Hård, Mikael and Andrew Jamison

Hård, Mikael and Andrew Jamison. Hubris and Hybrids: A Cultural History of Technology and Science. New York: Routledge, 2005. Pp. xv + 335. Paperback, $32.95.

"Hubris" refers to the will to dominate nature shown by innovative scientists—think James Watson.  “Hybrid” refers to the combination of technological/scientific ideas with social/cultural norms that create lasting change—think personal hygiene.  This history is not focused on the great persons who invented and discovered, rather it focuses on how technoscience ideas were appropriated by the general culture—as mobility became mostly automobility.  Appropriation of technology takes place on three levels: discursive, organizational, and practical. A strength of the book to me is its European orientation, both because many of the examples were unfamiliar to me, and because European perspectives on Americans come through clearly.  The first block, of four in the book, deals with scientific and industrial transformations, beginning in the seventeenth century and extending to the present.  A chapter deals with the places science and engineering were done, from the agora, through coffee houses and salons, to lecture halls and laboratories.  The second block deals with cultural attitudes toward technoscience, including attitudes in India and China.  Environmental concerns are a focus. The third block deals with three important technologies—mobility, communication, and public health—not so much about the technologies as about people’s feelings toward them.  The final block discusses politics and business as related to science and technology.  “Big Science” vs. “Little Science” is part of the discussion, as are protest movements, both in Norway and in Chicago.   As the authors intend, this is a different approach to the history of technology and science; their Introduction is entitled “A Need for New Stories.” The stories are absorbing and worthwhile.  I did not understand some of the overall framework and theory and suspect some ideas were lost in the translation.  Also, unlike many histories of technology, this account goes to contemporary times.  I found many provocative and unfamiliar insights here.