Ronen ShamirCurrent Flow: The Electrification of Palestine

Stanford University Press, 2013

by Carla Nappi on July 23, 2014

Ronen Shamir

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyRonen Shamir’s new book is a timely and thoughtful study of the electrification of Palestine in the early twentieth century. Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine (Stanford University Press, 2013) makes use of Actor-Network Theory as a methodology to trace the processes involved in constructing a powerhouse and assembling an electric grid in 1920s Palestine. The book brilliantly shows how electrification “makes politics” rather than just transmitting it: under the auspices of British colonial government, the material processes of electrification produced and affirmed ethno-national distinctions like “Jews” and “Arabs” and the spaces they came to produce and inhabit in Palestine. The electric grid, here, “performs and enables (or disables) social formations through the physical connections it establishes and its attachments to other entities.”  The episteme of separatism and the roots of what would become a partition plan were born in this context, as Shamir shows. The first part of the book (chapters 1 & 2) explores these phenomena by looking at flows of electric current to streetlights and private consumers who were lighting their homes and businesses. The second part of the book (chapters 4 & 5) looks at the attachment (or not) of the electric grid to railways, industry, and agriculture. The third chapter acts as a pivot between them, examining the processes by which the measurement and standardization of current became a potent social force, creating new divisions between areas of the city of Tel Aviv, public and private spheres, and kinds of consumers. Whether you’re interested the history of Palestine or the historical sociology of science, this is a fascinating, inspiring study well worth reading!

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