Power for All? Electricity and uneven development in eastern NC
Conor Harrison’s public PhD presentation:
“Power for All? Electricity and uneven development in eastern North Carolina” will be Monday April 28 @2pm, and since it has now moved to a bigger room in SA 220 I can say more enthusiastically, please join us!
The committee defense will follow (Scott Kirsch, chair; John Pickles; Jeff Popke (ECU Geography); Alvaro Reyes; Gabriela Valdivia)
Many towns in eastern North Carolina face a number of challenges common to the rural South, including high rates of poverty and diminishing employment opportunities. However, some residents of this region also confront a unique hardship—electricity prices that are vastly higher than those of surrounding areas. This dissertation examines the origins of pricing inequalities in the electricity market of eastern North Carolina—namely how such inequalities developed and their role in the production of racial and economic disparities in the South.
This dissertation examines the evolving relations between federal and state agencies, corporations, and electric utilities, and asks why these interactions produced varying social outcomes across different places and spatial settings. The research focuses on the origins and subsequent development of electric utilities in eastern North Carolina, and examines how electricity as a material technology interacted with geographies of race and class, as well as the dictates of capital accumulation. This approach enables a rethinking of several concepts that are rarely examined by scholars of electric utilities, most notably the monopoly service territory, which I argue served as a spatial fix to accumulation problems in the industry. Further, examining the way that electric utilities developed in North Carolina during the 20th century brings to the forefront the at times contradictory relationships among systems of electricity provision, Jim Crow segregation, the Progressive Era, and the New Deal. Such a focus highlights the important role that the control of electricity provision played in shaping racial inequalities that continue to persist in the region. With most urban areas were electrified in the 1930s, the research also traces the electricity distribution lines as they moved out of cities through rural electrification programs, a shift that highlights the state as a multi-scalar and variegated actor that both aided and impeded electrification efforts by various institutional and corporate entities. Ultimately, I argue that the historical geography of electricity is a critical factor that must be considered in order to adequately understand and address the issues of inequality and poverty that persist in the region.