- Engineers and the Making of the Francoist Regime by Lino Camprubí
By Lino Camprubí. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014. Pp. 224. $40.
This book analyzes the coevolution of the early Francoist state and its technoscientific structures. As the title suggests, the main argument is that engineers were central to the making of Francoism. Rather than merely finding a place within the evolving state apparatus, engineers shaped the economic structures and ideological outlook of the regime in ways historians have hitherto failed to recognize. Lino Camprubí notes that the latest endeavor to produce a comprehensive history of Francoism, published in 2010, did not devote any attention to science and technology. With the publication of Camprubí’s thorough study of the co-production of technoscientific and political order in the early Franco regime, this omission should no longer be possible.
The study covers the period 1939 to 1959. During these decades engineers created a space for themselves as key agents in the Francoist dual missions of social redemption and economic autarky. This allowed them to exert influence through “national” technologies that transformed rural and urban landscapes. In a number of case studies Camprubí explores the causes and consequences of this development. The first case study concerns the establishment in the 1950s of the Costillares laboratory, the sole “big science” site in Spain at the time. The building complex included an iconic concrete dodecahedron for coal storage, which takes center stage in Camprubí’s narrative. The silo fueled research activities and embodied the functionalist, aesthetic values of Costillares as well as the autarkic agenda of focusing research on native resources and industrial production. Thus, the dodecahedron was both a symbol and a tool for transformation in the Francoist state. The next chapter analyzes the trinity of church, state, and technoscience which underpinned the nation-building project. Camprubí identifies the entangled religious and technological elite networks that fostered ideals of national “catholic science,” mixing tradition and modernization by emphasizing moral transformation through industrialization and practical research.
While the first chapters deal with labs, churches, administrative buildings, and urban environments, the latter part of the book analyzes how engineers worked to transform landscapes through agricultural research and riverine technologies. In the case of rice cultivation, Camprubí shows how agricultural engineers and geneticists mobilized state resources and obtained key administrative positions. This allowed them to enroll hybrid “national” rice seeds in the service of the autarkic political economy, with long-lasting effects on rural landscapes. Clearly, these engineers did not work under or in spite of totalitarian Francoism; rather they shaped the state and gave direction to its initiatives. Dam building—that key, high-modernist [End Page 767] technology favored also by Franco—is analyzed in order to unravel divergent models of national development. Some state engineers saw dams as hydroelectric power sources for an industrial economy. Other technical experts prioritized irrigation in the service of agriculture. This prevented any group from “totalizing” its control over riverine development. These tensions among engineers underscore that Francoist ingenierismo—the rule and ideology of engineers—did not represent a unity. Rather, it covered varied opinions and interests grounded in competing state institutions battling over limited state resources.
The last case study analyzes the role of engineers during the transition from a corporate to a regulatory regime. It follows the engineers onto the international scene and reveals how from the early 1950s they were active in transnational technical organizations. Thus, engineers contributed to the technological integration of Europe before Spain was beginning to emerge from political isolation. Technological internationalism preceded political internationalism.
The book has a clear focus on elite networks of non-military engineers and demonstrates how these men mobilized and shaped the authoritarian regime. Camprubí also states that their role was “biopolitical” in the sense that their plans involved transformations of peasants, workers, housewives, and manufacturers. This seems plausible. However, the extent to which their projects influenced gender roles, peasant production, family ideals, or regional identities remains unexplored. In this respect the book opens a space for a wider social history of Francoist engineering which, regrettably, it does little to explore.
Methodologically, its strength lies...