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Making sense of diodes and sodium: Vision, visuality and the everyday experience of infrastructural change

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Abstract

The recognition of vision as a powerful register for organising urban space locates lighting technologies at the heart of urban experience. Recently, scholars have established that lighting technologies shape not just what we see but how we see, drawing attention towards light as that ‘with which we see’. This article shifts attention from the role of lighting in shaping what and how people see, to how people make sense of changes to their visual sensorium—from what lighting infrastructures do to what is done with them. By following older residents living in the London Borough of Newham along routine travels on foot at night, I demonstrate how they make sense of the Council’s initiative to upgrade their 19,500 street-lamps with Light Emitting Diodes. I demonstrate how such infrastructural change exposes an uneven geographical distribution of and access to light and darkness with potentially detrimental consequences for the formation of public life after dark. Recognising how light infrastructures are reframed through everyday life, I demonstrate how LEDs do not necessarily produce their desired effects and how light clutter and light bleed might contribute to producing nocturnal atmospheres where people feel safe and confident. Broadening the understanding of how different technologies and light sources are important for the formation of inclusive nocturnal publics the article sets out a ‘politics of visibility’ that recognises the role of lighting in creating visibility for and of residents.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-104
Number of pages10
JournalGeoforum
Volume103
Early online date29 Apr 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019
Peer-reviewedYes

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