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Presented By: Science, Technology & Society

STS Speaker Series. Power, Responsibility, and Reliability in the Electrical World

Veronica Jacome, Temple University

Prof. Veronica Jacome Prof. Veronica Jacome
Prof. Veronica Jacome
Within contemporary electrification efforts in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) a common policy narrative is that unequal and unreliable grid services are partially the fault of electricity users themselves. SSA residents are often characterized as “thieves,” “non-payers,” and “entitled,” whose behavior culminates in “nontechnical losses” that in turn cripples utilities’ effort to offer them better services. But the link between these so-called problematic users and their problematic systems is rarely empirically justified.

In this talk, I turn to the history of electrical power, reliability, and responsibility in the first fifty years of US electrification to explore how ideas of delinquents, nonpayers, and thieves have evolved in the context of increasing reliability. I ask, what does the history of these moralized subjects and attendant material conditions – those blamed for breakdowns/those held responsible – reveal about assumptions being made today?

This research and its implications are part of a broader effort to reflect on the tension between an idealized benchmark for access, the ever-present connection, and the kind that might in fact be feasible as access scales up in the context of humanitarianism and environmentalism. The talk explores multiple cycles of service expectations and reliability, scale-up and expansion, (non)payment and low investment, and normalizations and moralizations with framing concepts from STS and postcolonial development.

Co-sponsors: Department of Afroamerican and African Studies; Program in Science, Technology & Public Policy; African Studies Center

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