Blackouts: a sociology of electrical power failure

Matthewman, Steve and Byrd, Hugh (2013) Blackouts: a sociology of electrical power failure. Social Space (Przestrzeń Społeczna) . pp. 31-55. ISSN 2084-1558

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Electricity fuels our existence. It powers water purification, waste, food, transportation and communication systems. Modern social life is impossible to imagine without it. This article looks at what happens when the power goes off. It scrutinises the causes and consequences of accidental electrical power cuts. It begins by identifying the reasons for power failure. In doing so, power generation systems are identified as critical infrastructures. They are more fragile than is commonly supposed, and the argument is made that they are getting frailer. Irrespective of cause, blackouts display similar effects. These social patterns are identified. They include measurable economic losses and less easily quantified social costs. Financial damage, food safety, crime, transport issues and problems caused by diesel generators are all discussed. This is more than a record of failures past. It is contended that blackouts are dress rehearsals for the future in which they will appear with greater frequency and greater severity. Increasing numbers of blackouts are anticipated due to growing uncertainties in supply and growing certainties in demand. Supply will become ever more precarious because of peak oil, political instability, infrastructural neglect, global warming and the shift to renewable energy resources. Demand will become stronger because of population growth, rising levels of affluence and the consumer ‘addictions’ which accompany this.

Keywords:accidents, blackouts, critical infrastructure, electricity, bmjcheck
Subjects:L Social studies > L300 Sociology
L Social studies > L391 Sociology of Science and Technology
H Engineering > H630 Electrical Power
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Architecture)
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ID Code:12908
Deposited On:08 Jan 2014 14:40

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