We take electricity for granted. But the material grids and wires that bring light to homes and connect places are also objects of moral...

We take electricity for granted. But the material grids and wires that bring light to homes and connect places are also objects of moral concern, political freedoms and national advancement, suggests Leo Coleman in his new book A Moral Technology: Electrification as Political Ritual in New Delhi (Cornell University Press 2017). The book is structured around three historical and ethnographic case studies—the pomp and show at Viceroy Curzon’s 1903 Imperial Durbar that ultimately left no trace on Delhi’s physical landscape; Constituent Assembly debates on nationwide electrification legislation; and anti-privatization consumer activism pursued by New Delhi’s neighborhood associations in the mid 2000s. Coleman argues that technological infrastructures are never a purely technical matter and always already entangled in political, legal and moral processes. Electrification in each historical moment—colonial enclave, fledgling nation and global city—generates meaningful, moral reflection on what constitutes the public sphere, self-determination and collective wellbeing.

Leo Coleman is an associate professor of anthropology at Hunter College, City University of New York.


Madhuri Karak is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her dissertation titled “Part-time Insurgents, Civil War and Extractive Capital in an Adivasi Frontier” explores processes of state-making in the bauxite-rich mountains of southern Odisha, India. She tweets @madhurikarak and more of her work can be found here.

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