The Government Machine: A Revolutionary History of the Computer

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Overview

In The Government Machine, Jon Agar traces the mechanization of government work in the United Kingdom from the nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. He argues that this transformation has been tied to the rise of "expert movements," groups whose authority has rested on their expertise. The deployment of machines was an attempt to gain control over state action — a revolutionary move. Agar shows how mechanization followed the popular depiction of government as machine-like, with British civil servants cast as components of a general purpose "government machine"; indeed, he argues that today's general purpose computer is the apotheosis of the civil servant.Over the course of two centuries, government has become the major repository and user of information; the Civil Service itself can be seen as an information-processing entity. Agar argues that the changing capacities of government have depended on the implementation of new technologies,and that the adoption of new technologies has depended on a vision of government and a fundamental model of organization. Thus, to study the history of technology is to study the state, and vice versa.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"In this richly detailed and subtly argued study of British bureaucracy since the eighteenth century, Agar shows how mechanization, both discursive and material, gradually transformed the 'machinery of government' from a metaphor to a guiding force. Viewed in that longer historical perspective, the computer takes its place in a line of technologies inspired by a technocratic vision of public administration and designed to extend the informational resources on which it rests. In bringing out historically specific differences between the development of computing in Britain and the United States, Agar provides new ground for discussions of the social forces that have shaped computing and been shaped by it."—Michael S. Mahoney, Professor of History,Princeton University

" The Government Machine is a major contribution to our understanding of the history of computing. Agar deploys metaphor and analysis like a two-edged sword to cut through two centuries of British bureaucracy and calculation, revealing a striking view of why the computer came to play a central role in politics. I highly recommend this book to anyone who prefers history to hype and analysis to anecdote." Robert W. Seidel, History of Science &Technology Program, University of Minnesota

"*The Government Machine* is a major contribution to our understanding of the history of computing. Agar deploys metaphor and analysis like a two-edged sword to cut through two centuries of British bureaucracy and calculation, revealing a striking view of why the computer came to play a central role in politics. I highly recommend this book to anyone who prefers history to hype and analysis to anecdote."—Robert W. Seidel, History of Science & Technology Program, University ofMinnesota

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262012027
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Series: History of Computing
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon Agar directed the UK National Archive for the History of Computing from 1994 to 2001. He is the author of Science and Spectacle: The Work of Jodrell Bank in Postwar BritishCulture, Turing and the Universal Machine: The Making of the ModernComputer, and Constant Touch: A Global History of the MobilePhone.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Introduction: The State of Knowledge 1
1 The Machineries of Government 15
2 "The Parent of a Totally Different Order of Things": Charles Trevelyan and the Civil Service as Machine 45
3 "Chaotic England" and the Organized World: Official Statistics and Expert Statisticians 75
4 "One Universal Register": Fantasies and Realities of Total Knowledge" 121
5 The Office Machinery of Government 143
6 An Information War 201
7 The Military Machine? 263
8 Treasury Organization and Methods and the Computerization of Government Work 293
9 Privacy and Distrust 343
10 Computers and Experts in the Hollowed-Out State, 1970-2000 367
Conclusions and International Perspectives 391
Notes 433
Index 535
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