Buying Modernity? The Consumer Experience of Domestic Electricity in the Era of the Grid.

  • Emily Hankin

    Student thesis: Phd


    In 1927 the Central Electricity Board began to oversee the building of the national grid. In the early development of electricity, electrical power was consumed by those privileged enough to be able to afford their own generators. A small number of local undertakings were established in urban centres during the 1920s but it was the nationalisation of electricity supply that gradually made electric power available to the masses. The electrical supply industry marketed electrical appliances as economical, efficient and clean alternatives to gas and coal, and, as time and labour saving appliances to the housewife. This thesis employs an interdisciplinary approach to the consumption of electricity and electrical technologies within the domestic environment, drawing upon the methodology of social construction of technology, historical geography, material culture studies and oral histories. It aims to compare and contrast constructions of the ideal modern electric home and electrical appliances with the lived reality of experiences of electricity in different homes across Britain to draw out the tensions between the two and explore how they mutually constructed and shaped each other. Using case studies of electric cookers, refrigerators, electric irons, vacuum cleaners, electric toys, radios, electric razors and hairdryers, it explores how the electrical industry constructed modernity and the ideal modern home in advertising material, the construction of the 'housewife consumer' and other users in the home, and the fluid nature of domestic space and its relationship with electricity.
    Date of Award1 Aug 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorJeff Hughes (Supervisor) & James Sumner (Supervisor)


    • Electricity
    • Modernity

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