Consumption of Energy

David E. Nye

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Anthropologists working within a functionalist tradition considered energy to be a fundamental need, along with food, water, and shelter. In 1949, Leslie White argued that systems of energy were so fundamental that societies could be classified according to how much light, heat, and power they had mastered. The society with the greatest access to energy was the most advanced. The most primitive were those that controlled nothing more than their own muscle power. By the 1980s, however, historians began to see consumers as actors whose decisions shaped which products succeeded in the market. The notion that advertisers controlled consumption collapsed after Roland Marchand's archival work revealed that agencies continually responded to changes in public taste, forced to follow trends beyond their control. Before it was possible to think of energy as something to be effortlessly consumed, complex networks of power had to be built into the very structure of cities. This article discusses energy consumption, and considers the establishment and growth of factories, as well as the use of energy in public lighting and transportation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191744099
ISBN (Print)9780199561216
StatePublished - Sep 18 2012


  • Consumers
  • Energy
  • Energy consumption
  • Factories
  • Muscle power
  • Networks
  • Public lighting
  • Transportation


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