- Series: Galaxy Books
- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 20, 1979)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195026187
- ISBN-13: 978-0195026184
- Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.9 x 5.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism (Galaxy Books)
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
See the Best Books of 2018 So Far
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for the best books of the year so far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
"An extraordinarily detailed and closely argued examination of the institutional devices that came to link management and engineering."--The New Republic
"One of the best books of the last decade....It has that rare balance: quiet, cumulative power with bolts of lightning every few pages."--William Appleman Williams, Oregon State University
"One of the outstanding works of radical social science of the 1970s."--Monthly Review
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Noble traces the social implications of technology from the last half of the eighteenth century to the 1920s. Engineers, he argues, came to view their responsibility for the human element in a technological enterprise as a process and, just as their objective was to advance technology for the highest profit, they strove to manage society for the same purpose.
The book is divided into two parts. In the first, titled "The Wedding of Science to the Useful Arts," Noble attributes the beginnings of science based industry to the electrical and chemical industries that emerged in the late 1800s. General electric, AT&T, and Dupont set the pattern for applying science industrial applications and "corporate social production steadily became a conscious process...gaining both direction and momentum." (50) New colleges and technical schools produced trained engineers who eventually rose to become corporate leaders who perpetuated the process.
Part two is titled "Corporate Reform as Conscious Social Production." Here Noble explains how engineers modified society to serve the goal of capital accumulation. Scientific standardization was the impetus to standardize human activity. Research laboratories, with their need for educated personnel, became a component of the corporate organization. In the engineers view "education was the critical process through which the human parts of the industrial apparatus could be fashioned for specifications." (168) Additionally, American patent law was modified to serve corporate needs. Multiple filings restricted competition and employee inventions became proprietary.
Just as engineering streamlined production processes, Noble argues engineers sought to reshape American society to achieve maximum output. Modern management and society were created. Society was "designed" to maximize capital accumulation by the technological elite. Thus, according to Noble, notwithstanding that people see their world changing around them, society does not change commensurably.
Nobel is not without his critics. Merritt Roe Smith praises Noble for "a thought-provoking and instructive study that sheds new light on technology as a social process" while noting his book is too "neat" for the "complexities of industrial development." (Reviewed in "The American Historical Review," June, 1978) Glenn Porter praises Noble's summary of secondary literature, but dismisses his thesis as "explicitly political," and only being "important among historians of technology on the question of whether we control technology or vice versa." (Reviewed in "The Journal of American History," Dec., 1979)
Noble divides his book into two parts consisting of ten chapters. The first part discusses the development of the close relationship between industry, education and engineers demonstrating that, "from the start, modern technology was nothing more nor less than the transformation of science into a means of capital accumulation." On the other hand, in part two, Noble illustrates how huge corporations, using their enormous resources and influence over educational institutions, manipulated the direction of society and technology. In the end, Noble shows us that America was in fact consciously designed by men "at the top" by using a barrage of information and examples to support his thesis.
Although it is no surprise that corporations exploited technology as a means to make a profit, it is rather astonishing that industrial businessmen infiltrated the world of the university in order to shape the education of the engineer to fit in with the demands of a modern capitalism. In doing so, Noble goes through great lengths to explain the evolution of educational reform. He traces the rise of the engineering profession and how the corporate elite were able to mold new engineers as well as their technological innovations to the requirements of the capitalist order, thus reinforcing and perpetuating its future. While corporations created the qualifications of engineering graduates formulated by the problems present in industrial production, the education system at the same time transformed into a factory in itself spewing out able men for positions within industrial corporations.
In a sense, since corporations could shape the education of the engineer they created a monopoly over his technical knowledge. And in a "Vebleian" strain of thought, Noble demonstrates why the engineer, ever since the beginning, was at the service of capital and its main driving force - corporations. However, what Noble points out, but Veblen does not, is the very fine line between businessman and engineer. Along with the technical training, engineering education in the United States increasingly served as a function to prepare engineering students to fill managerial positions in the industrial corporations of America. This worked as a two way street as companies needed able men to coordinate their labor and production while engineers saw managing positions as the only way to climb the corporate and social ladder. Many of the largest industries in America were headed by men trained in engineering from schools such as MIT.
While corporations were pushing for educational reform, especially during WWI, they were also devising ways on how to improve profits in a variety of ways. This was particularly seen in their use of "patent warfare" where companies attempted to create monopolies and prevent individual inventors from profiting from their inventions. As Noble points out, patenting, originally implemented to benefit the lone inventor, had been transformed into a system to privilege the corporation. Many of the largest American corporations brought many "outside" inventors to court in an attempt to block them from entering the industry, which caused inventors to withdrawal from their plans or sell their patents off at a small price to the corporation.
Lastly, and interestingly, is Noble's take on the corporation's pursuit of "human engineering." As the factory was made most efficient, engineers turned their attention to human ends. This involved men like Fredrick Taylor and his implementation of scientific engineering that made men into machines. This also entailed answering questions as how to select, train, and assign men to the correct jobs, which further involved the cooperation between industries and universities. As a result, this led to the standardization of the worker and job specifications as a way to become closer to absolute efficiency. When a backlash to Taylorism arose from workers due to its dehumanizing effects, management turned the idea of welfare capitalism - a system that was implemented to quell the corporate problems of labor in the guise of benefitting the individual worker. In the end, Noble shows that welfare capitalism was devised not for charity, but as a profit-making business scheme all along.
Overall, Noble's study of the rise of corporate capitalism reveals the human choice in technological and social development. This book is his effort to lift the veil off technological determinism and explain to us that technology is indeed socially constructed. Any student wanting to step outside the mindset of technological determinism should be compelled to read this book as it portrays the forces that have shaped, and that are still continuing to transform, American society.