ISBN: 9780262267946 | 434 pp. | January 2002

The Languages of Edison's Light


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.

Table of Contents

  1. Acknowledgments
  2. How the Edison Papers Are Cited
  3. Credit for Illustrations
  4. Introduction
  5. 1. Edison's Front-Page Story
  6. 2. The Public Stage of News
  7. 3. Finances for Technological Enterprises
  8. 4. Menlo Park: The Place of Invention
  9. 5. Patents as Speech Acts and Legal Objects
  10. 6. Professional Presence: Edison in the Technical Press
  11. 7. A Place in the Market
  12. 8. Boasts, Deceptions, and Promises
  13. 9. The Menlo Park Demonstrations
  14. 10. Fairs and Exhibitions: Museums of the Future
  15. 11. Lighting New York: Urban Politics and Pedestrian Appearances
  16. 12. Patent Realities: Legal Stabilization of Indeterminate Texts
  17. 13. Charisma and Communication in Edison's Organizations
  18. 14. The Rhetoric of Capital Investment: Solvency, Profits, and Dividends
  19. 15. The Language of Flowers: Domesticating Electric Light
  20. Symbolic Invention: Making Meaning in Typified Activity Systems
  21. Notes
  22. Bibliography
  23. Index