Graduate Studies

Lee Vinsel, Ph.D., 2011

After completing his PhD at Carnegie Mellon, Lee did a postdoctoral year at Harvard University before working for five years as an assistant professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. Vinsel’s early research focused on the relationship between government, business, and technological change. His dissertation and forthcoming book, Moving Violations: Automobiles, Experts, and Regulations in the United States, examine the history of automobile regulation in the United States.

He began this research as part of an interdisciplinary climate policy group housed in Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy. The question that motivated this research was, “What can contemporary climate policy makers learn from the US government’s past attempts to curb technological risks like automobile accidents and air pollution?” One of the key findings of this research is that—while many people claim that government regulations hinder technological innovation—the opposite is often true in certain contexts: regulations can induce innovation by getting corporations to work on problems that they are otherwise ignoring. Put another way, government regulation is often the best tool we have for generating socially-beneficial technological change.

In 2015, Vinsel co-founded The Maintainers, a global, interdisciplinary research network focused on maintenance, repair, upkeep, and other forms of mundane work with technology. The Maintainers began as a critique of certain unhelpful, hollow, buzzword-laden ways of talking about innovation. Vinsel co-wrote an essay and held a conference on The Maintainers in 2016, which were covered by The Atlantic, CityLab, Guardian, Le Monde, Freakonomics Radio, and many other publications and media outlets around the globe. A second conference, Maintainers II: Labor, Technology, and Social Orders, is scheduled for April 2017. Vinsel’s current efforts focus on growing The Maintainers network and writing a popular book on the topic. Starting in Fall 2017, Lee will be an Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Virginia Tech.