If it is true, as Tocqueville suggested, that social and class systems shape technology, research, and knowledge, then the effects should be visible both at the individual level and at the level of technical institutions and local environments. That is the central issue addressed in Constructing a Bridge, a tale of two cultures that investigates how national traditions shape technological communities and their institutions and become embedded in everyday engineering practice.
Eda Kranakis first examines these issues in the work of two suspension bridge designers of the early nineteenth century: the American inventor James Finley and the French engineer Claude-Louis-Marie-Henri Navier. Finley—who was oriented toward the needs of rural, frontier communities—designed a bridge that could be easily reproduced and constructed by carpenters and blacksmiths. Navier—whose professional training and career reflected a tradition of monumental architecture and had linked him closely to the Parisian scientific community—designed an elegant, costly, and technically sophisticated structure to be built in an elite district of Paris. Charting the careers of these two technologists and tracing the stories of their bridges, Kranakis reveals how local environments can shape design goals, research practices, and design-to-construction processes.
Kranakis then offers a broader look at the technological communities and institutions of nineteenth-century France and America and at their ties to technological practice. She shows how conditions that led to Finley's and Navier's distinct designs also fostered different systems of technical education as well as distinct ideologies and traditions of engineering research.
The result of this two-tiered, comparative approach is a reorientation of a historiographic tradition initiated by Tocqueville (and explored more recently by Eugene Ferguson, John Kasson, and others) toward a finer-grained analysis of institutional and local environments as mediators between national traditions and individual styles of technological research and design.
With the advent of modernity, the sharing of resources and infrastructures rapidly expanded beyond local communities into regional, national, and even transnational space— nowhere as visibly as in Europe, with its small-scale political divisions. This volume views these shared resource spaces as the seedbeds of a new generation of technology-rich bureaucratic and transnational commons. Drawing on the theory of cosmopolitanism, which seeks to model the dynamics of an increasingly interdependent world, and on the tradition of commons scholarship inspired by the late Elinor Ostrom, the book develops a new theory of “cosmopolitan commons” that provides a framework for merging the study of technology with such issues as risk, moral order, and sustainability at levels beyond the nation-state.
After laying out the theoretical framework, the book presents case studies that explore the empirical nuances: airspace as transport commons, radio broadcasting, hydropower, weather forecasting and genetic diversity as information commons, transboundary air pollution, and two “capstone” studies of interlinked, temporally layered commons: one on overlapping commons within the North Sea for freight, fishing, and fossil fuels; and one on commons for transport, salmon fishing, and clean water in the Rhine.
Contributors: Håkon With Andersen, Nil Disco, Paul N. Edwards, Arne Kaijser, Eda Kranakis, Kristiina Korjonen-Kuusipuro, Tiago Saraiva, Nina Wormbs