SNF-Forschungsprojekt und Dissertation
Pastoral Chiaroscuro: Electric Light, Dark Landscapes, and Swiss Infrastructure Development after 1950

SNF-Forschungsprojekt und Dissertation
Chase Galis
seit 2022
 


Electric light has long played a fundamental role in structuring the Swiss public’s relationship to electrification. The development of Switzerland’s electricity infrastructure has often been described as an exceptional case for its speed of expansion and for its ability to garner the overwhelming support of the public. Electric light, the first-available technology to use this network, was the primary point of interface for individuals to engage with complex systems of energy production and transmission and to demonstrate their command over its application. By the middle of the 20th century, when the speed and enthusiasm of expansion had slowed, the visual effects of electric light had already transcended the scale of the individual to reveal unforeseen cumulative impacts beyond any one body’s control.

This dissertation examines the history of electric light in Switzerland after 1950 to track the visual effects of infrastructure development and their reciprocal impact on the ideological structures that supported its early expansion. It focuses on the period precisely in which illumination was paid the least attention—following its initial introduction but prior to the mobilization of “light pollution” within ecological discourses—to understand its visual effects independent from its once-potent symbolic association with progress. The three chapters of the dissertation examine different modes by which electric light restructured perception of the nocturnal landscape. Each mode posed reciprocal pressures on fundamental tenets of modern infrastructure by challenging the interdependence of technology and natural conditions of the environment. Amid mass illumination, various bodies dedicated to the early promotion of electrification—including mass media and its influence over public discourse, legal frameworks for landscape protection, and institutes of technical training—were forced to restructure under new regimes of nocturnal visuality. This project reinstates the simple contrast of light and dark as fundamental to the control and representation of infrastructure and illumination as media capable of affecting development at the national scale.

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Chase Galis