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The Silicon Valley of Dreams

Environmental Injustice, Immigrant Workers, and the High-Tech Global Economy

David Pellow, Lisa Park

Publication Year: 2002

Next to the nuclear industry, the largest producer of contaminants in the air, land, and water is the electronics industry. Silicon Valley hosts the highest density of Superfund sites anywhere in the nation and leads the country in the number of temporary workers per capita and in workforce gender inequities. Silicon Valley offers a sobering illustration of environmental inequality and other problems that are increasingly linked to the globalization of the world's economies.

In The Silicon Valley of Dreams, the authors take a hard look at the high-tech region of Silicon Valley to examine environmental racism within the context of immigrant patterns, labor markets, and the historical patterns of colonialism. One cannot understand Silicon Valley or the high-tech global economy in general, they contend, without also understanding the role people of color play in the labor force, working in the electronic industry's toxic environments. These toxic work environments produce chemical pollution that, in turn, disrupts the ecosystems of surrounding communities inhabited by people of color and immigrants. The authors trace the origins of this exploitation and provide a new understanding of the present-day struggles for occupational health and safety.

The Silicon Valley of Dreams will be critical reading for students and scholars in ethnic studies, immigration, urban studies, gender studies, social movements, and the environment, as well as activists and policy-makers working to address the needs of workers, communities, and industry.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

While typically lauded as the engine of the high-tech global economy and a generator of wealth for millions, Silicon Valley is also home to some of the most toxic industries in the nation, and perhaps the world. Next to the nuclear industry, the production of electronics and computer components contaminates the air, land, water, and human bodies with a nearly unrivaled intensity. The Valley is also a site of extreme social inequality. It is home to...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-22

We begin with two images. The first is of a place that has been variously referred to as “The Valley of Dreams,” “The Valley of the Heart’s Delight,” “The Garden of America,” “The Garden City,” “The Garden of the World,” and “The Fruit Bowl of America.” 1 Located mainly in Santa Clara County, California, Silicon Valley is widely hailed...

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2. Early History and the Struggle for Resources: Native Nations, Spain, Mexico, and the United States

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pp. 23-45

In 1978, at the Signetics Corporation plant in Sunnyvale, California, several women employees informed the management of their concerns about noxious fumes on the shop floor. Signetics was a major Silicon Valley player and a large manufacturer of semiconductors for military...

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3. The Valley of the Heart’s Delight: Santa Clara County’s Agricultural Period, 1870–1970

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pp. 46-58

Wheat production in the Santa Clara Valley peaked in the early 1880s when mechanization and year-round harvesting led to poor soil conservation and overproduction. Wheat was rapidly becoming a crop of the past, and Santa Clara County’s fruit and vegetable processing industry had been competing for dominance since its start in the 1870s. Like the...

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4. The Emergence of Silicon Valley: High-Tech Development and Ecocide, 1950–2001

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pp. 59-84

The high-tech electronics industry is generally believed to be the solution to economic development, environmental protection, and social equity needs around the globe. Experience, however, indicates that this industry is linked to continued and rising rates of poverty and economic volatility, ecological devastation, and social inequality around the world....

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5. The Political Economy of Work and Health in Silicon Valley

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pp. 85-111

While several writers and scholars have examined Silicon Valley’s high-tech industries in recent years,1 we present a much broader range of occupations in which low-wage and/or “unskilled” workers are concentrated there.2 This includes the core jobs in semiconductor production and the periphery jobs in printed circuit board, printer, and cable...

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6. The Core: Work and the Struggle to Make a Living without Dying

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pp. 112-136

Semiconductor chips are the brains of electronics components and a host of consumer goods today. Without them, our radios, cars, watches, computers, airplanes, refrigerators, clocks, and cell phones would not operate properly. Semiconductor chips are central to the functioning of the global economy. For this reason we refer to chip production and related...

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7. The Periphery: Expendable People, Dangerous Work

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pp. 137-168

PC boards are the foundation of virtually all electronics devices. Theyare the platform upon which integrated circuits (chips) and capacitors are mounted, and they create the electrical interconnection between components. PC board and cable assembly companies are notorious forbeing the “smallest, shoddiest, least accountable and most likely to go...

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8. Beyond Silicon Valley: The Social and Environmental Costs of the Global Microelectronics Industry

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pp. 169-192

Near the end of the year 2000, high-tech industry leaders from around the world held a conference in Seattle titled “Creating Digital Dividends.” The premise underlying this gathering was the notion that “market drivers” could connect all six billion of the world’s people through the e-economy, thereby providing better education, health care...

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9. Toward Environmental and Social Justice in Silicon Valley, USA, and Beyond

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pp. 193-214

Since the conquest of the Ohlone people by the Spaniards in Alta California, beginning in 1769, environmental inequalities have been central features of the region’s landscape. The destruction of the Ohlone’s sustainable culture based on acorn farming and shell fishing gave way to the mission system, based on slavery, the intense degradation of Native...

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10. The Broader Picture: Natural Resources, Globalization, and Increasing Inequality

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pp. 215-222

Many scholars and pundits have proclaimed this era of high technology the “Information Age,” characterized by the “death of distance,” “virtual economies,” “dematerialization,” and “weightlessness.”1 Each of theseclaims conjures up images of high-tech society liberated from the constraints of nature—space, time, gravity—that have defined the boundaries...


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pp. 223-263


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pp. 265-294


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pp. 295-301

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About the Authors

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pp. 303-316

David Naguib Pellow is Associate Professor in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Urban Recycling and the Search for Sustainable Community and Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814768570
E-ISBN-10: 0814768571
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814767092
Print-ISBN-10: 0814767095

Page Count: 315
Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 70755826
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Silicon Valley of Dreams

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Subject Headings

  • High technology industries -- Environmental aspects -- California -- Santa Clara Valley (Santa Clara County).
  • Agriculture -- Environmental aspects -- California -- Santa Clara Valley (Santa Clara County).
  • Foreign workers -- California -- Santa Clara Valley (Santa Clara County).
  • Minorities -- California -- Santa Clara Valley (Santa Clara County).
  • Environmental justice -- California -- Santa Clara Valley (Santa Clara County).
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