Matthew Wisnioski

Matthew Wisnioski is Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech and the author of Engineers for Change: Competing Visions of Technology in 1960s America (MIT Press).

  • Does America Need More Innovators?

    Does America Need More Innovators?

    Matthew Wisnioski, Eric S. Hintz, and Marie Stettler Kleine

    A critical exploration of today's global imperative to innovate, by champions, critics, and reformers of innovation.

    Corporate executives, politicians, and school board leaders agree—Americans must innovate. Innovation experts fuel this demand with books and services that instruct aspiring innovators in best practices, personal habits, and workplace cultures for fostering innovation. But critics have begun to question the unceasing promotion of innovation, pointing out its gadget-centric shallowness, the lack of diversity among innovators, and the unequal distribution of innovation's burdens and rewards. Meanwhile, reformers work to make the training of innovators more inclusive and the outcomes of innovation more responsible. This book offers an overdue critical exploration of today's global imperative to innovate by bringing together innovation's champions, critics, and reformers in conversation. 

    The book presents an overview of innovator training, exploring the history, motivations, and philosophies of programs in private industry, universities, and government; offers a primer on critical innovation studies, with essays that historicize, contextualize, and problematize the drive to create innovators; and considers initiatives that seek to reform and reshape what it means to be an innovator.

    The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from the MIT Libraries.

    ContributorsErrol Arkilic, Catherine Ashcraft, Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, W. Bernard Carlson, Lisa D. Cook, Humera Fasihuddin, Maryann Feldman, Erik Fisher, Benoît Godin, Jenn Gustetic, David Guston, Eric S. Hintz, Marie Stettler Kleine, Dutch MacDonald, Mickey McManus, Sebastian Pfotenhauer, Natalie Rusk, Andrew L. Russell, Lucinda M. Sanders, Brenda Trinidad, Lee Vinsel, Matthew Wisnioski

    • Paperback $45.00
  • Engineers for Change

    Engineers for Change

    Competing Visions of Technology in 1960s America

    Matthew Wisnioski

    An account of conflicts within engineering in the 1960s that helped shape our dominant contemporary understanding of technological change as the driver of history.

    In the late 1960s an eclectic group of engineers joined the antiwar and civil rights activists of the time in agitating for change. The engineers were fighting to remake their profession, challenging their fellow engineers to embrace a more humane vision of technology. In Engineers for Change, Matthew Wisnioski offers an account of this conflict within engineering, linking it to deep-seated assumptions about technology and American life.

    The postwar period in America saw a near-utopian belief in technology's beneficence. Beginning in the mid-1960s, however, society—influenced by the antitechnology writings of such thinkers as Jacques Ellul and Lewis Mumford—began to view technology in a more negative light. Engineers themselves were seen as conformist organization men propping up the military-industrial complex. A dissident minority of engineers offered critiques of their profession that appropriated concepts from technology's critics. These dissidents were criticized in turn by conservatives who regarded them as countercultural Luddites. And yet, as Wisnioski shows, the radical minority spurred the professional elite to promote a new understanding of technology as a rapidly accelerating force that our institutions are ill-equipped to handle. The negative consequences of technology spring from its very nature—and not from engineering's failures. “Sociotechnologists” were recruited to help society adjust to its technology. Wisnioski argues that in responding to the challenges posed by critics within their profession, engineers in the 1960s helped shape our dominant contemporary understanding of technological change as the driver of history.

    • Hardcover $9.75
    • Paperback $25.00

Contributor

  • Forecasting Travel in Urban America

    The Socio-Technical Life of an Engineering Modeling World

    Konstantinos Chatzis

    A history of urban travel demand modeling (UTDM) and its enormous influence on American life from the 1920s to the present.

    For better and worse, the automobile has been an integral part of the American way of life for decades. Its ascendance would have been far less spectacular, however, had engineers and planners not devised urban travel demand modeling (UTDM). This book tells the story of this irreplaceable engineering tool that has helped cities to accommodate continuous rise in traffic from the 1950s on. Beginning with UTDM's origins as a method to help plan new infrastructure, Konstantinos Chatzis follows its trajectory through new generations of models that helped make optimal use of existing capacity and examines related policy instruments, including the recent use of intelligent transportation systems.

    Chatzis investigates these models as evolving entities involving humans and nonhumans that were shaped through a specific production process. In surveying the various generations of UTDM, he delves into various means of production (from tabulating machines to software packages) and travel survey methods (from personal interviews to GPS tracking devices and smartphones) used to obtain critical information. He also looks at the individuals who have collectively built a distinct UTDM social world by displaying specialized knowledge, developing specific skills, and performing various tasks and functions, and by communicating, interacting, and even competing with one another.

    Original and refreshingly accessible, Forecasting Travel in Urban America offers the first detailed history behind the thinkers and processes that impact the lives of millions of city dwellers every day.

    • Paperback $60.00
  • ¡Alerta!

    Engineering on Shaky Ground

    Elizabeth Reddy

    A lively account of a controversial technology developed to mitigate earthquake risk and change how we live with threatening environments.

    The Sistema de Alerta Sísmica Mexicano is the world's oldest public earthquake early warning system. Given the unpredictability of earthquakes, the technology was designed to give the people of Mexico City more than a minute to prepare before the next big quake hits. How does this kind of environmental monitoring technology get built in the first place? How does its life-saving promise align with reality? And who shapes modern risk mitigation? In ¡Alerta!, Elizabeth Reddy surveys this innovation to shed light on what it means to imagine a world where sirens could sound out an “¡alerta sísmica!” at any moment—and what it would be like to live in such a world.Proponents of earthquake early warnings have long held that the technology can save lives and limit economic losses. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and archival data, Reddy conducts a thorough, qualitative analysis of these claims and considers the requirements and uses of the alert system. She embeds her study in a rich narrative of the engineers who designed the system in conjunction with contingent political and environmental conditions. The result demonstrates how addressing earthquake dangers is no small task: it means trying to change relationships between the environment, society, and technology. Doing so, she critiques universalist and techno-centric approaches to hazard risk mitigation and celebrates the potential of contextually appropriate and broadly supported efforts.¡Alerta! takes readers on a vivid journey into the world of Mexican earthquake risk mitigation, with critical insights for anthropologists and science and technology studies scholars, as well as specialists in the geosciences, engineering, and emergency management.

    • Paperback $45.00
  • Extracting Accountability

    Extracting Accountability

    Engineers and Corporate Social Responsibility

    Jessica M. Smith

    How engineers in the mining and oil and gas industries attempt to reconcile competing domains of public accountability.

    The growing movement toward corporate social responsibility (CSR) urges corporations to promote the well-being of people and the planet rather than the sole pursuit of profit. In Extracting Accountability, Jessica Smith investigates how the public accountability of corporations emerges from the everyday practices of the engineers who work for them. Focusing on engineers who view social responsibility as central to their profession, she finds the corporate context of their work prompts them to attempt to reconcile competing domains of accountability—to formal guidelines, standards, and policies; to professional ideals; to the public; and to themselves. Their efforts are complicated by the distributed agency they experience as corporate actors: they are not always authors of their actions and frequently act through others.

    Drawing on extensive interviews, archival research, and fieldwork, Smith traces the ways that engineers in the mining and oil and gas industries accounted for their actions to multiple publics—from critics of their industry to their own friends and families. She shows how the social license to operate and an underlying pragmatism lead engineers to ask how resource production can be done responsibly rather than whether it should be done at all. She analyzes the liminality of engineering consultants, who experienced greater professional autonomy but often felt hamstrung when positioned as outsiders. Finally, she explores how critical participation in engineering education can nurture new accountabilities and chart more sustainable resource futures.

    • Paperback $65.00
  • Girls Coming to Tech!

    Girls Coming to Tech!

    A History of American Engineering Education for Women

    Amy Sue Bix

    How women coped with both formal barriers and informal opposition to their entry into the traditionally masculine field of engineering in American higher education.

    Engineering education in the United States was long regarded as masculine territory. For decades, women who studied or worked in engineering were popularly perceived as oddities, outcasts, unfeminine (or inappropriately feminine in a male world). In Girls Coming to Tech!, Amy Bix tells the story of how women gained entrance to the traditionally male field of engineering in American higher education.

    As Bix explains, a few women breached the gender-reinforced boundaries of engineering education before World War II. During World War II, government, employers, and colleges actively recruited women to train as engineering aides, channeling them directly into defense work. These wartime training programs set the stage for more engineering schools to open their doors to women. Bix offers three detailed case studies of postwar engineering coeducation. Georgia Tech admitted women in 1952 to avoid a court case, over objections by traditionalists. In 1968, Caltech male students argued that nerds needed a civilizing female presence. At MIT, which had admitted women since the 1870s but treated them as a minor afterthought, feminist-era activists pushed the school to welcome more women and take their talent seriously.

    In the 1950s, women made up less than one percent of students in American engineering programs; in 2010 and 2011, women earned 18.4% of bachelor's degrees, 22.6% of master's degrees, and 21.8% of doctorates in engineering. Bix's account shows why these gains were hard won.

    • Hardcover $40.00