“Think of it as Money”: A History of the VISA Payment System, 1970–1984
Stearns, David L
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This dissertation is a historical case study of the payment system designed, built, and operated by Visa International Services Association (VISA, hereafter “Visa”). The system is analyzed as a sociotechnical one, consisting of both social and technical elements that mutually constitute and shape one another. The historical narrative concentrates on the period of 1970 to 1984, which roughly corresponds to the tenure of the system’s founder and first CEO, Dee Ward Hock. It also focuses primarily upon the events that took place within the United States. After establishing a theoretical and historical context, I describe why and how the organization now known as Visa was formed. I then explain how the founder and his staff transformed the disintegrated, paper-based credit card systems of the 1960s into the unified, electronic value exchange system we know today. Special attention is paid throughout this narrative to the ways in which the technologies were shaped by political, legal, economic, and cultural forces, as well as the ways in which the system began to alter those social relations in return. In the final chapter, I offer three small extensions to the literature on payment systems, cooperative networks, and technology and culture.