Lee Vinsel on Hackensack River Tour 10-4-13.JPG

Lee Vinsel

I'm an Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech.

My CV. 

I grew up in the rust belt town of Joliet, Illinois. Growing up around abandoned steel mills and industrial decline gives one a certain sense of life with technology. The mascot of my high school was the Steelman—the name given to a statue originally titled "Science Advancing Mankind," which had been built for the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago, The Century of Progress. As co-editor of the school newspaper during my senior year, I wrote a pretentious column arguing that the school mascot was guilty of technological determinism, though I didn't know that term yet. 

Also while in high school, I watched the movie, Clueless, while on vacation with my family. I wondered who this Nietzsche guy was who Paul Rudd was reading poolside in one scene. When I found out, I fell in love with philosophy, which I eventually studied in at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My senior thesis was titled "Get Over It!: The Foucault-Habermas Debate and Critical Theory in the United States." It used the theories of Foucault and Habermas to criticize the current state of professional philosophy in America, wherein most scholars write about other (more famous) philosophers rather than writing philosophy. (The Ouroborosian joke is that Foucault and Habermas never had a debate; the "Foucault-Habermas debate" consisted of squabbles between their disciples.) I left academic philosophy behind soon thereafter. 

For about five years—for three years during undergrad and for two years afterwards—I worked in two different jobs in psychiatric hospitals. This work was the best possible training for my later life in academia. 

Left directionless after leaving philosophy, I was reading Wired  magazine one day. In it, a vice president of Microsoft reviewed a book on the history of railroads, which the vice president claimed provided nice analogies for contemporary developments in computer and network technologies. I read that book—Regulating Railroad Innovation by Steven W. Usselman. Everything changed, and I applied to grad school to study the history of technology (which is to say my great intellectual passions have come, by chance, from pop bullshit, like teen comedies and technophile magazines). 

I studied the history of technology, business history, environmental history, and US social and political history at Carnegie Mellon University. Most of my work there was supported through a National Science Foundation funded center on climate change policy. I wrote my dissertation on how regulators used a particular tool (called performance standards) to curb undesirable things about automobiles, like dangers from accidents, emissions, and gas "guzzling."

I did a year as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. There, going against everything my mother taught to hold dear, I started hanging out with "historians of science," and even blogged with some for a while. 

I taught for five years at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. In 2015, my buddy, Andrew Russell, and I started a global research network called The Maintainers, which is dedicated to the study of maintenance, repair, upkeep, and ordinary work with technology. (You can read the first essay we wrote on the idea for Aeon, "Hail the Maintainers," here.) The Maintainers enabled me to move to a better job in a locale that also better fits my family and me. I started working at Virginia Tech in August 2017. 

I live in beautiful Blacksburg, Virginia, with my wife, daughter, son, dog, books, and many trees and mountains.