Plugging in: Power sockets, standards and the valencies of national habitus

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This article examines why it is not possible to plug a British plug directly into a Dutch power socket. The author traces the development of the British Standard BS1363 plug-socket assembly and compares it to the European arrangement in order to demonstrate how the ‘banal nationalism’ of everyday life is formed and can be seen to be manifest in everyday utilitarian artefacts. A concept of nationhood that is formed in terms of ‘national habitus’ is elaborated, the nation is envisaged as being constituted by the socio-technological infrastructures upon which it depends, which are established as being formed by the governmentalities that have allowed them to come into being, and it is suggested that such a system will operate at a range of scales or valencies. By tracing the history of the two examples given, the intention is to demonstrate how each national habitus depends upon a particular technical development shaped by social forces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-75
JournalJournal of Material Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2014


  • electricity
  • nation
  • plug
  • standards
  • valency


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