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Perceptions of Danger: Understanding the Role of Fear in Women’s Energy Decisions

Thu, March 15, 8:30 to 10:00am, Riverside Convention Center, MR 7


In his groundbreaking 2008 Domesticating Electricity: Technology, uncertainty and gender, 1880-1914, Graeme Gooday argued that domestic electrification was adopted tentatively in Britain, and only after women were able to interpret electricity as “being sufficiently tamed to be safely, reliably and comfortably introduced into the home.”(1) This paper extends Gooday’s idea of energy domestication to focus on Canadian women’s (abundant) fears and perceptions of danger – including fire, explosions, noxious fumes and unpredictable accidents - associated with the new and unfamiliar forms of energy they were asked to welcome into their homes. These were numerous in the 1850-1920 period, and included gaslight, electricity, camphene and coal oil lamps, and gas, coal and wood stoves. Situated within my ongoing research “Heat, Light and Work in the Canadian Home: A Social History of Energy, 1850-1950”, this research draws on oral histories, memoirs, diaries, sensationalistic media reports of lighting and heating accidents, and a professional literature that explicitly sought to disabuse women of particularly energy-related fears. The paper will not assess whether women’s fears were founded or unfounded; instead, it seeks to assess fear as a gendered factor influencing energy transitions in Canadian history.


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