The Concept of Efficiency: An Historical Analysis

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This article examines efficiency both as a concept in contemporary engineering use and as a historical artifact. The concept of efficiency expresses a specific form of rationality, used in attempts to control a changing situation by bringing it into conformity with a vision of how the world works. Efficiency became an important technological value during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as part of the construction of modern industrial society. It was integral in achieving the purposeful and measurable effects in an industrial modernity that championed rationality, foresight, and planning in the control and manipulation of the social and material worlds, and it remains an important post-industrial value, particularly in continuing concern about waste and wise resource management. Efficiency may be used in two different ways, as a general term, usually of approval, indicating a job well and economically done; and as a specific technical assessment, growing out of the experience of industrialization and tied to measurements of performance in machines and the thermodynamics of energy. Efficiency in general use may be quantified; in engineering traditions, it is quantified, almost without exception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPhilosophy of Technology and Engineering Sciences
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780444516671
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


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