The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II

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In the aftermath of World War II, as France sought a distinctive role for itself in the modern, postcolonial world, the nation and its leaders enthusiastically embraced large technological projects in general and nuclear power in particular. The Radiance of France asks how it happened that technological prowess and national glory (or "radiance," which also means "radiation" in French) became synonymous in France as nowhere else. To answer this question, Gabrielle Hecht has forged an innovative combination of technology studies and cultural and political history in a book that, as Michel Callon writes in the new foreword to this edition, "not only sheds new light on the role of technology in the construction of national identities" but is also "a seminal contribution to the history of contemporary France." Proposing the concept of technopolitical regime as a way to analyze the social, political,cultural, and technological dynamics among engineering elites, unionized workers,and rural communities Hecht shows how the history of France's first generation of nuclear reactors is also a history of the multiple meanings of nationalism, from the postwar period (and France's desire for post-Vichy redemption) to 1969 and the adoption of a "Frenchified" American design. This paperback edition of Hecht's groundbreaking book includes both Callon's foreword and an afterword by the author in which she brings the story up to date, and reflects on such recent developments as the 2007 French presidential election, the promotion of nuclear power as the solution to climate change, and France's aggressive exporting of nuclear technology.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"Historian Gabrielle Hecht has brilliantly deployed the tools of the engineer, anthropologist, literary critic, and social theorist to analyze how the nuclear industry became integral to France's revival after World War II. The book has become a landmark in the literature on postwar France and a model for how to blend the history of technology with the study of politics and culture."—Herrick Chapman, New York University

"Thanks to Gabrielle Hecht's talent and insight, the French nuclear program she explores has turned out to be for STS what the drosophila was for genetic research. This book not only sheds new light on the role of technology in the construction of national identities. It is also a seminal contribution to the history of contemporary France."—from the foreword by Michel Callon,coauthor of Acting in an Uncertain World

"This elegantly written book is an important contribution to the history of modern France and sets a demanding new standard for social studies of technology." Donald MacKenzie , University of Edinburgh, author of An Engine, Not a Camera

"This is a superb book, one that takes up the hazy notion of technological 'style' and transforms it into a complex story of conflict and negotiation about what it means to be French in the late twentieth century,and—more generally—what it means to be a participant in a world of high technology." Ken Alder , Department of History, Northwestern University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262582810
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 7/31/2009
  • Series: Inside Technology
  • Edition description: new edition
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Hecht is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II (MIT Press).

Michel Callon, developer (with Bruno Latour and others) of Actor Network Theory,is Professor at the École des mines de Paris and a Researcher at the Centre de Sociologie de l'innovation there.

Gabrielle Hecht is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II (MIT Press).

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 A Technological Nation 21
State Engineering before World War II
State Institutions after World War II
What Is a Technocrat?
The Future of France
The Mentality of the Future
The Plan
2 Technopolitical Regimes 55
The Creation of the CEA
The Emergence of a Nationalist Technopolitical Regime
The G2 Reactor: Developing a Nationalist Technopolitical Regime
EDF: The Emergence of a Nationalized Regime
The EDF1 Reactor: Developing a Nationalized Technopolitical Regime
3 Technopolitics in the Fifth Republic 91
Technology and Gaullism
Technopolitics from the Fourth to the Fifth Republic: EDF2 and EDF3
Optimization and the Competitive Kilowatt-Hour
Controlling Fuel and Pricing Plutonium
Industrial Competitiveness, Exporting Reactors, and the Future of France
4 Technological Unions 131
The Politics of Unionism
Conceptualizing National Technological Progress
Recruiting Technical Elites
5 Regimes of Work 163
6 Technological Spectacles 201
Salvation, Redemption, and Liberation
Reconciling Modernity and Tradition
Chateaux for the Twentieth Century
The Critics: "Two Steps Away Is the Abyss"
Counter-Spectacle: "When the Tale of Marcoule Is Told"
7 Atomic Vintage 241
Representations of Public Opinion
Peasants and Engineers: Bagnolais de Souche and Marcoulins
Interlude: Reflections on Local Memory
The Little Kuwait of the Indre-et-Loire
8 Warring Systems 271
Preliminaries to the War: Public Relations and Technological Mishaps
The War Starts in Earnest: The Horowitz-Cabanius Report
PEON: Defining the Context for Technological Development
Breeder Reactors: Flexibility and Consensus
Unions Strike Back
Boiteux Declares the End of the Gas-Graphite Program
The CEA Strikes
Economic Comparisons, Union-Style
Back to Bagnols
The Cleanup at Saint-Laurent: Healing the Technopolitical Wound
The Battle Fizzles Out
Conclusion 325
Notes 341
Bibliography 413
Index 447
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