American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Mechanics and The Essence of Technology

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Monica Longmore (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Clinton Rosati (Committee Member)


The mechanic is a worker of contested meaning in American popular culture. The cultural significance of mechanics reflects technological trends throughout American industrial history. Mechanics have been revered and reviled, vilified and deified at various points in our national experience. This study will view the mechanic through same lens which our society has viewed technology, and in doing so will reveal a more intimate, essential relationship between the mechanic and technology.

During the Industrial Revolution, mechanics were highly regarded as industrial workers and it was implied in radical fiction that they could repair social problems with the same acumen with which they fixed machines. The cultural significance of mechanics shifts definitively within popular consciousness after World War II. Later as the cultural capital of mechanics declined, there was an increasing trend for mechanics to destroy machines in popular literature to correct technology which was viewed as pathological.

The shifting modalities surrounding the mechanic illustrate the trajectory of skilled information workers in the Twenty-first Century. Much like Henry Ford, the founders of Apple Computers worked out of a small shop (a garage in both instances) independently designing, assembling and engineering their products. The once insular and esoteric world of computers opened up to the public, however not all computer training was equally accessible to all parts of society. After the wave of mystery surrounding a technology breaks and recedes along with the promise it brings there is often a descent into mediocrity which then afford the possibility for a cooptation by the subversive elements of society. This may come in the form of highly skilled machine breakers in relation to mechanics or it may be dirty bombs with regard to nuclear technology. Computer hackers provide such direction because they have the skills to actively oppose an emerging class of information capitalists. Hackers can liberate information from corporate control and they, like the mechanics who preceded them, need only their acumen and a few tools to do so.