Notice & Comment

Introduction to Book Symposium: JoAnne Yates and Craig N. Murphy’s Engineering Rules: Global Standard Setting since 1880

I’m delighted to announce that over the next week and a half, we’re hosting an online symposium on JoAnne Yates and Craig N. Murphy‘s fascinating new book, Engineering Rules: Global Standard Setting since 1880. Yates is the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management and a Professor of Work and Organization Studies and Managerial Communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Murphy is the Betty Freyhof Johnson ’44 Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College. From the Johns Hopkins University Press, here is a description of the book:

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.

To give you a sense of what promises to be an engaging and multidisciplinary conversation, here is a list of our contributors:

In recent years, privately developed standards–which are frequently incorporated by reference into governmental regulations–have received renewed attention in administrative law. With the Supreme Court set to hear arguments this term in a case that raises related issues, now is a great time to learn more about the important and underappreciated world of standards. If this is all new to you (and even if its not), you’re in for a real treat!

This post is part of a symposium reviewing JoAnne Yates and Craig N. Murphy‘s Engineering Rules: Global Standard Setting since 1880 (John Hopkins University Press). Previous posts in the symposium can be viewed here.

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