a literary exploration into the layers of myth and memory that make up a landscape, arranged by a subjective narrator into layers of his own choosing.  While it's a lovely read, it does make me wonder whether Schama thinks the physical landscape needs to be there at all.

134: Carl Sauer's Morphology of Landscape

Carl Sauer's "The Morphology of Landscape" argues unambiguously that geography is the morphological study of cultural landscapes; it is the systematic study of both the ways in which humans have manipulated the physical landscape, and the ways in which physical landscape shapes the cultural landscape.  This article is one of the foundational articles for the Berkeley School, human geography, and cultural geography; Sauer wrote it partly to get the environmental determinists off his back, and partly to stake out some territory for geography.  Here are a few highlights:

  • the "morphological method" involves describing the hell out of physical and cultural landscapes, and then looking for formal patterns across landscapes to determine the connections between culture and the landscape.  The goal is to create composite types, so that you can measure future landscapes against them.  

133: Edward Relph's Modern Urban Landscape

Edward Relph's The Modern Urban Landscape examines the landscapes of large cities since 1880 for clues as to the relationship between modernization and urban form.  In particular, he studies the visual landscapes of the "modern parts of towns and cities" in North America, Britain, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand; building on this firsthand experience, he concludes that "the modern urban landscape is both rationalised and artificial, which is another way of saying that it is intensely human, an expression of human will and deeply imbued with meaning."  He thus shifts the focus of human geography from the rural to the urban, while retaining the discipline's focus on empirical observations of coherent visual landscapes.

To collect data on the changes in urban architecture, planning, technology and social conditions since 1880, Relph takes the "geographical" approach of "watching:" he starts with "the totality of what I see," then follows "several directions more or less at once," looking for unusual details, new developments, and ironic juxtapositions within the larger context of the urban fabric.  Landscapes, to Relph, are the "visual contexts of daily existence," and he insists on retaining the wholeness of the urban landscape because so much of landscape is about context, about the relationships between buildings and the streets and spaces and other structures around them, that you cannot study any one element in isolation.  Only by preserving landscape's "fragile wholeness" can we hope to learn anything about how it functions.

132: Don Mitchell's The Lie of the Land

In The Lie of the Land: Migrant Workers and the California Landscape, Don Mitchell uses labor history, critical social theory, and cultural landscape studies to reveal the "connection between the material production of landscape and the production of landscape representations, between work and the 'exercise of the imagination' that makes work and its products knowable" in the construction of California's agricultural landscape.  In doing so, he argues that the "struggles over the form that the reproduction of labor power in industrial agriculture would take" ultimately shaped the landscape.  However, landscape is ideological in that it tends to "erase the politics and actuality of work from the view" (Cosgrove) and naturalize capitalist concepts like property and land ownership.  Therefore, the critical project of The Lie of the Landto "understand the interplay between production and representation of landscapes, while at the same time restoring an ontology of labor to the center of landscape geography and history," is a political project.

131: DW Meinig's Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes

The Interpretation of Everyday Landscapes: Geographical Essays is a collection of landscape studies edited by DW Meinig.  It represents a conscious effort to complicate the cultural landscape and reclaim it from the abstractions of science, in a way that both respects the visual nature of landscape and takes advantage of its discursive possibilities.

In his Intro, Meinig defines an ordinary landscape as a continuous surface created by and through the "routine lives of ordinary people."  But it's also not that simple: landscape is a coherent unity of physical, biological, and cultural features; it has both functional and aesthetic components; it is more visual and panoramic than an environment, but less subjective and experiential than a place; and it is both a geographical formation and a representation, a history and a text, a symbol and an accretion of meanings.  Landscape is both space and meaning; it doesn't exist without interpretation.

The essays in this collection generally support Meinig's rather complex definition of landscape as a field of study.  A few highlights:

130: JB Jackson's Landscape in Sight

Landscape in Sight: Looking at America is a career-spanning collection of Jackson's essays edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz.  From my notes from March 2012:

Horowitz writes in her introduction that Jackson’s two main purposes are to discover the American (cultural) landscape and to compare it with the landscapes of Europe.  She implicitly raises a host of questions that Jackson addresses in his work – is there a distinctly American landscape?  If there is, what makes it distinct, and why is it different?  What does this landscape say about American culture?  I like that she situates his work within the physical landscapes of Europe and America, but I suspect the ideological landscape (not that Jackson would like that use of the term) in which he was writing influenced him at least as much as the physical.  His work in landscapes belies a deep interest in culture and politics, showing him to be just as interested in ideas as he was in his physical surroundings. 

129: Dolores Hayden's The Power of Place

Dolores Hayden's The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History is a reflection on 8 years of work at her Boston nonprofit The Power of Place, which she started in 1984 to "to situate women’s history and ethnic history in downtown, in public places, through experimental, collaborative projects by historians, designers, and artists."  Written for academics, fellow practitioners, and the general public, The Power of Place shows how collaboratively-produced public art can bring together urban space and urban history in new, generative ways, while also identifying and preserving significant public places from changes in the configurations of capital.  With the increasing interconnectedness of cities and the rise of placelessness, Hayden argues, an urban landscape history that accesses and generates "place memory" is the surest route to recovering both a sense of place and the historical agency/ capacity for social change that comes with it. 

128: Tim Cresswell's On the Move

In On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World, Tim Cresswell explores mobility - which he defines as "meaningful movement" - at a variety of scales and in a variety of places in the (mostly anglophone) West.  Pulling from case studies that range from Frederick Taylor's time and motion studies to British ballroom dancing to the LA Bus Riders' Union, Cresswell argues that mobility is "both center and margin - the lifeblood of modernity and the virus that threatens to hasten its downfall."  While the "mobility turn" had been taking the humanities by storm since 1996, this book is the first to interrogate what mobility is rather than defining it against what it isn't (place, boundedness, foundations, stability.)

For Cresswell, mobility is actually three mobilities that mutually constitute one another.

  • Empirical mobility is the actual movement of people, things, birds, etc.; it is the closest to actual movement and thus the most abstract (because it traces displacement, not necessarily the meaning of displacement.)  
  • Representations of mobility are the photos, literature, philosophy, etc., that capture mobility and try to make sense of it, usually in ways that are ideological.  They might link mobility to freedom, transgression, creativity, life and so on.  They reproduce mobility and interpret it according to a particular worldview.
  • Experienced mobilities are mobilities that are practiced, embodied, ways of being in the world, as well as how we experience and feel about mobility.
Mobility is both subjective and objective, and the perspective from which we experience/ study mobility has a lot to do with how we interpret it.  Because mobility is both subjective and objective, it is also both socially constructed and universal, in the sense that everything moves, and the interplay between this universal fact of life and a particular movement within a particular context gives that movement meaning.  Mobility is thus a "necessary social production," and a way of inextricably integrating geography with the politics of social life.

Cresswell's writing style is wonderfully clear and engaging, and his many case studies, as well as his brief history of the development of mobility into an individual right in the modern capitalist state, cover mobility at a variety of scales ranging from the individual to the workplace to nation, empire, and the placeless place of the Shiphol Airport.  The only thing missing, maybe, is a study of imperial movement from the perspective of the colonized, with some attention to the relationship between labor migration and uneven development.


Monday, April 8, 2013

127: Dolores Hayden's Building Suburbia

Dolores Hayden's Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-1900, is an extended essay on the 180 years of metropolitan development in the US from the perspective of the "urban periphery."    Taking a network approach to the history of suburban development, Hayden studies maps, town plans, housing designs, pictures of households, aerial photography and other sources for clues as to the particular configuration of real estate entrepreneurs; natural and built environments; the lives of women, children, and men; and class, race, and political orientations that went into the development of the suburbs, and she divines 7 distinct types, each with its own characteristic development practices, building techniques, marketing strategies, architectural preferences, and environmental attitudes.  The resulting book is both a history of suburban development and a critique of suburbia; throughout, Hayden argues that the suburbs have historically reproduced the conflict between people who seek the "triple dream of home, nature, and community" and entrepreneurs who "search for profits through the development of greenfield sites."  She thus brings the suburbs to the forefront of landscape studies and reconfigures them as a site of struggle over the realization of the American Dream.

126: Groth & Bressi's Understanding Ordinary Landscapes

The essays in Paul Groth and Todd Bressi's collection Understanding Ordinary Landscapes are compiled from a two-day symposium at Berkeley in 1990 called "Vision, Culture, and Landscape" that was intended to both celebrate and critique JB Jackson's version of cultural landscape studies.  In general, while the essays underscore Jackson's reliance on and use of visual and spatial information as a way to understand past and present cultures, they grapple with ways to deal with the realities of social and cultural pluralism and their effects on the landscape.  While in many ways Jackson's work was radically subjective and Postmodern before its time, in others it is distinctly Modern, particularly in its emphasis on underlying universals, empirical research, and continuity.

According to Groth, cultural landscape studies defines landscape as the combination of people and place, with an emphasis on the history of how people have used everyday or vernacular space - buildings, rooms, streets, fields, yards - to establish and articulate identities, social relations, and cultural meanings.  When JB Jackson started publishing Landscape in 1951, he also emphasized the activist mission of cultural landscape studies: the more people know about ordinary environments, the more they will become attached to them and the less likely they will be to wantonly destroy them.  Groth and Bressi build on cultural landscape studies via a 6-part framework updated for the 1990s:

  1. focus on ordinary landscapes to get at cultural meaning and environmental experience
  2. shift from a rural emphasis to both rural and urban landscapes, as well as landscapes of production and landscapes of consumption
  3. continue to study diversity and uniformity, but emphasize difference, fragmentation, intertextuality and hybridity instead of a single, unifying narrative
  4. continue to write for the intelligent lay reader
  5. support a broad notion of interdisciplinarity that includes cultural, human, social, critical, landscape architecture, art history and other approaches
  6. engage with visual and spatial information, either in support of or in direct opposition to it; the landscape must remain the primary object of study.  Respect JB Jackson's argument that "landscape... must be regarded first of all in terms of living rather than looking."
This collection includes many heavyweights: David Lowenthal, Peirce Lewis, Dolores Hayden, Wilbur Zelinsky, and more - all folks who are contributing to and thinking about what a new cultural geography might mean and how it might be updated to include social difference and PoMo cultural theory.  It also holds up JB Jackson as the methodological exemplar of cultural landscape studies - which makes sense, because as far as I know, he invented it.

125: Kenneth Foote's Shadowed Ground

In Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy, Kenneth Foote examines the treatment of spaces of violence and tragedy in the US to see how the relationship between private grief and larger national narratives is encoded and shaped by the landscape.  His (many) case studies include the Revolutionary and Civil Wars; the first slave arrival (in 1619), mass murders, political assassinations, violent labor and race riots, transportation accidents, fires, floods, and explosions; he argues that "the decision to render sites visible/ invisible reflects a deliberate choice regarding issues of meaning and identity."  Shadowed Ground thus contributes not just to the recovery of American history in the landscape, but to the exploration of the relationship between space and memory.

Foote argues that responses to tragic sites generally fit somewhere along this continuum, keeping in mind that the categories are not fixed:

124: Duncan & Duncan: Landscapes of Privilege

In Landscapes of Privilege: The Politics of the Aesthetic in an American Suburb, James Duncan and Nancy Duncan examine the landscape of Bedford, a wealthy community in Westchester County, to understand the relationship between aesthetics and the production of place and identities, and to think through the "wider social consequences of such an aestheticized view of the world."  Via interviews and first-hand landscape observation, they explore several interrelated issues:

  • "the ways people produce their identities in and through places, especially homeplaces, such as houses, gardens, and home communities," particularly some of the more “conservative, defensive attempts at using one’s surroundings to establish individual, family, and community identities…. against and in contrast to an outside world” or ‘constitutive outside.’
  • the effects, intended and unintended, of a virulent, reactionary politics of anti-development in Bedford in response to all the stars moving in and buying up properties
  • the role of Bedford landscapes as symbolic resources used in the quest for social distinction: how residents are invested in Bedford socially, psychologically, economically

123: Duany, Plater-Zyberk & Speck's Suburban Nation

Despite its title, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, this book is only partially about suburbia; it also serves as a programmatic statement and justification for New Urbanist development.  Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck are architectural and city planners who designed the planned community of Seaside, Florida, and throughout Suburban Nation they argue that suburban sprawl is not bad because it is ugly.  Rather, the authors (and their urban and suburban informants) argue that because there is a "causal relationship between the character of the physical environment and the social health of families and the community at large, suburbia is bad because it doesn't function to foster community and democracy.  By contrast, communities modeled after "traditional American neighborhoods" can be aesthetically pleasing, make more efficient use of space, and cater to the needs of both individuals and the community.

122: Mona Domosh's Invented Cities

In Invented Cities: The Creation of Landscape in Nineteenth-Century New York and Boston, Mona Domosh examines the historical, economic, and cultural origins of city development in Boston and New York.  Shows that in the 19th century, Boston and New York developed different spatial and architectural forms due to their different social/cultural structures, and that in both cases the physical and cultural structures mutually constituted the cities as different entities.  However, in both cities, the cultural landscape of the city represented its middle and upper classes, who produced "visible representations of their individual and group beliefs, values, tensions, and fears" on the urban landscape.  By applying a new cultural geography framework to urban landscape analysis, she brings 19th century urban development to life and shows how spatial patterns and culture shape one another.

121: Denis Cosgrove's Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape

From my notes from Spring 2012:

In Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape, Denis Cosgrove argues that the idea of “landscape constitutes a discourse through which identifiable social groups historically have framed themselves and their relations with both the land and with other human groups, and that this discourse is closely related epistemically and technically to ways of seeing.” (xiv) In other words, both humanistic and scientific approaches to landscape construct, represent, and interpret landscapes from a single, primarily visual, ideological perspective.  If this perspective is more invested in conveying the individual consumption of the landscape than in collective production of it, it also clearly articulates the construction of landscape and landscape discourse with power.

Cosgrove builds this argument through a history of the ‘landscape idea’ as it developed in Europe during the shift from feudalism to capitalism (from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution), where he subjects transitions in both physical construction of landscapes (from feudal manors and land-bound serfs to property and landless, mobile populations) and representation of landscapes (from landscape painting and maps to photography) to an analysis intended to break down the ideological emphasis on the visual and to reveal the collective social construction of landscape.