The Gas Lighting Controversy - Technological Risk, Expertise, and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London
Title: The Gas Lighting Controversy - Technological Risk, Expertise, and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London
Author: FRESSOZ, Jean-Baptiste
Publisher: Sage Publications Inc
Citation: Journal of Urban History, 2007, 33, 5, 729-755
Is the risk society exclusively postmodern? This article addresses this question by examining the controversy on gas lighting in nineteenth-century Paris and London. Unlike other technologies of that time, gas light was established in the central social spaces of urban life: in opera houses and theaters, in arcades and boulevards, and in reading rooms and cafes. In all these spaces, gas brought about the insecurity of sudden darkness, the noxious vapors of chemical industries, and the risk of explosion. In the end, the debate centered on a huge gasholder built in the fashionable Paris neighborhood of Faubourg-Poissonni re. To assess the risks, French and English experts used contrasting methods, founded on different cultures of objectivity. The article concludes by assessing their heuristics and the overall impact of the public controversy and the regulation it entailed on the construction of a safer gas lighting system.
Subject: gas lighting; risk; environmental regulation; technological controversy
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