The Radiance of France, new edition
Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II
- Winner of the 2001 Edelstein Prize, presented by Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) Winner of the 1999 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the American Historical Association
496 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: July 31, 2009
- Publisher: The MIT Press
How it happened that technological prowess and national glory (or “radiance,” which also means “radiation” in French) became synonymous in France as nowhere else.
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.
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.
Herrick Chapman, New York University
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.
Michel Callon, coauthor of Acting in an Uncertain World
This elegantly written book is an important contribution to the history of modern France and sets a demanding new standard for social studies of technology.
Donald MacKenzie, University of Edinburgh, author of An Engine, Not a Camera
This is a superb book, one that takes up the hazy notion of technological 'style' and transforms it into a complex story of conflict and negotiation about what it means to be French in the late twentieth century, and—more generally—what it means to be a participant in a world of high technology.
Ken Alder, Department of History, Northwestern University