English Electric

English Electric: in the 1940s and 1950s this was a proudly indepen­dent company based in and near Preston, a large town north of Man­chester in Lancashire in the UK.

A brief history of English Electric? The company was a success­ful Second World War aircraft manufacturer. It worked by taking the designs of other companies and producing them under license effi­ciently and on time. This was fine for wartime because the United Kingdom needed all the aircraft it could get, and it needed manufac­turers even if they didn’t design their own aircraft. But at the end of the war, the directors could see that if the company was to survive as an aircraft manufacturer, it would henceforth need to create its own aircraft from scratch. So in 1945 it created its own design team.

The new team knew that they only had one chance. If they got it wrong, English Electric would have to make do with manufacturing industrial machinery or domestic appliances. So it needed to design an aircraft that would be attractive and would sell. This meant, in par­ticular, that it should be cheap, flexible, reliable, and simple. So, bor­rowing the technology of the defeated Germans, the company built a light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. Straightforward, subsonic, but immensely versatile, it was code-named the Canberra and turned out to be a world-beater. It sold in thousands, both to the Royal Air Force and overseas, and was manufactured under license in large numbers abroad.

The gamble had paid off. English Electric was successfully estab­lished as a front-rank aircraft manufacturer. But what should follow?

At this point there was a disagreement between the English Electric designers and the Whitehall civil servants who were responsible for British military aircraft procurement policy. The mandarins thought 66 Cultures that supersonic technology was risky, that it wouldn’t pay off, so they

continued to order subsonic aircraft. At English Electric they thought differently, and putting their money behind their ideas, they designed and built a prototype supersonic fighter aircraft, code-named the P1.

In some ways this was a tricky machine. It wasn’t easy to service, its move into production was beset by delays, and it carried little fuel so its range was very limited. But in other ways it was extremely suc­cessful. In particular, it flew brilliantly. In the end Whitehall came around and bought a developed version of the P1, called the Light­ning, for the Royal Air Force. And, though it didn’t match the extraor­dinary success of the Canberra, the P1 also went on to sell very well overseas.3

Two out of two: the Canberra followed by the P1 Lightning. English Electric had become a very successful aircraft company. But what would follow the P1?

We have reached 1955 now and find that the Royal Air Force was thinking hard about its future aircraft. Here’s an excerpt from a con­fidential government memo:

The Canberras, with the ability to deliver the tactical atomic bomb and trained to operate at low level, must continue to pro­vide our tactical strike and reconnaissance force for some time to come. It is difficult to say how long they can continue to be re­garded as an effective tactical force. However, operated strictly at low level, they might perhaps continue to do so until the enemy can develop an effective low level surface to air guided weapon.

At best this might be until 1963. (AIR8/2014 1955)

So there was a gap, a space for a Canberra replacement. It was a space defined by the threat to subsonic, medium-altitude bombers flying over Russia posed by antiaircraft missiles which might shoot them down. And it was a space that gradually took shape between 1955 and 1957 when it was specified in a document called General Operational Requirement (GOR) 339. This is what English Electric was after: the contract to design and build the GOR 339 aircraft, the Canberra re­placement.

It’s possible to tell a story about the evolution of that design, the steps the English Electric designers went through.4 By 1957 this de­sign had stabilized in a particular proposal code-named the P.17A.

This design was described and justified in a long brochure written Cultures 67

in response to the Whitehall requests for designs for a GOR 339 air­craft. Most of the brochure is given over to technical description of one point or another. But it also contains a history or perhaps it would be better to say a genealogy of the P.17A, which was, so to speak, a description of its antecedents.

The value of the Canberra experience cannot be over-estimated.

It is the only modern tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft in service with the R. A.F. and many other Air Forces. More Can­berra aircraft are in service with foreign countries than the Vis­count, which holds the record for British civil aircraft. This is due to the flexibility of the Canberra in its operational roles and per­formance, and is a factor which has been kept in mind through­out the P.17A design development.5

In this excerpt from the brochure we’re not only being reminded of the history that I have just recounted but also (in a version of the policy genre discussed in chapter 3) of its relevance. For the Canberra, or so the document is going to tell us, is an excellent test bed for all the tactical equipment needed for the new aircraft—the radars, the bombing equipment, and all the rest. The Canberra also has the virtue that it does some of the same jobs that the GOR 339 plane will do: ‘‘the Canberra is being used for low level strikes with delivery of tactical atomic stores by L. A.B. S. manoeuvres” (English Electric/Short Bros. 1958, 1.S.3). LABS is an acronym. It stands for Low Altitude Bomb­ing System, which is a term that describes the maneuvers the plane goes through in order to avoid destroying itself as a result of delivering ‘‘tactical atomic stores.’’

So the Canberra was some kind of progenitor. But in many systems of kinship, offspring have two parents and the P.17A was no excep­tion. So we move to more history, or more context.

Meanwhile the P1.B is the only aircraft under operational de­velopment having high supersonic experience and appropriate auto-pilot and instrument systems. Moreover, it is the first air­craft under development as an integrated weapon system with all-weather equipment and a reasonable degree of automaticity.

Perhaps most important of all, it is the only aircraft in the world known to have flown with satisfactory controllability up to a

Mach number of 1 at very low altitudes in very rough air. (English Electric/Short Bros. 1958,1.S.3)

So the argument was that the P1.B already flew like the OR 339 aircraft, very low and very fast, and it did so well. The promise was there. The experience of the P1.B would be built into the P.17A. More lines of descent. And what this particular passage doesn’t mention (though it crops up in the narrative elsewhere) is that many of the techniques used to design the P1.B were also being used for the P.17A.

The P1.B stress calculations, for instance, were run on a big com­puter, the DEUCE, which was purchased for the P1.B project. Now the same computer was being used to design the P.17A, not to mention the high-speed wind tunnels and all the accumulated design office experience.

The brochure adds the following:

It will be seen that the P.17A represents a completely straight­forward application of our design experience, as of 1957, just as the Canberra was a conventional application of aerodynamic and structural design knowledge in 1945. This is for the same reason; to guarantee that the R. A.F. have a practical aircraft in service as near as possible to the desired time scale.6

Seventh Story

Gust response, speed, weight, these are fixed. We are left with at, lift slope, the slope of the curve that tracks variations in lift against changes in angle of attack. We are left with this and the hope that its slope will be flat. But there is more. For instance, the stories are about transonic flight: How will the wing behave at roughly the speed of sound? And there are other questions; for example, how will it act at low speeds? So here’s another complexity, one that I earlier chose to ignore. This is the quote again, from the English Electric brochure: ‘‘The essential design compromise implied by O. R.339 is between high speed flight at low level, and operation from short airfields. The intermediate choice between a high-wing loading with a low aspect ratio to minimise gust response, and a large wing area assisted by high lift devices to provide plenty of lift at low speeds, must be resolved’’ (English Electric/Short Bros. 1958, 2.1.8). So gust response is impor­tant, but so too is take-off—which requires plenty of lift at low speeds. The brochure says:

Another convenient parameter is one which gives an indica­tion of the relative response to gusts while achieving a given take­off distance. This may be expressed as P say, where

Подпись:P =


where CLf is the maximum trimmed CL, flaps down, in touch­down attitude. P must be a minimum for good design. (English Electric/Short Bros. 1958, 2.1.9)

We’ve met these terms before. A reminder:

— CL is lift coefficient, roughly the lifting force of a wing: here, the lifting force of the wing as the plane comes into land with its flaps down.

—And at is lift curve slope, change in lift against change in angle of attack.

P therefore quantifies a hybrid relationship, the hope that it is pos­sible to find a wing with low transonic gust response and high lift at landing.

But how to find a wing of the right shape? Of the right planform. This is a technical term and it is one of some importance. The bro­chure continues: ‘‘In the absence of comprehensive data on the effects of flaps on low aspect ratio wings, a comparison replacing CLf by CLmax indicated that delta wings were superior to trapezoidal and swept wings’’ (English Electric/Short Bros. 1958, 2.1.9). The terms here?

— CLmax is the aerodynamicist’s way of designating maximum lift. —Low aspect ratio wings (a reminder) are wings that are short in relation to their area.

—Delta wings are triangular, like those of a paper dart.

—And a trapezoidal wing is shaped like a trapezium. That is, though the wing tip is parallel to the root of the wing, the leading and trailing edges converge toward that tip.

The paragraph then discusses planform:

Since it was thought possible that by using leading edge flaps on trapezoidal wings, higher values of CLf might be obtained

than those from delta wings, wind tunnel tests were carried out using a trapezoidal wing-body combination. In the event, these tests confirmed that the delta gave higher values of CLf. The delta planform was also expected to have better transonic char­acteristics, and again high speed tests in our 18" tunnel on a family of aspect ratio = 2 planforms confirmed the unsatisfactory characteristics of trapezoidal wings, with sudden large aerody­namic centre movements at transonic speeds. This confirmed the choice of the delta planform. (English Electric/Short Bros. 1958, 2.1.9)

A further explanation. This time about aerodynamic center. As it moves through the air a wing lifts, but it does so by differing amounts in different parts of the wing. It’s useful to simplify, however, and sum the effect of all these separate parts to create something called the aerodynamic center. Roughly, this is the place in the wing where the

Seventh StoryFIGURE 5.7 Trapezoidal Wings

changes in overall lift occur as it flies faster or slower or its angle of attack changes. Above stalling speed the aerodynamic center doesn’t shift much. At subsonic speeds it’s about one quarter back from the leading edge for most wings. But at around the speed of sound the aerodynamic center tends to move backward. This isn’t a disaster un­less it moves quickly and jerkily, in which case the aircraft can be difficult to control—which would take us back to pilot sweat and fear.

So the English Electric engineers were looking at two things. One was aerodynamic center. Here the trapezoidal wing was a problem because the movement was ‘‘sudden’’ and ‘‘large.’’ The delta wing was better. The second was CLmax (max, here, means maximum lift). Here

Подпись: FIGURE 5.8 Delta Wings
Seventh Story

there was a surprise: the delta wing was better again. On both counts the trapezoidal wing came off worse.


Exhibit 2.12 takes us to the navigation system and to an example of another strategy for coordinating object positions: discursive (and, as we shall shortly see, pictorial) monitoring and self-correction.

How does this work? The strategy coordinates object positions in a way that suggests monitoring and self-correction will put each other right, indeed perhaps rebuild one another, should the links between them or the positions concerned start to weaken. Such is the point of the term “correction” in exhibit 2.12 and the rationale for talking of a ‘‘weapons system’’ in exhibits 2.2 and 2.13.

These terms and this strategy are both less hierarchical than those built in the table of contents. On the other hand, they echo a substan­tial literature on large technical systems in technoscience studies, a literature that lays stress on the interconnected and interlocking char­acter of technical innovation.9 The argument is that large technical systems—and here TSR2 is being treated as an exemplar-look at and talk to themselves reflexively.10 That is, they bring themselves into being and sustain themselves because they build, or take the form of, feedback systems.

Exhibit 2.13 generates components—let’s say object positions— that are coordinated to perform and stabilize the ‘‘complete TSR2 weapons system.’’ ‘‘In-built test facilities, pre-checked packages for armament, etc.,’’ such are specific objects that work together in this discursive strategy to secure the stability and continuity of the TSR2 object through a series of different positions.

The strategy takes different forms in different places. For instance, exhibit 2.13 works by colonizing alternatives, by simply obliterating them, or by rendering them irrelevant. This is the point of the talk

EXHIBIT 2.12 ”Fixing consists of comparing the computed position of the fix point with the actual positi on of the poi nt as shown by radar. Both these positi ons are shown on the navigator’s radar display and his action in comparing these pro­duces a signal proportional to the displacement between them. This signal is fed to the digital computer where it is used to correct the computed dead reckoning position and may be used to feed an azimuth correction to the inertia platform if necessary.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 26)


Подпись: of rapid deployment, in-built tests, and pre-checked packages. If airfields are unreliable and cannot supply support-and-test equipment, then these too can be re-created as a part of the system.11 This means that what is being constituted as a single aircraft, like the experiments described by Karin Knorr-Cetina in high-energy physics,12 ends up interacting with itself rather than with the outside world. In this way a number of different aircraft—the aircraft at a fully equipped airfield, but also an aircraft at a primitive airstrip somewhere in the forests of Germany—are coordinated: they are made substantively, but also functionally, coherent. We are dealing, in all senses, with ‘‘the same’’ aircraft. Подпись: EXHIBIT 2.14 Turn Round at Dispersed or Primitive Airstrips (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 20; © Brooklands Museum)

EXHIBIT 2.13 ”The complete T. S.R.2 weapons system is designed for mobility and flexi bi lity i n operation, reversi ng previous trends towards reliance on major base facilities. It can be deployed rapidly throughout the world with nominal support and is then ready for immediate operational use to an extent depending on the level of support. In-built test facilities, pre-checked packages for armament, etc., and an auxiliary power plant for operating aircraft electrics, cooling and other systems, are used during the turn round, thereby avoiding reliance upon complex support equipment. All support equipment is air-transportable.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 5)

The looplike and self-sustaining character of this strategy of co­ordination is visible in exhibit 2.14. This (or so the caption tells us) is to be understood as a diagram of ‘‘turn round at dispersed or primitive airstrips.’’ In this depiction the loop starts (and ends) with landing and take-off, moves through icons that depict towing, replen­ishment, rearming, and standby, using (as the text observes) “self – contained facilities [which] can be used for normal operations.” Many coordinating conventions are being deployed here, textual and icono – graphic. But in the present context it is the arrows that are most sig­nificant. The conventions for reading these generate a viewer who is not naive but understands that the five icons for the aircraft stand not for five different aircraft but rather for one: a singular aircraft that is being displaced through time, and perhaps (though this is less clear) through space. A singular aircraft is being made that will be returned to the sky even though it is far removed from major base facilities.

A version of the same systems singularity is also deployed in one of the maps discussed earlier—the ferry-range map of exhibit 2.6. We have discussed the cartographic practices mobilized here, and also the conventions for tracing the movement of small objects onto mapped surfaces. But the latter with its lines and arrows also per­forms a further version of systems coordination. As in exhibit 2.14, this takes the form of lines and arrows which go round, in loops. The particular rhetoric of TSR2 singularity here thus not only performs an aircraft that can fly long distances once it is fueled up, but also per­forms a TSR2 that can go out, for instance from the UK, but that can also come back. This, it should be added, is not the trivial matter that it might seem, given prevailing headwinds and the need to plan for adverse conditions when seeking to land on tiny islands in the middle of the ocean.

Each of the exhibits I’ve touched on in this section contains loops. Each performs loops. And the strategy for coordination depends on the successful manufacture of loops. For, in a systems world, the world of cybernetic self-maintenance, properly built loops are re­assuring. They correct themselves. They secure an environment in which coherences may sustain themselves and that does not distort what is passed round the loop. So it is that such loops, or the connec – 28 Objects tions that afford such loops, generate what Bruno Latour (1987) calls

immutable mobiles. Objects remain ‘‘the same’’ even as they move and displace themselves.

Continuity and Culture

I will shortly take this story one step further, but it is time to pause for a moment and reflect. Let’s start by saying that this history as told by the brochure writers at English Electric is perfectly plausible. No doubt as an expression of the coordinating potential of what in the previous chapter I described as ‘‘plain history,’’ it might be incorpo­rated into an account offered by any historian of the English Elec­tric company, and I suggest, its general style feels comfortable in the context of technoscience studies. So what is the nature of this plau­sibility?

The answer lies in the fact that one thing leads discursively to another. Somehow or other, events go together, distributed onto a line, a time line, a line ofinfluence, the teleological means-ends line that is the guiding thread of a project. It is, to be sure, an interested history. It would be easy to tell a debunking story about the concerns of those who wrote the brochure, noting that they sought to make as Cultures 69

much as possible of the readily available cultural materials. And it would be equally easy to tell a story that did not debunk but merely noted the operation of social interests as well as the existence and ma­nipulation of a prior set of resources in the form of skills, materials (such as wind tunnels and machine tools), and texts.

I’ll discuss interest narratives in a later section of this chapter. But such ironicizing or contextualizing doesn’t necessarily reduce the plausibility of the story about English Electric. Note, for instance, that it conforms, at least in broad shape, to the form of much narration in technoscience studies, sociology, or anthropology. It does so, in par­ticular, because it is an example of an origin story.7 The narratives re­tell how one (cultural) thing leads to another, influencing it and shap­ing it, as one passes through time. So it is a narrative in a plausible form, in one or more of the versions of that form (‘‘plain history’’ and ‘‘policy narrative’’) — or their closely related if more esoteric cousin, the social shaping of technology. It makes a reader who knows how to handle and assess it, who knows the strategic moves. In addition, that reader knows the kinds of issues that might be highlighted if one wanted to set about undermining it: ‘‘We need more detail’’ or ‘‘No, the similarities between the P1.B and the P.17A are overstated if we look at this other material.’’ And so on.

So, let’s say that this form of narrative is a coordinating strategy, a method for the cultural ordering of what might otherwise be discon­nected objects. It takes the form of a plausible historical narrative, a plausible origin story. It makes a culture (we perhaps should remind ourselves again) that ramifies into and is performed through material objects and procedures such as genes, skills, jigs, and power presses, a culture that somehow or other may be said to shape the events that it contains, in this case historically.

So what about this term, culture? It would, to be sure, be possible to write a book about this. Indeed a library. Several have been written. I want, however, to approach the term in a particular way by linking it to specific lines of writing in technoscience studies. With this in mind, it is helpful to cite Sharon Traweek, who tells us that ‘‘a com­munity is a group of people with a shared past, with ways of recogniz­ing and displaying their differences from other groups, and expecta­tions for a shared future. Their culture is the ways, the strategies they 70 Cultures recognize and use and invent for making sense’’ (Traweek 1992, 437-

38). So we have strategies for arranging, for making sense and (to add to her definition) creating similarities and differences, including the similarities and differences that constitute community.

But how are similarity and difference made? As I suggested in chap­ter 2, there are various strategies, methods for distributing or order­ing such continuities and ruptures. And here we are dealing with another: that of chronology or genealogy, the tracing of descent, the insistence on commonality through the generations. This strategy comprises at least one of the tropes used by those who wrote or (we might add) performed the English Electric brochure; by those who worked in the test facilities and factories of English Electric in the north of England at Warton and Preston; by the material embodiments of English Electric, precisely in the form of those facilities and fac­tories; by the story, by the lineage, that I built for the company at the beginning of this chapter; and by technoscience students as they seek to make sense of the way in which things follow things to produce what we might think of as shaped continuity. For this is one of the great distributive tropes, methods, or mechanisms of culture. It is not surprising that we should find it in our materials. It is not surprising that we should use it ourselves in our technoscience studies: the nar­rative of the world as genealogy and chronology. More time lines. A project doesn’t need to be made in this way. No doubt it cannot ex­clusively be made in this way. But surely this is one of the elementary mechanisms of project making.


Подпись: Wind Tunnel Подпись: Aerodynamic Center Подпись: FIGURE 5.9

So there are two sets of relations: the link between planform, the shape of the wing, and CLf; and the link between planform and aero­dynamic center. The delta wing is better-better, that is, in the wind tunnel.

The wind tunnel is another instance of heterogeneity/materiality, of distribution between absence and presence. On the one hand, there are the flat surfaces of the drawing office that work to pull every­thing together, to center it; and on the other, there are the three­dimensional models, materials, and measurements of the wind tun­nel. So the wind tunnel is absent from the formalisms of the design office and yet they are present too. But there is something more subtle

about the differences that emerge in that distribution. This is the fact that they are produced in movement, in a continuing process of dis­placement between materials and sites.

Perhaps one way of saying this is that it isn’t possible to ‘‘sum up’’ the wing in the design office. The representation that appears in the design office, sets of formalisms, drawings, is incomplete, unfinished. It is not centered, it is not drawn together, because it needs the wind tunnel. It needs the differences that will be generated in the move to the wind tunnel. But the version of the wing that appears here is also incomplete and needs further attention, further attention by the de­sign office, by stress engineers, machinists, metallurgists, and later by maintenance engineers and mechanics.

This is another oscillation of absence/presence. For the wing is present, all there, drawn out. But those lines also embody absence, the absent/presence of differences that are deferred and relations that are still to come. So the distributions here, the absent/presences are differences in movement. They involve displacement, displace­ment through time, in what Jacques Derrida calls difference. They involve an oscillatory distribution between the present/now and the absent/future. Or the absent/now and the present/future. In the het­erogeneous interferences of time. In heterogeneity/deferral.11


As a final example of the working of the strategies of coordination in the brochure, I want to touch briefly on the issue of speed.

Like exhibit 2.2, exhibit 2.15 deploys syntactical and discursive conventions to create an object that is capable of flying both fast and low. Exhibit 2.16 uses graphing conventions that are somewhat re­lated to those of cartography, both to identify an aircraft that is capable of the long-range missions identified by more direct cartographic means in exhibit 2.11 and again to offer a message about speed. But the making of an object that is singularly fast uses many more con­ventions, and some of them are much less direct in character. For in­stance, exhibit 2.1 depicts an aircraft (which we may now agree is the TSR2) from behind and below. Though this is not given in its per – spectivalism, a competent reader will also note the undercarriage is retracted. This means that in the depiction the aircraft is being made to fly, made to move, though it is true that we are given no clues as to how fast it might be moving. But this is not the case for the front cover (exhibit 2.7). Like exhibit 2.1 this is again in part produced by the technologies of perspectivalism. At first sight it might seem that the viewpoint is that of the pilot. But this isn’t quite right because the pilot, confined to his cockpit behind the heavy canopy that protects him, would not enjoy a spectacular all-round view of the kind on offer here. In which case the representation may not so much be what the pilot sees but rather what the aircraft itself can see. Perhaps, then, it is a representation of the view the aircraft would enjoy as it flew at two hundred feet.

I have mentioned perspective, but there is another visual strategy at work here, one that is crucial for performing a distinction between

EXHIBIT 2.15 ”TSR2 is designed to operate at 200 ft. above ground level with automatic terrain following, at speeds of up to Mach 1.1. It is capable of Mach 2 plus at medium altitudes.” (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 4)

_____________________________________________________________ Objects 29

Speed/HeroismEXHIBIT 2.16 Sorties (British Aircraft Corporation 1962, 10;

© Brooklands Museum)





Hi n JW 40ft SCO МО KM 8» Wfl

stasis and movement—and which also tells us the direction of that movement. It works, as is obvious, by blurring many of the lines and surfaces in the visual depiction. The principle is straightforward: as in a cartoon strip all those lines not parallel to the direction of travel are blurred. If the viewpoint itself is traveling, then static objects are blurred. Seen from a static position it is, of course, the other way

round. However, it is the first of these alternatives that is being mo­bilized here. And since the convention is indeed superimposed on a version of perspectivalism, those lines that are not blurred converge to a vanishing point: the place into which the aircraft will shortly dis­appear.

As is obvious, there is a connection between all of these exhibits.

All embody strategies for making speed, albeit by different means.

Through these different texts and depictions the TSR2 is being turned into a very fast aircraft. But in exhibit 2.7 something else is going on too. Here speed is being made a relative matter, turned into a ques­tion of contrast. A division between movement and statis is being per­formed. This is implicit in the technology of blurring superimposed onto perspectivalism. This exhibit suggests that the aircraft is only present for a split second. Right now it is, to be sure, above the build­ings that are dimly discernible below. But in half a second they will be gone. They will have disappeared as the aircraft itself disappears into the vanishing point.

And what is the significance of this? I offer the following sugges­tion: we are witnessing not only speed but also a depiction that helps to reflect and perform a particular version of male agency. Thus I take it that the front cover is telling, in a way that the textual and graph­ing conventions of exhibits 2.15 and 2.16 do not, that this is not just a fast aircraft and one that flies low. We are also being told that it is an exciting aircraft to fly. That it is a thrill to fly. That it is, in short, a pilot’s aircraft.

The creation of speed is not, to be sure, itself a strategy of coordi­nation. Rather, it is an effect of a series of such strategies. It is cru­cial, however, for all sorts of reasons. Some of these are ‘‘technical’’ in character (to use a term of contrast that I will try to undermine in chapter 6). There are, indeed, technical or strategic reasons for the aircraft to fly very fast and very low. But others are not. Thus I suggest that speed is the raw material on which another effect builds itself: the depiction and performance of heroic agency. In this way it helps to make a particular kind of reader—not simply a ‘‘technical’’ sub­ject who responds to the technical attributes of the TSR2, one who wants to know how far it can fly, whether it can defend the Australian Northern Territory from the Indonesians or the communist Chinese, Objects 31

or whether it can fly under the enemy radar screen. It also helps (and here is the other half of that dangerous contrast) to make a subject that is aesthetic, indeed erotic, one that enjoys fast and even danger­ous flying. Thrills and spills: there are coordinating strategies for link­ing these together. And unless we can generate a reader of this kind from the specificities of the materials of the brochure, then we are, indeed, missing out on something very important about the effects of the strategies for coordinating those different object specificities.13

Vickers Armstrong

There’s a nasty dig in the English Electric brochure that I mentioned only in passing. This has to do with the Viscount aircraft, which hasn’t sold as well, or so the brochure claims, as the Canberra. It is a nasty dig because it is a way of making a difference between English Elec­tric and one of its rivals, perhaps its major rival, the manufacturer of the Viscount aircraft, a firm called Vickers Armstrong.

For English Electric was not alone in hoping to win the GOR 339 contract. A host of other companies were jostling for a piece of the action,8 and one of these was Vickers Armstrong. It was really two firms. One was based at Weybridge in the southern suburbs of Lon­don. The Weybridge firm was in the process of digesting another based in Hampshire, in the south of England, called Supermarine. I’ll Cultures 71

Lines of Descent


Lines of descent: the great method of the aristocracy. The question of who sired whom and by whom. The making of the family and the per­forming of pedigree. Though family relations need not be performed in terms of such a model, it is interesting, isn’t it, how this aristocratic metaphor gets reproduced as a form, a structure, through so many dif­ferent Euro-American materials?9

In the European Middle Ages there was the Tree of Jesse, as in the magnificent west window of Chartres Cathedral, rising from the chest of Jesse through David and Solomon to Christ. But the genealogical trope gives shape to so many other cultural materials. How are "we" humans descended? What is the missing link? How are our languages descended? Where, what, and when, was the Ur language? Another location of an origin story. And what about genes? How do they move down the generations? What do we have in common? We busily trace the links back up the chain and then down again. To discover that we were really distant cousins all along.

How are the time lines of similarity and difference to be drawn? How are the arborescences to be made?


have something more to say about the effects of this merger later, but for the moment just let me say that Supermarine, which had manu­factured the Second World War Spitfire fighter aircraft, had a design team that thought very much in terms of integrated systems, while Vickers Armstrong was a major producer of successful aircraft, both commercial (names like the Viking and the already-mentioned Vis­count belonged to Vickers) and military (the first of Britain’s strategic nuclear V-bombers, the Valiant).10

So Vickers Armstrong was a highly plausible contender for the GOR 339 contract:


Meanwhile, Vickers Supermarine had been working on a num­ber of alternative designs, the vulnerability of which had been carefully tested against the ideas of Vickers Guided Weapons Division. Their experience was limited to transonic aircraft. . . . The various designs were submitted to a cost-effect examina­tion against GOR 339, and as a result Vickers tendered first for a small single-engined plane suitable for both the Air Force and the Navy. The design was in the Supermarine Spitfire Tradition. (Hastings 1966, 30)

So here we see another historical story, the construction of a series of similarities, descents, that take us back across time to what is per­haps the best-known British aircraft ever built, the Second World War Spitfire fighter. And these too are links that tell of an integrated, cutting edge, and militarily outstanding descent from the past to the present. Other such genealogical stories are also possible, for in­stance, tracing lineage to the civil aircraft mentioned earlier, the Vis­count. Here the link takes another form, pointing out that this aircraft had been built efficiently and to cost, and emphasizing that Vickers had a ‘‘track record of production management and on-time deliver­ies” (Gardner 1981, 31). And then again, reminding the reader that the Viscount had been designed, like all good civil aircraft, for ease of servicing and quick turnaround. Both points can also be read as an unkind cut, however, for in reading between the lines you are meant to understand that Vickers builds reliable and matter-of-fact aircraft and completes its projects to time, whereas English Electric does not. So this is the production of more genealogical similarities, similari­ties that make intercompany differences.

Small, versatile, easily serviced on a modular basis, deriving from the Spitfire and the Viscount, this is not a bad origin story. But con­sider this:

The 571 was a revolutionary proposal in that it offered the re­quired blind terrain-following, nav-attack and weapons system as a fully integrated package—the complete opposite of the ‘‘add­on’’ afterwards school of thought. The argument was that the sys­tems were the heart of the airplane and a high performance flying platform should be built around them. (Gardner 1981, 30)

‘‘A revolutionary proposal.’’ This is the historian of the British Air­craft Corporation, Charles Gardner, talking. My reason for drawing attention to this passage is that it makes another kind of cut, a divi­sion between the past and the present, between what are now being distinguished as ‘‘the ‘add-on’ afterwards school of thought’’ and the ‘‘fully integrated package.’’ Gardner implies that we are witnessing a historical step change—and then he distributes value across that boundary in favor of whatever comes later and is thereby in touch with the present. It is the performance of a past where things were both different and not as good.11

Eighth Story

In English Electric’s summary brochure there is a section at the be­ginning called ‘‘History.’’ Here’s part of the first paragraph: ‘‘Several widely-differing designs for a Canberra replacement aircraft were studied at Warton towards the end of 1956, and, by early 1957, calcu­lations and wind tunnel tests had shown the optimum design to be an aircraft resembling the P.17 configuration. The merits of this con­figuration were confirmed by further tests, and the design was found to meet G. O.R. 339 requirements as these became known’’ (English Electric 1959). This paragraph is accompanied by three drawings of the P.17A that give an overall view of its geometry (see figure 5.10).

The full brochure offers a more abstract account: ‘‘The design pro­cess of a modern aircraft, especially a versatile one, could be summa­rised as obtaining the best combination of a large number of variables each one of which reacts on many of the others. The final product 110 Heterogeneities must meet each of its requirements roughly in proportion to the em-

FIGURE 5.10 Plan of English Electric P.17A


Eighth Story

phasis placed on the relevant role” (English Electric/Short Bros. 1958, 2.1.8). This sentiment echoes those of the government White Paper on procurement that we have already come across:

An aircraft must be treated not merely as a flying machine but as a complete ‘‘weapons system’’. This phrase means the combi­nation of airframe and engine, the armament needed to enable the aircraft to strike at its target, the radio by which the pilot is guided to action or home to base, the radar with which he locates his target and aims his weapons, and all the oxygen, cooling and other equipment which ensure the safety and efficiency of the crew. Since the failure of any one link could make a weapons sys­tem ineffective, the ideal would be that complete responsibility for co-ordinating the various components of the system should rest with one individual, the designer of the aircraft. Experience has shown that this is not completely attainable, but it is the in­tention to move in this direction as far as practical considerations allow. (HMSO 1955, 9)

This was quoted in the previous chapter, but I’m citing it again now because I want to insert it into a different context.

Decentering the Object

The naive reader does not exist, except perhaps as a methodological fiction. But the creation of the naive reader throws the problem of dif­ference into relief. This is because it generates many objects or object positions and many subjects or subject positions. It brings a flock of aircraft into being, together with a library full of different and dispa­rate readers. And so it generates an inquiry, the inquiry into coordi­nation, the inquiry into how the various subject and object positions are aligned with one another, and the inquiry into the strategies for such coordination. The inquiry, then, is into how singular subjects and singular objects are made.

But wait a moment. Now the alarm bells start to ring. Ever since Lacan (or is it Freud?) there have been questions and doubts about the centered subject. Ids, egos, superegos, and their endless descendants, we have become habituated to the idea that the self is divided, the subject a set of more or less unsatisfactorily related subject positions. So the idea of the decentered subject is scarcely new—though, to be sure, it has taken on new life in recent work in cultural studies, where the possibility that noncoherence between different subject positions might also be desirable has taken root.14 But if the idea of the decen – tered subject is not new, then what of the decentered object? What of the object that does not hang together? Or holds together only par­tially?

Here the arguments have not been properly made or explored. But such is the prospect that we face if we take the problem of difference seriously. And it is the problem that we all face if, as I have in this chapter, we start to wash away the assumption of singularity, the pre – 32 Objects supposition that, whatever we might study and whatever we might

interact with is indeed a single, coherent, and centered object that is out there. A single object that we may come to know in this way or in that. A single object over which we may have different perspectives. But, nonetheless, a single object.

So that is the abstract version of the story. But what if we return to the TSR2 and ask, was this a single object? Was it an aircraft?

The answer to this question is, at least in part, an empirical mat­ter.15 It is conceivable that the strategies for coordinating the various TSR2s, for making them singular, indeed dovetailed together to gen­erate a unity. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much. And this is not pri­marily because the TSR2 project encountered a series of difficulties that became the topic of endless debate in the policy and procure­ment literature. It is rather because, once we look at things in this plural way, any singular object immediately becomes an effect—and a more or less precarious effect. Yes, arteriosclerosis. Yes, alcoholic liver disease. Yes, a water pump. Yes, a program of medical screen­ing or health advice. Yes, a pregnancy.16 And yes, an aircraft. All of these are more or less singular but also more or less plural. And if the well-publicized difficulties of the TSR2 project are relevant here, it is simply because they make it easier for us to see some of the non­coherences.

For this business of multiplicity and coordination is not a clever game dreamed up by poststructuralist philosophers or students of postmodern social science. Or if it is a game, then it is one that is also real enough. Indeed it is one that is deadly serious. Exhibit 2.17 tells of the inability to coordinate the development of the subsystems of the aircraft to produce a desired coherence in the form of a single and coherent object. It thereby discursively undoes the work of coherence performed by many of the earlier exhibits.17

EXHIBIT 2.17 . . it proved intrinsically impossible to co-ordinate the airframe,

electronics and engine work.” (Williams, Gregory, and Simpson 1969, 53)

Exhibit 2.18, posed in the language of policy, tells of the inability to make a single aircraft in ‘‘reality’’ that would fit the ‘‘concept’’ of such a weapons system.18 This too undoes the coordinating work of

EXHIBIT 2.18 ”The TSR-2 weapon system was an extremely advanced concept, combining several roles in one aircraft, attempting to achieve compatibility in performance which had not previously been attempted, and projecti ng ai r power requirements well into the ’70s. Here, perhaps, is the basic weakness of the TSR-2 concept, the attempt to meet too many new and complex specifications at the same time.” (Williams, Gregory, and Simpson 1969, 20-21)

Подпись: Perspectives, Epistemologies, and Ontologies Linear perspective, and indeed its alternatives, works on the assumption that it is possible to distinguish in a three-way division between a viewer, that which is viewed, and a representation of that which is viewed.21 It assumes that these are distinct, and that the problem facing the artist is technical in character: that of translating that which is into that which represents it. This has various consequences: —It models the subject as a single point location within or to one side of a three-dimensional geometrical space. —In one way or another, it accordingly solves an epistemological problem: the problem, that is, of providing warrantable or workable knowledge of the world. —It is (tautologically) perspectival in character. That is, in its enact-

the brochure and in particular that of exhibit 2.2, which insists on the necessary integration of a single weapons system. In exhibit 2.19 we learn the need for separate battlefield and deep-strike aircraft: the ex­pense of the latter made it impossible to imagine that it could ever be the same as the former. Again, then, this is a performance of disaggre­gation. While in exhibits 2.20 and 2.21 we learn that in this version of similarity and difference, deep-strike aircraft could never be conven­tional: the idea that a deep-strike aircraft would be both conventional

ment it implies a reduction of the world that might be seen from many viewpoints to what may be depicted from a single viewpoint. There is always the possibility of other reductions from different viewpoints.

Representation never exhausts the possibilities. There are always others.

—It rests upon and performs a family of related ontologies: that is, assumptions about the nature of existence or being, about what there is. In particular, it assumes that there is a more or less stable world ”out there” that may be depicted from one perspective or another.

There is a relation between epistemology and ontology here. An ontological assumption is performed in tackling an epistemological question. Or, to put it in a more pointed manner, the possibility that an ontology is being created or performed is concealed by the focus of attention on epistemology.

Distinctions between perspectivalism and an approach based on semiotics such as that used here, include the following:

— Perspectivalism trades in epistemology and effaces ontology, whereas semiotics trades in ontology: it is a method for exploring the simultaneous creation of objects and subjects.

— Perspectivalism describes what is. Semiotics tells about the making as well as the knowing of things.

— Perspectivalism solves the problem of multiplicity or difference by reconciling or explaining different views or perspectives because it says that they are looking at a single object from several points of view. Semiotics says that different objects are being produced, and then asks how, if at all, they are connected together in order to create a single object.

and nuclear was, in effect, not just a noncoherence but a contradic­tion.19

EXHIBIT 2.19 "Logically what was needed were two weapons systems, one for carrying out, economically, conventional operations in the battlefield areas, and a second for deep penetration nuclear strike operations. .. TSR-2 was too expensive to risk in th[e former] role in anything other than very bad weather.” (Williams, Gregory, and Simpson 1969, 42)

To be sure, these exhibits take the form of belated wisdom. It is easy to be wise after the event. But that is not the point of citing them. It is not that they are right and the brochure is wrong. I have no desire to take sides. It is rather to show that the work of object coordination and object disaggregation goes on—and on. It is to suggest that the singu­larity of an object is precarious, uncertain, and revisable.20 And thus it is to suggest that the issue of what there is and what there could be, whether the objects in the world are centered or decentered, singu­lar or multiple, whether they are both, or whether somehow or other they are fractional, this is not simply a question of playing postmod­ern games. For if we start with a naive reader, this is not to celebrate naivete but rather to lead us to questions of similarity and difference. And these are questions that are real enough. They have to do with

EXHIBIT 2.20 ”Another point that worried me [about TSR2] was that a super­sonic aircraft was not likely to be used for close-support of troops fighting on the ground. Were a war to erupt on the European mainland, I could hardly imag­ine that the Russians would wait to find out whether aircraft making deep strikes on targets within their territory were carrying conventional bombs, leaflets or nuclear weapons. If we and the Russians meant what we were saying, the response would most likely be nuclear.” (Zuckerman 1988, 214-15)

EXHIBIT 2.21 ”But above all I could not see any strategic sense in the notion that the TSR2 could be operated as a fighter-bomber armed with nuclear bombs for use on a European battlefield. The idea of nuclear field-war was nonsense.” (Zuckerman 1988, 215)

coordination. They have to do with the strategies that secure coordi­nation and the ways in which such strategies intersect to build up or break down similarities and differences. They have to do with what there is, and what, in a fractional world of coherence and noncoher­ence, there might be. They have, in short, to do with ontology.

The distinction between the public and the private is a distinction internal to bourgeois law. — Louis Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

Подпись: соПодпись:Critical theory is not finally about reflexivity, except as a means to defuse the bombs of the established disorder and its self-invisible subjects and cate­gories. — Donna Haraway, ”A Game of Cat’s Cradle: Science Studies, Feminist Theory, Cultural Studies”


So this is a world of cultural and historical discontinuities in the form of “revolutionary proposals.’’ But take a look at this:

Work was well advanced, and if it had been selected there is little doubt that the P17A could have been flying as a prototype by 1963….It had another potential advantage in that it would have met the broad operational requirement, powered by a modified standard Bristol Siddeley Olympus engine. (Hastings 1966, 30)

This is Conservative MP Stephen Hastings, who wrote a book on the project. It’s true that he’s picking over the entrails after the event. He’s reflecting on the fact that in the end the choice was for a ‘‘weapons system’’ aircraft of the kind preferred by Vickers Armstrong. And he’s exploring the fact that for a variety of reasons (his book considers these in some depth) this aircraft ultimately came to a sticky end—his is a story that resonates in particular with those who worked for En­glish Electric and their ‘‘evolutionary’’ P.17A. Most interesting here, however, is the way in which the polarities have been reversed. Here value is being distributed across the boundary the other way round, for the ‘‘weapons system revolution’’ is being performed as an obstacle rather than as a great leap forward. Continuity, accretion, descent, these would have been better. This is the lesson that we are being asked to draw.

So the distributive polarities may change. Differences between the present and the past maybe desirable or they may not. In some stories about what came before, the past may fall from favor. In others it does

But this is only half of the story.

An aircraft must be treated not merely as a flying machine but as a complete ‘‘weapons system’’. This phrase means the combi­nation of airframe and engine, the armament needed to enable the aircraft to strike at its target, the radio by which the pilot is guided to action or home to base, the radar with which he locates his target and aims his weapons, and all the oxygen, cooling and other equipment which ensure the safety and efficiency of the crew. Since the failure of any one link could make a weapons sys­tem ineffective, the ideal would be that complete responsibility for co-ordinating the various components of the system should rest with one individual, the designer of the aircraft. Experience has shown that this is not completely attainable, but it is the in­tention to move in this direction as far as practical considerations allow. (HMSO 1955, 9)

The citation is from a government document, a statement of offi­cial policy that appeared in 1955. But now that I have cited it, it starts to make a difference to the ordering of the narrative. In particular, it makes a difference to the story told by Gardner, the story of revolu­tion and discontinuity. Suddenly it looks as if Vickers’s revolutionary proposal isn’t so revolutionary after all. Another story is, or could be, performed—a story of continuity. This is a story of a different kind of continuity, one that tells of the links between government arms procurement policy and the 571 proposal made by Vickers, which in this new cultural context isn’t revolutionary any more. Indeed, it isn’t even entirely new.

So it is that we find ourselves back in a world of continuity, gene­alogy, and descent—albeit a continuity different in kind from that celebrated by English Electric.12 And if I wanted to strengthen that narrative of descent I could tell stories, too, about the reasons for the government policy statement, about why the government came to favor a weapons-system approach. These stories would have to do with procurement policies in the United States and with certain un­fortunate British projects which created aircraft that flew satisfacto­rily by themselves but when mounted with weapons turned out to have aerodynamic problems if they were fired.13 Back to a world of continuity.

Here’s a proposition. Culture in all its forms—talk, technics, skill— is about making and distributing similarities and differences, about allocating them and re-allocating them. It is about trying to stabilize them or undermine them. It is about ‘‘the strategies [we] recognize and use and invent for making sense’’ (I’m citing Sharon Traweek again). But (this is the proposition) when we perform these alloca­tions we also reflect, perform, instantiate, and form narratives that reflect and embody forms of cultural bias.14

Which we? That’s a good question.15 Let’s just say for the moment, we who are the narrators, the cultural bricoleurs, the performers, the engineers or managers who write brochures, the historians who write company histories, the sociologists and technoscience students who tell stories about social interests and the social shaping of tech­nology. We, all of us, have a bias in favor of continuity, narrative con – tinuity—for instance (though not necessarily) in the form of descent or genealogy. This is one of the features of the tendency to perform singularity and the concomitant tendency to marginalize multiplicity. Which means that, at the same time, we tend to have a bias against discontinuity, against revolutions and step changes, and especially against multiplicity and that which cannot be assimilated.

So here is the suggestion: we tend to assume that if we cannot as­similate something, trace lines of similarity, explication, then some­how or other we have failed. Even if the events present themselves as discontinuous. Broken up. Or multiple.