I recently came across the work of the history professor Gabrielle Hecht, of the University of Michigan. It struck out to me both because of its focus on nuclear technologies (which my educational background is in) and on the way socio-technical systems intersect with colonialism and imperialism. Here are three of her books published via The MIT Press, with excerpts of the summary:
Historian Gabrielle Hecht has brilliantly deployed the tools of the engineer, anthropologist, literary critic, and social theorist to analyze how the nuclear industry became integral to France’s revival after World War II. The book has become a landmark in the literature on postwar France and a model for how to blend the history of technology with the study of politics and culture…the French nuclear program she explores has turned out to be for STS what the drosophila was for genetic research. This book not only sheds new light on the role of technology in the construction of national identities.
Hecht shows that questions about being nuclear–a state that she calls “nuclearity”–lie at the heart of today’s global nuclear order and the relationships between “developing nations” (often former colonies) and “nuclear powers” (often former colonizers). Hecht enters African nuclear worlds, focusing on miners and the occupational hazard of radiation exposure. Could a mine be a nuclear workplace if (as in some South African mines) its radiation levels went undetected and unmeasured? With this book, Hecht is the first to put Africa in the nuclear world, and the nuclear world in Africa. By doing so, she remakes our understanding of the nuclear age.
…Cold War tensions were manifest not only in global political disputes but also in struggles over technology. Technological systems and expertise offered a powerful way to shape countries politically, economically, socially, and culturally. Entangled Geographies explores how Cold War politics, imperialism, and postcolonial nation building became entangled in technologies and considers the legacies of those entanglements for today’s globalized world. The essays address such topics as the islands and atolls taken over for military and technological purposes by the supposedly non-imperial United States, apartheid-era South Africa’s efforts to achieve international legitimacy as a nuclear nation, international technical assistance and Cold War politics, the Saudi irrigation system that spurred a Shi’i rebellion, and the momentary technopolitics of emergency as practiced by Medecins sans Frontières.
Tagged: africa, capitalism, cold war, colonialism, energy, engineering, environment, france, history, imperialism, nuclear, political economy, politics, postcolonialism, socio-technical, sociology, technology