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Engineering Rules

Global Standard Setting since 1880

Private, voluntary standards shape almost everything we use, from screw threads to shipping containers to e-readers. They have been critical to every major change in the world economy for more than a century, including the rise of global manufacturing and the ubiquity of the Internet. In Engineering Rules, JoAnne Yates and Craig Murphy trace the standard-setting system's evolution through time, revealing a process with an astonishingly pervasive, if rarely noticed, impact on all of our lives.

Standard setting was established in the 1880s, when engineers aimed to prove their status as professionals by creating useful standards that would be widely adopted by manufacturers while satisfying corporate customers. Yates and Murphy explain how these engineers' processes provided a timely way to set desirable standards that would have taken much longer to emerge from the market and that governments were rarely willing to set. By the 1920s, the standardizers began to think of themselves as critical to global prosperity and world peace. After World War II, standardizers transcended Cold War divisions to create standards that made the global economy possible. Finally, Yates and Murphy reveal how, since 1990, a new generation of standardizers has focused on supporting the Internet and Web while applying the same standard-setting process to regulate the potential social and environmental harms of the increasingly global economy.

Drawing on archival materials from three continents, including newly uncovered documents contributed by key standard setters, interviews, and direct observation of recent Web-related standard setting, Yates and Murphy describe the positive ideals that sparked the standardization movement, the ways its leaders tried to realize those ideals, and the challenges the movement faces today. An in-depth history of the engineers and organizations that developed and operate the vast yet inconspicuous global infrastructure of private, consensus-based standard setting, Engineering Rules is a riveting global history of the people, processes, and organizations that created and maintain this nearly invisible infrastructure of today's economy, which is just as important as the state or the global market.

About the Authors

JoAnne Yates is the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management and Structuring the Information Age: Life Insurance and Technology in the Twentieth Century. Craig N. Murphy is the Betty Freyhof Johnson '44 Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College. He is the author of The United Nations Development Programme: A Better Way? and International Organization and Industrial Change: Global Governance since 1850.

Endorsements

"A deeply researched and well-crafted examination of one of the key invisible infrastructures of the modern world: private consensus-based industrial standards. Aptly combining their respective expertise, the authors have written an impressive and highly detailed treatment of the emergence of standards-setting bodies, their networks, and their legion of activities. Standards geeks, of which there are thousands, will want to read this book—the first volume of its kind."

- Thomas J. Misa, University of Minnesota, coauthor of FastLane: Managing Science in the Internet World

"Too many of us who labor in the vineyards of global governance spend our time on visible, formal international organizations. Yates and Murphy do not. Drawing on a century and a half of archives and anecdotes, they demonstrate the crucial impact of private and informal standard-setting on our daily lives. This fascinating tale is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the major changes in the global economy."

- Thomas G. Weiss, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, coeditor of International Organization and Global Governance

"From trains to planes to household electric plugs, unseen committees of engineers have been making our technologies work together for decades. This fascinating book explains how they've done it and offers compelling lessons to historians, technologists, and policy makers alike. Highly recommended."

- Fred Turner, Stanford University, author of The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties

"Drawing on interviews, personal correspondence, and other unconventional sources, Yates and Murphy make a compelling case that voluntary private standardizers were motivated by non-economic forces. A critical contribution to our deliberation about whether this vital activity of consensual decision-making that elevated the profession in the twentieth century will survive in the next."

- Margaret B. W. Graham, McGill University, coauthor of Corning and the Craft of Innovation

"This thought-provoking book describes significant cultural and institutional changes in Western standardization since 1880. It is the fascinating story of differences—but also similarities—in initiatives, (self)organization, and social movements over time, from precursors of IEC and ISO to industry consortia and newcomers like ISEAL. It talks about flesh and blood standardization entrepreneurs and the hopes, frustrations, and wondrous feats of standardizers in technical committees. Not least, this historical account invites us to critically self-examine where we are now."

- Tineke M. Egyedi, Delft Institute of Research on Standardization, coeditor of Inverse Infrastructures: Disrupting Networks from Below
Johns Hopkins University Press
Hagley Library Studies in Business, Technology, and Politics
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9781421428895 : engineering-rules-yates-murphy
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June 11, 2019
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June 11, 2019
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