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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Social Life of Measures Metrication in the United States and Mexico, 1789–2004
by Vera, Hector, Ph.D., New School University, 2012, 514; 3495843
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is a historically-grounded inquiry into large-scale processes of creation, distribution, control, monopolization, and appropriation of knowledge. The research is focused on how the decimal metric system of weights and measures (understood as a scientific language) was appropriated by diverse institutions and social groups (states, trade and industrial associations, scientists, rural communities, and laypeople) in the United States and Mexico, from 1789 to 1994. The dissertation is also meant as a contribution to the development of a historical sociology of knowledge and an attempt to shed light on the fruitfulness of studying weights and measures—i.e. measurement practices, conventions, and instruments—from a sociological standpoint, pointing then to what may be called a sociology of measurement. Information was obtained, mainly, by qualitative analysis of historical data from primary sources (archival and printed). By looking at two national cases the dissertation asks how new ideas enter into social stocks of knowledge; how scientific languages are appropriated by social groups in different national contexts; how the metric system supplanted customary measuring systems; what are the social circumstances that eventually halted the expansion of the metric system and have impeded so far its complete global diffusion; and why the United States is one of the only seven countries in the world that have not adopted the metric system. The initial chapter provides the first global historical account of the process of global diffusion of the metric system, with results from on a dataset on international metrication—specifically assembled for this research—that comprises all current 196 countries in the world. The dissertation then details the slow and painful adoption of the metric system in Mexico and the unsuccessful attempts to fully implement it in the United States, focusing on four main factors in each country: (1) processes of state formation, centralization of power, and the ability of bureaucratic apparatuses to secure a monopoly on the legitimate means of measurement; (2) integration into the global economy by means of adopting or imposing international measurement standards; (3) the role played by scientists, experts, and intellectuals in promoting or opposing the idea of metrication; (4) the ways in which laypeople received, adapted, or resisted the metric system through both pacific and violent means, and how they appropriated the system once its adoption became compulsory. The dissertation makes a contribution to the understanding of the early insertion of Latina American countries into global processes of scientific and economic coordination, to the ambiguous position of the United States in setting or following international agreements, and to the politics of worldwide standardization.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ikegami, Eiko
Commitee: Donnelly, Michael, Forment, Carlos, Frankel, Oz
School: New School University
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 73/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Latin American history, American history, Science history, Sociology
Keywords: Decimal metric system, Historical sociology of knowledge, Metrication, Mexico, Sociology of measurement, Standardization, United States
Publication Number: 3495843
ISBN: 978-1-267-19791-7
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