Brain Magnet

Research Triangle Park and the Idea of the Idea Economy

Alex Sayf Cummings

Columbia University Press

Brain Magnet

Pub Date: April 2020

ISBN: 9780231184915

264 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: April 2020

ISBN: 9780231184908

264 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $120.00£100.00

Pub Date: April 2020

ISBN: 9780231545747

264 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

Brain Magnet

Research Triangle Park and the Idea of the Idea Economy

Alex Sayf Cummings

Columbia University Press

Beginning in the 1950s, a group of academics, businesspeople, and politicians set out on an ambitious project to remake North Carolina’s low-wage economy. They pitched the universities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill as the kernel of a tech hub, Research Triangle Park, which would lure a new class of highly educated workers. In the process, they created a blueprint for what would become known as the knowledge economy: a future built on intellectual labor and the production of intellectual property.

In Brain Magnet, Alex Sayf Cummings reveals the significance of Research Triangle Park to the emergence of the high-tech economy in a postindustrial United States. She analyzes the use of ideas of culture and creativity to fuel economic development, how workers experienced life in the Triangle, and the role of the federal government in bringing the modern technology industry into being. As Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill were transformed by high-tech development, the old South gave way to a distinctly new one, which welded the intellectual power of universities to a vision of the suburban good life. Cummings pinpoints how the story of the Research Triangle sheds new light on the origins of today’s urban landscape, in which innovation, as exemplified by the tech industry, is lauded as the engine of economic growth against a backdrop of gentrification and inequality. Placing the knowledge economy in a broader cultural and intellectual context, Brain Magnet offers vital insight into how tech-driven development occurs and the people and places left in its wake.
From tobacco and plow to computer and creative economy, this rich and eloquent history shows how a group of civic leaders put rural North Carolina at the forefront of the postindustrial revolution. In California, they say Silicon Valley is one of a kind; this marvelous book proves otherwise. Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism
North Carolina’s Research Triangle emerged a half century or so ago as one of a veritable handful of the original suburban high-tech “office parks." Though its allure has been challenged by the rise of urban tech and the return of innovation and high-tech industries to big cities, the Triangle persists. Brain Magnet provides a much-needed historical account of the rise and challenges of this model of high-tech development. Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life
Alex Cummings has written a brilliant history of the unlikely making of North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. The RTP has proven to be a grand success—but not for everyone. Cummings’s site-specific account of the idea economy gives us much to ponder. David Farber, author of Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed
Brain Magnet does essential work in connecting the historical processes of urban development to the social, spatial, and intellectual influences of universities. There are many more cases like RTP across the nation. Now scholars have a blueprint to better analyze them. Walter D. Greason, author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey
In an excellent treatment of the emergence of the postindustrial economy in the U.S. South, Cummings does a great job of chronicling the seeds of economic transformation using an underexplored case study. Bill Graves, coeditor of Charlotte, NC: The Global Evolution of a New South City
Acknowledgments
Preface: RTP Donuts
Introduction: From Textiles and Tobacco to the City of Ideas
1. Imagining the Triangle: The Unlikely Origins of the Creative City in the Cold War South
2. “Not a Second Ruhr”: Building a Postindustrial Economy in the 1960s
3. Welcome to Parkwood: Newcomers Find Their Way in the Emerging Triangle
Interlude: Sweet Gums, Traffic Jams, and Cilantro
4. “The Greatest Concentration of PhDs in the Country”: The Idea Economy Comes of Age in the Triangle
5. Cary, SAS, and the Search for the Good Life
Interlude: The Islamic School in Parkwood
6. “We Think a Lot”: The Triangle in the Age of Gentrification
Epilogue: The Figure of the Knowledge Worker
Notes
Index

About the Author

Alex Sayf Cummings is associate professor of history at Georgia State University. She is the author of Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century (2013).