Social Determinants of Engineering Practice: A Comparative View of France and America in the Nineteenth Century

TitleSocial Determinants of Engineering Practice: A Comparative View of France and America in the Nineteenth Century
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1989
AuthorsKranakis, E.
Secondary TitleSocial Studies of Science
Abstract

This paper makes a comparative analysis of the distinct engineering cultures of France and the United States in the nineteenth century. The object is to explain why French engineers characteristically excelled in theoretical analysis while tending to neglect empirical research, whereas just the opposite was true of American engineers. Toward this end, the paper considers differences in the structure and organization of the engineering community in each country. It also looks at differences in the French and American systems of technical education, in their reward systems, and in their ideologies of engineering (especially the way they conceptualized the relation between theory, experiment and practice in engineering research). Finally, the paper attempts to show, in a specific case, how these social, institutional and ideological differences led to distinct paths of technological development — that is, to the elaboration of distinct bodies of knowledge and design traditions. The paper closes with some more general reflections on the methodological value of comparative analysis for social studies of technology. Brief attention is also given to the question of the possible influence of engineering cultures on rates of technological and economic development.

URLhttp://sss.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/19/1/5