jump to navigation

The Culture of Mechanism: Margaret Jacob versus “Proto-Industrialization” February 20, 2015

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far
Jacob

Margaret Jacob

Margaret Jacob’s emphasis on “scientific education” as an essential element of industrialization is best understood in view of her ongoing effort to stem the tide of portraits of industrialization that she characterizes as “mechanistic.” Such portraits, she claims, rely exclusively on “economic and social history” to identify certain “factors” as prerequisites of industrialization, which was a process that then developed more or less spontaneously.

Many of the factors comprising the portraits she opposes will be familiar to those who have taken a Western Civ course: regional population pressures, falling family income, labor availability, resource availability (notably coal), the commercialization of agriculture, access to remote markets, and innovations in socio-economic organization (notably the “putting-out system”). In such contexts, the important machines were mainly scientifically unsophisticated devices devised by artisan “tinkerers,” including such famous inventions as the flying shuttle and spinning jenny.

While such historiography of industrialization was venerable, it flourished within an influential theoretical framework provided by Franklin Mendels (1943–1988) in his article, “Proto-industrialization: The First Phase of the Industrialization Process,” Journal of Economic History 32 (1972): 241–261. In The Cultural Meaning of the Scientific Revolution (1988), Jacob points us to “Proto-Industrialization: A Concept Too Many,” Economic History Review 36 (1983): 435–448, an oft-cited polemical review by D. C. Coleman (1920–1995), covering the concept’s quick proliferation [ngram].

(more…)

Derek Price on Automata, Simulacra, and the Rise of “Mechanicism” August 28, 2014

Posted by Will Thomas in Schaffer Oeuvre.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far
Price. Click for original at Yale University Manuscripts and Archives

Derek J. de Solla Price (1922-1983). Click for the full-size photo at Yale University Manuscripts and Archives

Before we proceed further with our discussion of Simon Schaffer’s “Enlightened Automata” (1999), I’d like to go back a further 35 years to take a look at Derek J. de Solla Price, “Automata and the Origins of Mechanism and Mechanistic Philosophy,” Technology and Culture 5 (1964): 9-23. This should give us some sense of how much and how little the literature had changed by the time Schaffer wrote.

Price’s article was written in a period when historians were interested in defining and tracing the shifts in thought that they took to be crucial to the development of modern science. The tradition of scholarship is closely associated with figures such as Alexandre Koyré (1892-1964) and Rupert Hall (1920-2009), whose touchstone work, The Scientific Revolution: The Formation of the Modern Scientific Attitude, appeared in 1954.

Probably the most important shift these authors attended to was the rise of “mechanistic” modes of explaining natural phenomena, punctuated by the philosophy of René Descartes (1596-1650) and the achievements of Isaac Newton (1643-1727). Price’s aim was to investigate the intellectual relationship between mechanistic philosophy (“or mechanicism to use the appropriate term coined by Dijksterhuis,” 10*) and the creation of sophisticated mechanisms.

(more…)

Sociology, Science Indexing, and Science Indicators in the ’60s and ’70s April 25, 2012

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Simultaneously reading a recent Guardian article on the issue of open-access scientific publication, and Robert K. Merton’s “The Sociology of Science: An Episodic Memoir” (in The Sociology of Science in Europe, 1977, pp. 3-141) spurred me to wonder whether science studies could aid scientists to transition to a new model of scientific publication that is up-to-date with technology, but that also retains the intellectual and institutional virtues of present models. My answer to this question is: probably not.

The thought occurred to me because of Merton’s consideration of whether or not his 1940s-era understanding of how and why scientific credit is assigned the way it is could have led to the establishment of something like the Science Citation Index (SCI) prior to its actual appearance in 1963.  Merton speculated on why it didn’t, but he also marked a growing contact in the 1960s and ’70s between the historians and sociologists of science, publication indexing, and the rising tide of “science indicators”.  He reckoned this contact would grow as both the sociology of science and science metrics matured.  Unfortunately, the 1970s actually seems to have been its high-water mark.

(more…)

Merton, the DSB, and the Failed Digital Humanities of the 1960s April 15, 2012

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
7 comments

Following up on a reference in Gieryn 1982, I’ve been reading over Robert K. Merton’s long essay, “The Sociology of Science: An Episodic Memoir,” in The Sociology of Science in Europe (1977), pp. 3-141.  I’ll post more on it soon in the context of other recent posts on this blog.  For the moment, I’ll just say that the essay is thin on “norms”, “counter-norms”, “ambivalence”, etc.  It is mainly about the intellectual influences on the sociology of science that developed in the 1960s and ’70s.  It is also about the methods, ambitions, and projects of what Merton still regarded as a nascent discipline. It turns out these projects are well worth a tangential post, or two.

In this post, I want to focus on Merton’s account of his involvement with the planning of the Dictionary of Scientific Biography (DSB), and the computerized “data bank” that didn’t accompany it.

(more…)