Engineering Society: Systems Engineering, Computer Simulation, and Interdisciplinary Research in Japan, 1950s–70s
About the project:
My dissertation project deals with the history of the computer simulation method and the formation of the systems engineering field in Japan from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Although different engineering fields had previously developed their own methods for dealing with complex technological problems, it was not until the 1970s that an interdisciplinary approach called “systems thinking” was widely recognized and adopted by engineers and scientists. Since then, the term “system” acquired a new meaning whereby it no longer simply denoted assemblages of technological entities and objects, but also a method for studying such assemblage. Benefiting from the Japan-US scientific exchange of that time, Japanese engineers in different disciplines, including electric engineering, operations research, control engineering, cybernetics, and system dynamics, began using the method of computer simulation in the late 1950s to implement the system approach. Like their US colleagues, some of the engineers pushed for the establishment of a new field called “systems engineering (shisutemu kōgaku)” in Japan and adopted computer simulation as one of the field’s major methods. Focusing on these phenomena, my dissertation project aims to explain why and how Japanese engineers, such as Kodama Yōichi, Kaya Yōichi, and Katagata Zenji, applied and adapted the methods of systems engineering, especially computer simulation, to solve technological and social problems of high complexity and to reveal the dynamics of technological activities in 1970s Japan and engineers’ role in these activities.