Accident Prone: A History of Technology, Psychology, and Misfits of the Machine Age

Accident Prone: A History of Technology, Psychology, and Misfits of the Machine Age

by John C. Burnham
     
 

Technology demands uniformity from human beings who encounter it. People encountering technology, however, differ from one another. Thinkers in the early twentieth century, observing the awful consequences of interactions between humans and machines—death by automobiles or dismemberment by factory machinery, for example—developed the idea of accident

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Overview

Technology demands uniformity from human beings who encounter it. People encountering technology, however, differ from one another. Thinkers in the early twentieth century, observing the awful consequences of interactions between humans and machines—death by automobiles or dismemberment by factory machinery, for example—developed the idea of accident proneness: the tendency of a particular person to have more accidents than most people. In tracing this concept from its birth to its disappearance at the end of the twentieth century, Accident Prone offers a unique history of technology focused not on innovations but on their unintended consequences.

Here, John C. Burnham shows that as the machine era progressed, the physical and economic impact of accidents coevolved with the rise of the insurance industry and trends in twentieth-century psychology. After World War I, psychologists determined that some people are more accident prone than others. This designation signaled a shift in social strategy toward minimizing accidents by diverting particular people away from dangerous environments. By the 1960s and 1970s, however, the idea of accident proneness gradually declined, and engineers developed new technologies to protect all people, thereby introducing a hidden, but radical, egalitarianism.

            Lying at the intersection of the history of technology, the history of medicine and psychology, and environmental history, Accident Prone is an ambitious intellectual analysis of the birth, growth, and decline of an idea that will interest anyone who wishes to understand how Western societies have grappled with the human costs of modern life.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226081175
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
06/15/2009
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Chapter 1. Before Accident Proneness

Chapter 2. German Origins

Chapter 3. British Origins

Chapter 4. Preparing the Way: Transport Operators

Chapter 5. The Streams Come Together in the Late 1920s and Early 1930s

Chapter 6. Consolidation and Development, 1930s–World War II

Chapter 7. How Psychiatrists Did Not Adopt and Medicalize Accident Proneness

Chapter 8. The Mid-Twentieth-Century High Point

Chapter 9. Eclipse of the Idea Among Experts

Chapter 10. Bypassing Accident Proneness with Engineering

Conclusion

Notes

Brief Bibliographical Note

Index

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