This is a study of the social construction of the American electricity industry. It will explore the theory that several defining features of the industry were not inevitable, and were in fact heavily contested. These include: l ) separation of the production of generating equipment from that of electricity; 2) the provision of electricity by central stations, over long distances, as opposed to small-scale ("isolated") generation in each home and business; 3) dominance of the industry by investor-owned rather than municipally-owned companies; 4) the integration of generation, transmission and distribution in single companies -- in effect, merging wholesale and retail provision of the product; and 5) the development of huge holding companies, integrating the provision of electricity by many smaller companies, over large geographic areas. The research will apply quantitative techniques of analysis to unexpectedly rich data discovered by the investigators, such as comprehensive annual and even quarterly directories of all utility companies in North America, detailed proceedings of the two trade associations' meetings, and as well as numerous sources on the thousands of individuals who were decision-makers in this industry. Among the planned analyses are: studies of the evolution of interlocking directorates over time, coordinated with studies of how the industry reached its highly concentrated form; analysis of the role of equipment suppliers, to examine how they became clearly separated from producers of electricity; investigation of how this industry became a duopoly (General Electric and Westinghouse); network analysis of individuals in the industry, through information provided in trade association proceedings and other biographical sources; study of the movement over time of individuals among organizations, and how this movement enhanced consensus in the industry and shaped social networks. %% The aim of this project is to use data on the development of one particular industry to devel op new ideas about the social construction of industry boundaries and goals, thus producing a fresh scientific perspective that can be applied to a wide range of contemporary industries. The data are probably the most comprehensive available on the inception and development of any major industry, and the study will therefore make a valuable contribution to methods and theory in the sociology of industrial organization. It will provide scientists and industrial leaders with an improved understanding of the ways that a new industry is shaped not only by technological and economic constraints, but also by the mobilization of resources by concerned individuals, operating through their network of colleagues and competitors.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Patricia White
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Stanford University
Palo Alto
United States
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