NETWORKS AND GOVERNANCE IN TRADE ASSOCIATIONS: AEIC AND NELA IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE AMERICAN ELECTRICITY INDUSTRY 1885–1910

Chi‐nien Chung (Department of Sociology, Stanford University)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Publication date: 1 July 1997

Abstract

In this paper, I demonstrate an alternative explanation to the development of the American electricity industry. I propose a social embeddedness approach (Granovetter, 1985, 1992) to interpret why the American electricity industry appears the way it does today, and start by addressing the following questions: Why is the generating dynamo located in well‐connected central stations rather than in isolated stations? Why does not every manufacturing firm, hospital, school, or even household operate its own generating equipment? Why do we use incandescent lamps rather than arc lamps or gas lamps for lighting? At the end of the nineteenth century, the first era of the electricity industry, all these technical as well as organizational forms were indeed possible alternatives. The centralized systems we see today comprise integrated, urban, central station firms which produce and sell electricity to users within a monopolized territory. Yet there were visions of a more decentralized electricity industry. For instance, a geographically decentralized system might have dispersed small systems based around an isolated or neighborhood generating dynamo; or a functionally decentralized system which included firms solely generating and transmitting the power, and selling the power to locally‐owned distribution firms (McGuire, Granovetter, and Schwartz, forthcoming). Similarly, the incandescent lamp was not the only illuminating device available at that time. The arc lamp was more suitable for large‐space lighting than incandescent lamps; and the second‐generation gas lamp ‐ Welsbach mantle lamp ‐ was much cheaper than the incandescent electric light and nearly as good in quality (Passer, 1953:196–197).

Citation

Chung, C. (1997), "NETWORKS AND GOVERNANCE IN TRADE ASSOCIATIONS: AEIC AND NELA IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE AMERICAN ELECTRICITY INDUSTRY 1885–1910", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 17 No. 7/8, pp. 57-110. https://doi.org/10.1108/eb013317

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MCB UP Ltd

Copyright © 1997, MCB UP Limited

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