Don't sit around and blab your mouth: The changing social structures of family life seen through accounting practices of 20th century landline telephony in Denmark

Research output: Contribution to conference without publisher/journalConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review


The telephone belongs to a set of canonized technologies of modern life. Alongside the railroad, television and personal computers, it is a communication technology to which we attribute radical social change. However, despite being cast in this central role, research into the telephone's cultural history is modest. This is especially true in the case of landline telephony in the latter part of the 20th century. Although this period 'in-between' - after the technology's initial introduction, before mobile telephony - was not characterized by remarkable technological breakthroughs, it was here telephony was highly disseminated and established as part of everyday life in most households. With this presentation, we therefore ask how the changing socio-material infrastructures of the landline telephone has influenced the infrastructure of the everyday, particularly that of the family, between 1950 and 2000? By infrastructures, we refer broadly to physical infrastructures such as the installation of telephone lines into private homes, economic systems such as pricing and subscriptions, material artefacts such as telephones themselves, and social power structures such as gender and familial hierarchies. We pay particular attention to rules about telephone use as 'accounting practices': "notions of who lets who use what, of moral judgments of the other's activities, of the expression of needs and desires, of justifications and conflict, of separateness and mutuality" (Silverstone et al, 1992). Such accounting practices related to telephony are noteworthy because they are a way for users to officially demarcate the boundaries of that technology, and the process of continually setting and transgressing such boundaries provide insight into how changes in landline telephony have influenced power dynamics and decision-making processes in families. Theoretically, our understanding of socio-materiality and socio-technical systems relates to and draws on Domestication Theory (Silverstone et al, 1992), and Actor-Network Theory (Latour 2005, Mol 2002). The study builds on two kinds of material from Denmark. One is written sources such as archival documents, telephone company newsletters and statistics and official telephone company histories, the other is a series of semi-structured qualitative interviews with landline telephone users: 15 men and women between the age of 37 and 77 conducted at the Danish Post & Tele Museum (now Enigma Museum).
Translated title of the contributionLad være med at sidde der og sludre: Familielivets ændrede sociale strukturer set gennem fastnettelefonens 'accounting practices' i Danmark
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventSociety for the History of Technology: Annual Meeting - Sheraton Society Hill Hotel, Philadelphia, United States
Duration: 26 Oct 201729 Oct 2017


ConferenceSociety for the History of Technology
LocationSheraton Society Hill Hotel
CountryUnited States
Internet address

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Don't sit around and blab your mouth: The changing social structures of family life seen through accounting practices of 20th century landline telephony in Denmark'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this