21st Oct 2014 5:30pm
Plugging-In: power sockets, standards and valencies of national habitus
Damon Taylor, University of Brighton
Why is it not possible to plug a British plug directly into a Dutch power socket? Britain and the Netherlands are not so far apart, both geographically and culturally, yet this simple apparatus ceases to work once you cross the border. In search of an answer to this question, this paper examines the development of the British Standard BS1363 plug and socket assembly and compares it to the European arrangement. In this way it is demonstrated how what can be described as the ‘banal nationalism’ of everyday life is formed and can be seen to be manifest in everyday utilitarian artefacts such as the plug-socket assembly.
A concept of nationhood, which is formed in terms of ‘national habitus’ is elaborated, as it is argued that in everyday material culture the processes and effects of what can be termed a ‘national machine’ can be discerned. Thus the nation is envisaged as being constituted by the socio-technological infrastructures upon which depends; such structures are then established as being formed by the governmentalities that have allowed for them to come into being. It is then suggested that such a system will operate at a range of scales or valencies, which are experienced by the subject as different sets of social relations.
By tracing the history of the two examples given, the intention is demonstrate how each national habitus depends upon a particular technical development shaped by social forces.