Eastern Professor Patrick Vitale Wins Ashby Prize

Written by Raven Dillon

Patrick Vitale, a geography professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, recently won the Ashby Prize for the most innovative paper of 2017 in the journal “Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space.” Vitale’s article is titled “Making Science Suburban: The Suburbanization of Industrial Research and the Invention of ‘Research Man.'”

The article traces the invention of the modern “tech worker” to an unlikely location: the suburbs of Pittsburgh. In the early 1900s, Pittsburgh’s industrial firms began to move research laboratories away from plants in crowded urban areas and into suburbs.

Vitale explains that workers, scientists and engineers had once worked alongside each other in factories. However, starting in the early 1900s, they increasingly worked in different places, lived in different communities, and began to see themselves and their labor as different. These new “labs” created a geographic and social division between mental and manual work.

“The class, race and gender relations of the suburbs were essential and invisible components of science and engineering,” Vitale writes. “In capitalist economies now and in the past, science and engineering are rooted in injustice, misery and inequality; the very problems they are supposed to solve.”

Westinghouse Research Laboratories (depicted here in the 1940s) is a research firm that fled the urban areas of Greater Pittsburgh for the suburbs.

Industrial firms even created a new title for scientists and engineers – “research men” – and argued that they needed to be isolated from the factory to do their work. “Many of the most prominent industrial scientists in the United States embraced their identity as ‘research men’ to cement their own place within industry and society,” writes Vitale. “Scientists and engineers actively adopted a class position that industry was producing for them.”

Vitale notes: “In the present, when local and state governments are offering billions of dollars to attract technology firms, it is important to realize that these companies are built on inequality and injustice.”

Vitale’s article is a part of a larger research project: a book manuscript titled “The Atomic Capital of the World,” which explores the role of science and engineering in the remaking of Pittsburgh during the Cold War.

Vitale is an urban, economic and historical geographer whose research broadly examines the effects of suburbanization, science and technology, and war on North American cities. He has published his work in academic journals including “The Annals of the Association of American Geographers”; “Journal of Urban History”; and the “International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.”

“Environment and Planning A” is an interdisciplinary journal of economic research. Articles focus on regional restructuring, globalization, inequality and uneven development. The Ashby Prize was established in 1990 and is awarded to the most innovative paper published in the calendar year.