Light is fundamental to our lives.
All social life happens in some degree of light and darkness. Light structures the kinds of social practices and interactions we enter into at home or on the street, how safe we feel and how well we can navigate through social spaces. Today, fuelled by new technologies and urgent social and environmental concerns, light is increasingly taking centre stage in many urban discussions, especially around economic and environmental costs, safety and well-being, aesthetics and city branding. And yet, despite this centrality, there is very little knowledge and research on what lighting means to people and how they incorporate it into their daily lives and practices. And even less on how lighting designers can build social knowledges to inform their professional practices.
Configuring Light/Staging the Social is an interdisciplinary research programme based in the Sociology Department at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). It explores the role lighting plays in our everyday life to help build a better social knowledge basis for lighting design interventions. It was founded in 2012 by the sociologists Dr Joanne Entwistle (King’s College London), Dr Don Slater and Mona Sloane (both LSE) and is supported by the LSE and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Past and current collaborators of Configuring Light include Ove Arup, Derby City Council, Speirs+Major, Lend Lease, the Wellcome Collection and the London Science Museum.
All Configuring Light projects explore how lighting is configured into social life: as infrastructure, as technology, as ambiance or as a particular kind of material that we make and shape through our everyday practices and professional expertise. Configuring Light is committed to developing an empirically grounded social understanding that can work with engineering, psychology and architecture but contributes something distinctive: the ‘social’ refers to the various social groups that use a space and through which individuals relate to the spaces that designers design. Since individual identity is shaped through membership of these groups, for example families, genders, ethnicities, communities (local, urban, national) but also subcultures and other groups, so is the understanding and use of light. Looking at light as important ‘stuff’ within social life allows us to explore how professional practitioners – from lighting designers to architects, planners and regulators – ‘work’ this material into the urban fabric.
Configuring Light/Staging the Social is located in the higher education sector and aims to foster and explore innovative and interdisciplinary practitioner-academic collaborations. As a programme, Configuring Light runs a range of projects and activities that range from research to education and knowledge exchange and impact. For example, since early 2014, it has been hosting an ESRC-funded seminar series that brings together academics and practitioners concerned with contemporary lighting issues. A particular research focus within the programme is a concern with public lighting in the urban realm, previous research projects looked at public lighting in, for example, Derby (UK) and Cartagena (Colombia).