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Gabrielle Hecht

Gabrielle Hecht is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II (MIT Press).

Titles by This Author

Africans and the Global Uranium Trade

Uranium from Africa has long been a major source of fuel for nuclear power and atomic weapons, including the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In 2003, after the infamous “yellow cake from Niger,” Africa suddenly became notorious as a source of uranium, a component of nuclear weapons. But did that admit Niger, or any of Africa’s other uranium-producing countries, to the select society of nuclear states? Does uranium itself count as a nuclear thing? In this book, Gabrielle Hecht lucidly probes the question of what it means for something--a state, an object, an industry, a workplace--to be “nuclear.”

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.

Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II

"Thanks to Gabrielle Hecht's talent and insight, 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. It is also a seminal contribution to the history of contemporary France."
—from the foreword by Michel Callon, coauthor of Acting in an Uncertain World

In the aftermath of World War II, as France sought a distinctive role for itself in the modern, postcolonial world, the nation and its leaders enthusiastically embraced large technological projects in general and nuclear power in particular. The Radiance of France asks how it happened that technological prowess and national glory (or "radiance," which also means "radiation" in French) became synonymous in France as nowhere else.

To answer this question, Gabrielle Hecht has forged an innovative combination of technology studies and cultural and political history in a book that, as Michel Callon writes in the new foreword to this edition, "not only sheds new light on the role of technology in the construction of national identities" but is also "a seminal contribution to the history of contemporary France." Proposing the concept of technopolitical regime as a way to analyze the social, political, cultural, and technological dynamics among engineering elites, unionized workers, and rural communities Hecht shows how the history of France's first generation of nuclear reactors is also a history of the multiple meanings of nationalism, from the postwar period (and France's desire for post-Vichy redemption) to 1969 and the adoption of a "Frenchified" American design.

This paperback edition of Hecht's groundbreaking book includes both Callon's foreword and an afterword by the author in which she brings the story up to date, and reflects on such recent developments as the 2007 French presidential election, the promotion of nuclear power as the solution to climate change, and France’s aggressive exporting of nuclear technology.

Inside Technology series

Titles by This Editor

Empire and Technopolitics in the Global Cold War
Edited by Gabrielle Hecht

The Cold War was not simply a duel of superpowers. It took place not just in Washington and Moscow but also in the social and political arenas of geographically far-flung countries emerging from colonial rule. Moreover, 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 Geographiesexplores 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. The contributors to Entangled Geographies offer insights from the anthropology and history of development, from diplomatic history, and from science and technology studies. The book represents a unique synthesis of these three disciplines, providing new perspectives on the global Cold War.

Essays in Honor of Thomas Parke Hughes and Agatha Chipley Hughes

This collection explores how technologies become forms of power, how people embed their authority in technological systems, and how the machines and the knowledge that make up technical systems strengthen or reshape social, political, and cultural power. The authors suggest ways in which a more nuanced investigation of technology's complex history can enrich our understanding of the changing meanings of modernity. They consider the relationship among the state, expertise, and authority; the construction of national identity; changes in the structure and distribution of labor; political ideology and industrial development; and political practices during the Cold War. The essays show how insight into the technological aspects of such broad processes can help synthesize material and cultural methods of inquiry and how reframing technology's past in broader historical terms can suggest new directions for science and technology studies.

The essays were written in honor of Thomas Parke Hughes and Agatha Chipley Hughes, whose spirit of inquiry they seek to continue.

Contributors:
Janet Abbate, Michael Thad Allen, W. Bernard Carlson, Gabrielle Hecht, Erik P. Rau, Eric Schatzberg, Amy Slaton, John Staudenmaier, Edmund N. Todd, Hans Weinberger.