Abstract

In the 1970s, energy conservation was a household idea, but it was also a form of labor discipline. This article shows how one utility, the Pennsylvania Power & Light Company (PP&L), used energy conservation to discipline unwaged workers in the home, upending decades of home economics research that sought to substitute electric energy for human energy in housework. To effectively deploy this strategy, PP&L drew on utilities’ well-established understanding of women's unwaged work in the home as central to balancing the rhythms of power demand. By exploring this history, this article also argues that by adopting a more expansive understanding of labor in energy systems—which I term “energy work”—we can better understand the interrelationship of labor, gender, and power in the operation of energy systems and more fully incorporate the history of unwaged workers into the history of energy.

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