Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance

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Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance

Donald MacKenzie

Publisher: MIT Press (MA)Format: Paperback

Among books on the arms race, Donald MacKenzie's stands out for its welcome demystification of the “black box” of nuclear weapons technology. MacKenzie follows one line of technology - strategic ballistic missile guidance - through a succession of weapons systems to reveal the ordinary workings of a world that is neither awesome nor unstoppable. He uncovers the parameters, the pressures, and the politics that make up the complex social construction of an equally complex technology.MacKenzie argues that it is wrong to assume that missile accuracy (or any other technological artifact) is a natural or inevitable consequence of technological change. By fostering an understanding of how the idea of accuracy was constructed and by uncovering the comprehensible and often mundane processes that have given rise to a frightening nuclear arsenal, he shows that there can be useful and informed intervention in the social processes of weapons construction. He also shows in what sense it is possible, contrary to the common wisdom, to “uninvent” technologies.Examining the technological politics of the transition from bomber to ballistic missile, MacKenzie describes the processes that transformed both air force and navy ballistic missiles from moderately accurate countercity weapons to highly accurate counterforce ones.He concludes that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union has ever accepted the idea of deterrence as the public understands it.Inventing Accuracy is based on 140 interviews with guidance and navigation technologists, navy and air force military officers, and defense officials Robert McNamara, James Schlesinger, McGeorge Bundy, and John Foster. It brings to light the confluence of forces, both physical and social, that gave rise to a selfcontained system of missile navigation, and it discusses the major U.S. groups involved in the early development of inertial guidance and navigation.Donald MacKenzie has published a number of influential articles on statistics, eugenics, and missile technologies. He is Reader in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh.

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