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Fish Sticks, Sports Bras, and Aluminum Cans

, 224 pages

8 b&w photos

October 2015



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Fish Sticks, Sports Bras, and Aluminum Cans

The Politics of Everyday Technologies

Who would have guessed that the first sports bra was made out of two jockstraps sewn together or that it succeeded because of federal anti-discrimination laws? What do simple decisions about where to build a road or whether to buy into the carbon economy have to do with Hurricane Katrina or the Fukushima nuclear disaster? How did massive flood control projects on the Mississippi River and New Deal dams on the Columbia River lead to the ubiquity of high fructose corn syrup? And what explains the creation—and continued popularity—of the humble fish stick?

In Fish Sticks, Sports Bras, and Aluminum Cans, historian Paul R. Josephson explores the surprising origins, political contexts, and social meanings of ordinary objects. Drawing on archival materials, technical journals, interviews, and field research, this engaging collection of essays reveals the forces that shape (and are shaped by) everyday objects.

Ultimately, Josephson suggests that the most familiar and comfortable objects—sugar and aluminum, for example, which are inextricably tied together by their linked history of slavery and colonialism—may have the more astounding and troubling origins. Students of consumer studies and the history of technology, as well as scholars and general readers, will be captivated by Josephson’s insights into the complex relationship between society and technology.

Paul R. Josephson is a professor of history at Colby College. He is the author of Would Trotsky Wear a Bluetooth? Technological Utopianism under Socialism, 1917–1989 and The Conquest of the Russian Arctic.

"Josephson draws readers into the complexities and fascinations of the study of technological history. A lively and provocative book."

"Josephson’s conclusions are guaranteed to make you think of the modern world and its interconnectedness in a different light. ‘Sometimes,’ he writes ‘you should just say, no, refuse that new-fangled fish stick or aluminum soda can or smart phone or online source.’"

"... At its best is original and instructive and compresses a great deal of technical material into a brief and readable form."

"... every chapter of this book offers surprising insights and is a pleasure to read – not only for academic readers or lecturers who might find the essays very suitable to discuss with students. The book will also be appreciated by a broader audience interested in learning more about the complex technological systems that are bound up in the artefacts surrounding us."

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