Systems Engineering and Contractual Individualism: Linking Engineering Processes to Macro Social Values

TitleSystems Engineering and Contractual Individualism: Linking Engineering Processes to Macro Social Values
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsSato, Y.
Secondary TitleSocial Studies of Science
Abstract

After eminent thinkers in the 1960s submitted critical views on technology, some philosophers of technology extended their macro perspectives. Since then, many historians and sociologists of technology steadily marginalized their general claims through richly empirical, constructivist case studies of concrete engineering processes. Some recent efforts have begun to bridge these two diverging orientations. This paper participates in such efforts with a case study of relationships between macro cultures and engineering processes. It shows that behind the adoption of systems engineering by engineers and managers who led the Apollo programme was a macro current of social values in the USA. Post-war American society saw the rise of highly individualistic social norms that valued mobility, meritocracy and clear-cut contractual working relationships. Such norms triumphed most conspicuously in the federal government during the 1960s. Engineers and managers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headquarters, who tended to share such values, refined the formalized, depersonalized methods of systems engineering, which enabled them to perfect space technology. In order to show such a correlation between macro values and micro practices, this paper draws a comparison between engineering communities in different cultural settings in the USA and Japan. This paper thus explores the macro social environment that gave rise to systems engineering, which, in turn, continues to function as a skeletal structure for our technological society today.

URLhttp://sss.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/37/6/909