Steam Engines & Computers:
From Industrial Proletarians to Information Workers

Winter 2006 | Syllabus:



Sociology 495.004   |   History 498.001  |   RCSocSci 461.002  |  STS Minor

Fulfills Upper-Level Writing Requirement

Meets: Tues/Thurs, 10:00 - 11:30 (time negotiable) | 36 Tyler, RC

3 Credits  |  Jr / Sr / Grad or permission.

Instructor: Tom O'Donnell e-mail  ( RC, STS, MCTP CMENAS )



We study capitalist revolutions in technology and their consequences, from the Middle Ages through the Industrial Revolutions to the Information Revolution.


This seminar course combines technological history with political-economy and social theory.  Theory readings (original sources) range from modern scholars such as Drucker, Beninger, Bell, Ceruzzi, Zuboff, Heilbronner, Castells and Ingelhardt, to classic works by Marx and Engels (Capital,   Manifesto, Conditions of the Working Class in England, and various philosophical works).  We examine:


- Technological innovations (from water wheels and windmills to steam engines, programmable computers, robots and smart machines, ...).


- Organizational innovations (from feudal agriculture, mechanical arts and corporations; to capitalist manufacturing, industry, automation, Fordist assembly lines, Taylor’s scientific management, computer networks, lean production, infomated work, team work, ...).


- Class struggles between and amongst capitalists, aristocrats, peasants, proletarians and professionals accompanying the constant bourgeois transformation of productive forces.


- The future of work for laboring and professional classes in the global Information Revolution.


Finally, we critically examine theories relating the economic-productive 'base' of society to its social-political-cultural 'superstructure'.  This includes controversies over:


- Technological determinism and whether technological change is unstoppable and unalterable.


- And especially Marx's 'materialist conception of history'—which he offered as a theory of the evolution of society analogous to Darwin's theory of the evolution of species in nature.


Requirements: close reading, active participation in seminar discussions and a major research paper.  More information


Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.  (Marx, Engels 1848)