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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Electric Lighting Policy in the Federal Government, 1880-2016
by Wallace, Harold Duane, Jr., Ph.D., University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 2018, 380; 10843973
Abstract (Summary)

Federal policies have targeted electric lighting since the 1880s with varying success. This dissertation examines the history of those policies to understand policy makers’ intent and how their decisions affected the course of events. This qualitative study poses three research questions: How have changes in lamp efficacy affected policy development? How and why have federal policies targeted electric lighting? How have private sector actors adapted public policy to further their own goals? The analysis uses an interdisciplinary approach taking advantage of overlapping methodologies drawn from policy and political sciences, economics, and the history of technology. The concepts of path dependency, context, and actor networks are especially important.

Adoption of electric lighting spurred the construction of complex and capital intensive infrastructures now considered indispensable, and lighting always consumed a significant fraction of US electric power. Engineers and scientists created many lamps over the decades, in part to meet a growing demand for energy efficient products. Invention and diffusion of those lamps occurred amid changing standards and definitions of efficiency, shifting relations between network actors, and the development of path dependencies that constrained efforts to affect change. Federal actors typically used lighting policy to conserve resources, promote national security, or to symbolically emphasize the onset of a national crisis.

The study shows that after an initial introductory phase, lighting-specific policies developed during two distinct periods. The earlier period consisted of intermittent, crisis-driven federal interventions of mixed success. The later period featured a sustained engagement between public and private sectors wherein incremental adjustments achieved policy goals. A time of transition occurred between the two main periods during which technical, economic, and political contexts changed, while several core social values remained constant. In both early and later periods, private sector actors used policy opportunities to further commercial goals, a practice that public sector actors in the later period used to promote policy acceptance. Recently enacted energy standards removing ordinary incandescent lamps in favor of high efficiency lamps mark the end of the later period. Apparent success means that policy makers should reconsider how they use lighting to achieve future goals.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Tatarewicz, Joseph N.
Commitee: Brennan, Timothy J., Farrow, Scott, Jeffries, John W., Stine, Jeffrey K.
School: University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Department: Public Policy
School Location: United States -- Maryland
Source: DAI-A 80/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Public policy
Keywords: Electricity, Energy, Federal, History, Lighting, Policy
Publication Number: 10843973
ISBN: 978-0-438-39396-7
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