Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ronen Shamir's "Current Flow"

Ronen Shamir is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel-Aviv University and author of The Colonies of Law: Colonialism, Zionism and Law in Early Mandate Palestine (2000) and Managing Legal Uncertainty: Elite Lawyers in the New Deal (1996).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine, and reported the following:
What does it mean to be 'connected'? Or 'wired'? Page 99 is part of the third chapter of a book which aspires to theorize electricity-consumers as sociological types (and internet or cellular consumers as well for that matter). Page 99 invites us to think of the seemingly mundane electric-meter. This age-old device – beyond its official role as a reader of electric consumption calculated on the basis of Kilowatt per Hour – is an object which creates a boundary between the public domain ('the main distribution system') and the private domain (private premises and households). It is a foundational assembly, one among many such micro-sites where the distinction between the public and the private are performed and affirmed. Page 99 also notes that this division allows for stratification: The main distribution system is nominally egalitarian; once in place, it offers equal opportunity for all to 'connect' and consume electricity. The reading of meters, where the private sphere lies, is where asymmetry begins. The reading of meters facilitates the ability to measure and compare different amounts of consumption and to classify types of consumers (big, small, domestic, commercial etc.).

Now consider the sociological status of the consumer in and on such assemblies. Consumers are at once subjects with contractual rights and obligations, and objects which function as crucial contact-points for the circulating electric current. On the one hand, the consumer is a product of an “objective” material connection to a grid; on the other hand, this materiality depended on one’s “subjectivity”: a willing attachment to the grid. The constitution of the electric-consumer, then, may be better captured by considering the irreducibility of social identities on and in grids: at once elements attached to a network and actors whose connection allows such networks to circulate their 'materials'. But of course, in order to understand more about the social properties of electric grids and the social divisions they create, you need to read more than one page!
Learn more about Current Flow at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue