Miller Center

Jeannette Estruth

History, New York University

"A Political History of the Silicon Valley: Structural Change, Urban Transformation, and Local Movements, 1945-1995"

Estruth photo

Jeannette Estruth has been selected as the Miller Center/ Hagley Library Dissertation Fellow in Business and Politics.

It has become accepted wisdom that the history of Silicon Valley represents something universal about the power of technology to transform national and global economies in the twenty-first century. While acknowledging the influence of the Valley on technologies like computing, telecommunications, and surveillance, Jeannette Estruth’s dissertation takes a wider view, interrogating the relationships between the politics of urban development, labor organizing, and social inclusion to understand how the technology industry became synonymous with California’s South Bay Area in the postwar period. By drawing from a variety of archival sources-- oral histories, corporate memos, activist pamphlets, and union newspapers-- it argues that debates over land use, race, gender, labor, and the urban environment shaped the technology industry’s growth in the Valley in the twentieth century. Estruth posits that local claims to economic inclusion and the concurrent rise of the technology industry combined to produce a new normative political discourse by the 1990s. Defining this impulse as “techno-libertarianism,” she asks how an industry with its roots in federal defense spending came to see itself in opposition to the state; how the culture of participatory entrepreneurship sought to replace the culture of participatory left politics as the hallmark of progressivism; and how the collectivist ideals of the local political left were appropriated into a global promise of universal human liberation through market technologies. By uniting the technological history of the Silicon Valley with its urban and political history, her project prompts new understandings of the emergence of global economies in the postwar period.

Fellowship year: 2017

Mentor: Mark Brilliant, University of California, Berkeley

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