Masculinity and material culture in technological transitions: From letterpress to offset lithography, 1960s–1980s

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Technology and Culture, 2016, 57 (1), pp. 24 - 53
Issue Date:
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© 2016 by the Society for the History of Technology. All rights reserved. Between the 1960s and the 1980s the printing industry in advanced capitalist economies underwent dramatic technological change. While the transition from “hot metal” compositing to computerized typesetting has been extensively analyzed, there was another transformation occurring simultaneously: in the pressroom, letterpress was gradually replaced by offset lithography. Many letterpress machinists retrained, moving from a heavy, manual technology (with an entrenched patriarchal culture) to a method that was faster and less physically taxing. However, unlike their compositor counterparts, the press-machinists’ transition involved a continuity of traditional masculine craft identities rather than a rupture associated with “deskilling.” Intrinsic to this experience of technological change was a masculine embodiment that was attuned to and shaped by the materiality and aesthetics of printing technologies. This article establishes how masculine craft identities do not rely exclusively on skill-based mastery of traditional technologies, but also relate to other dimensions of technology, such as aesthetics, embodied “know-how,” and the physicality of industrial machinery.
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