“INDUSTRIAL LEGISLATURES”: CONSENSUS STANDARDIZATION IN THE SECOND AND THIRD INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTIONS
Russell, Andrew Lawrence
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Consensus standardization is a social process in which technical experts from public, private, and non-profit sectors negotiate the direction and shape of technological change. Scholars in a variety of disciplines have recognized the importance of consensus standards as alternatives to standards that arise through market mechanisms or standards mandated by regulators. Rather than treating the consensus method as some sort of timeless organizational form or ever-present alternative to markets or laws, I argue that consensus standardization is itself a product of history. In the first two chapters, I explain the origins and growth of consensus standards bodies between 1880 and 1930 as a reaction to and critique of the existing political economy of engineering. By considering the standardization process—instead of the internal dynamics of a particular firm or technology—as the primary category of analysis, I am able to emphasize the cooperative relations that sustained the American style of competitive managerial capitalism during the Second Industrial Revolution. In the remaining four chapters, I examine the processes of network architecture and standardization in the creation of four communications networks during the twentieth century: AT&T’s monopoly telephone network, the Internet, digital cellular telephone networks, and the World Wide Web. Each of these four networks embodied critiques—always implicit and frequently explicit—of preceding and competing networks. These critiques, visible both in the technological design of networks as well as in the institutional design of standard-setting bodies, reflected the political convictions of successive generations of engineers and network architects. The networks described in this dissertation were thus turning points in the century-long development of an organizational form. Seen as part of a common history, they tell the story of how consensus-based institutions became the dominant mode for setting standards in the Third Industrial Revolution, and created the foundational standards of the information infrastructures upon which a newly globalized economy and society—the Network Society—could grow.