The Languages of Edison's Light

From Inside Technology

The Languages of Edison's Light

By Charles Bazerman





Technology is business, and dealing with the media, the public, financiers, and government agencies can be as important to an invention's success as effective product development. To understand how rhetoric works in technology, one cannot do better than to start with the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison and the incandescent light bulb. Charles Bazerman tells the story of the emergence of electric light as one of symbols and communication. He examines how Edison and his colleagues represented light and power to themselves and to others as the technology was transformed from an idea to a daily fact of life. He looks at the rhetoric used to create meaning and value for the emergent technology in the laboratory, in patent offices and courts, in financial markets, and in boardrooms, city halls, newspapers, and the consumer marketplace. Along the way he describes the social and communicative arrangements that shaped and transformed the world in which Edison acted. He portrays Edison, both the individual and the corporation, as a self-conscious social actor whose rhetorical groundwork was crucial to the technology's material realization and success.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262024563 434 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262523264 434 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • Bazerman has given us a robust, compelling tale of technological innovation not as the creation of a solitary genius but rather as a product of the times, constructed and represented through the dominant culture's language, argument, and media.

    Stephen Doheny-Farina

    Professor of Technical Communication, Clarkson University, and author of The Wired Neighborhood

  • Reconceiving Edison in terms of language and communication, Charles Bazerman has writen a seminal work that offers us fascinating ways to think about the process of invention, the reception of new technologies, and biography itself.

    Professor David E. Nye

    author of Consuming Power and American Technological Sublime

  • The Language of Edison's Light marks a significant turn in the study of technology, which it views not as material systems alone but as systems of meaning. Instead of assuming that Edison's light bulb succeeded simply because it worked, the book takes a close and original look at the several overlapping contexts or discourses within which electric lighting evolved specific symbolic meanings. Applying rhetorical analysis and symbolic interaction theory to the study of a tightly demarcated period (the four years, 1878-1882, in which Edison's system took hold), the book puts to rest any lingering notions of technological determinism. Historians and general readers alike will be rewarded by careful study of this rigorous and important book.

    Alan Trachtenberg

    Neil Grey Jr. Professor of English and American Studies, Yale University


  • Winner in the category of History of Science & Technology, 1999 Professional/Scholarly Publishing Annual Awards Competition presented by the Association of American Publishers, Inc.