Sonja D. Schmid

Sonja D. Schmid is Assistant Professor in the Department of Science and Technology in Society at Virginia Tech.

  • Producing Power

    Producing Power

    The Pre-Chernobyl History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry

    Sonja D. Schmid

    An examination of how the technical choices, social hierarchies, economic structures, and political dynamics shaped the Soviet nuclear industry leading up to Chernobyl.

    The Chernobyl disaster has been variously ascribed to human error, reactor design flaws, and industry mismanagement. Six former Chernobyl employees were convicted of criminal negligence; they defended themselves by pointing to reactor design issues. Other observers blamed the Soviet style of ideologically driven economic and industrial management. In Producing Power, Sonja Schmid draws on interviews with veterans of the Soviet nuclear industry and extensive research in Russian archives as she examines these alternate accounts. Rather than pursue one “definitive” explanation, she investigates how each of these narratives makes sense in its own way and demonstrates that each implies adherence to a particular set of ideas—about high-risk technologies, human-machine interactions, organizational methods for ensuring safety and productivity, and even about the legitimacy of the Soviet state. She also shows how these attitudes shaped, and were shaped by, the Soviet nuclear industry from its very beginnings.

    Schmid explains that Soviet experts established nuclear power as a driving force of social, not just technical, progress. She examines the Soviet nuclear industry's dual origins in weapons and electrification programs, and she traces the emergence of nuclear power experts as a professional community. Schmid also fundamentally reassesses the design choices for nuclear power reactors in the shadow of the Cold War's arms race.

    Schmid's account helps us understand how and why a complex sociotechnical system broke down. Chernobyl, while unique and specific to the Soviet experience, can also provide valuable lessons for contemporary nuclear projects.

    • Hardcover $40.00 £32.00
    • Paperback $35.00 £28.00

Contributor

  • Science and Technology in the Global Cold War

    Science and Technology in the Global Cold War

    Naomi Oreskes and John Krige

    Investigations of how the global Cold War shaped national scientific and technological practices in fields from biomedicine to rocket science.

    The Cold War period saw a dramatic expansion of state-funded science and technology research. Government and military patronage shaped Cold War technoscientific practices, imposing methods that were project oriented, team based, and subject to national-security restrictions. These changes affected not just the arms race and the space race but also research in agriculture, biomedicine, computer science, ecology, meteorology, and other fields. This volume examines science and technology in the context of the Cold War, considering whether the new institutions and institutional arrangements that emerged globally constrained technoscientific inquiry or offered greater opportunities for it.

    The contributors find that whatever the particular science, and whatever the political system in which that science was operating, the knowledge that was produced bore some relation to the goals of the nation-state. These goals varied from nation to nation; weapons research was emphasized in the United States and the Soviet Union, for example, but in France and China scientific independence and self-reliance dominated. The contributors also consider to what extent the changes to science and technology practices in this era were produced by the specific politics, anxieties, and aspirations of the Cold War.

    Contributors Elena Aronova, Erik M. Conway, Angela N. H. Creager, David Kaiser, John Krige, Naomi Oreskes, George Reisch, Sigrid Schmalzer, Sonja D. Schmid, Matthew Shindell, Asif A. Siddiqi, Zuoyue Wang, Benjamin Wilson

    • Hardcover $78.00 £65.00
    • Paperback $40.00 £32.00
  • Entangled Geographies

    Entangled Geographies

    Empire and Technopolitics in the Global Cold War

    Gabrielle Hecht

    Investigations into how technologies became peculiar forms of politics in an expanded geography of the Cold War.

    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 Geographies explores 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.

    • Paperback $35.00 £28.00