The Limits of Power: Wind Energy, Orkney and the Post-War British State

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This article identifies the environmental components of the limits of industrial nationalisation between 1945 and 1956, and with it the spatial dimensions of state power, through a case study of wind power experiments on the Orkney islands. Technocratic and socialist principles drove efforts to supply electricity to all corners of the nation, but material and environmental factors limited success, especially in remote regions. The article considers the materiality of islandness and its effects on the application of national-scale energy policy and emergence of ‘alternative’ energy solutions, in light of James C Scott’s theory of high modernism as an ideology which emanated from centres of power to rural peripheries. It argues that an environmental lens produces new thinking on the spatial constructions of state in post-war Britain that recognises the influence of geographical edges as materially and imaginatively capable of disrupting a narrative of one-way power emanating from the centre. Wind joins other natural forces able to exert agency in narratives of technological development and modernism, that augment our understanding of energy, nature, and nation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)316-339
Number of pages24
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2019


  • energy
  • wind energy
  • nationalisation
  • modern Britain
  • Labour Party
  • Orkney
  • Scotland
  • Environmental History


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