ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

(P06)
Energy citizenships and prospects for low carbon democracy
Location Palatine - PCL050
Date and Start Time 07 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenor

  • Ben Campbell (Durham University) email

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Discussant Simone Abram

Short Abstract

This panel invites theoretical and empirical papers for contributing to a greater energy-plugged-in anthropology in order to compare and reflect on emergent socialities of energy knowledge and practice.

Long Abstract

For a number of reasons energy has increasingly become a topic for public engagement in recent years. These include concerns for costs and continuity of supply, climate change mitigation, policies and protests over renewables, 'smart' user interface technologies, off-grid systems innovation, and publics with greater interest in informing themselves about how energy infrastructures affect and benefit their lives and social worlds. This panel invites theoretical and empirical papers for contributing to a greater energy-plugged-in anthropology in order to compare emergent socialities of energy knowledge and practice. What can anthropologists learn from socio-technical transitions theory? How can ethnographic perspectives illuminate processes of deliberation that defer to engineering expertise? Is energy the total social fact of our contemporary world? Whether it is 'living with loadshedding', designing low carbon architecture or agriculture, or learning lessons from community-based energy systems, the panel will explore and map out promising directions for anthropological understandings of social energy systems.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Energy talk, temporality, and belonging in austerity Greece

Author: Daniel Knight (University of St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic research in the town of Trikala, central Greece, this paper demonstrates how “energy talk” provides a prism through which locals discuss the past, the future, increasing poverty and reassess their belonging in a modern Europe.

Long Abstract

Dramatic changes in the energy landscape provide a lens through which to understand local perceptions of temporality, modernity, and belonging in austerity Greece. Re-launched in 2011, the European Union supported solar energy initiative encourages installation of futuristic, high-tech photovoltaic panels on fertile agricultural land. However, winter 2012-13 and 2013-14 witnessed a return en-masse to open-fires and wood-burning stoves as a means for people to heat their homes, something locals associate with material poverty, pre-modernity, and pre-Europeanization. Drawing on ethnographic research in the town of Trikala, central Greece, this paper demonstrates how "energy talk" provides a prism through which locals discuss the past, the future, increasing poverty and reassess their belonging in a modern Europe.

Paying the bill: ethnographies of Germany's 'energiewende'

Authors: Dorle Dracklé (University of Bremen)  email
Werner Krauss (University of Hamburg)  email

Short Abstract

Who pays for rising costs due to the great energy transition? The energy transition is said to be a huge success, but why are costs rising anyway? Starting from our own monthly energy bill, we trace different strands at the example of the energy transition in the federal state of Hamburg.

Long Abstract

The project ‚Energiewende' is still not more than a word. It is an idea and political will currently set into practice. National governmental policies try to design the futuristic model of an energy citizen, democratic of origin and totally decarbonized by law. Tensions are rising between the government and the citizens. Going local, we are mapping the energy landscapes of the federal state of Hamburg in its respective transitory spaces. We trace the different emanations of the energy transition, bringing together local players, international corporate energy industries like Vattenfall, regional energy policies, civic activities, and neighborhood experience. We argue that there is much more to the energy transition than reducing carbon from the atmosphere. The energy transition is a multilayered process that touches issues like environmental justice and democratic practices as argued by Stengers. Houses have to be insulated, alternative energies still have to be supplemented by coal plants, nuclear energies are ruled out by civic activities and corporate energy industries raise the energy bill. Energy is so much more than an engineering and governance problem, it is still a black box. Opening the box reveals a highly complex field for energy-plugged-in anthropologies. Easily designated as a global problem, in our opinion the energy transition is a local process. Rather than assuming the existence of 'systems of energy' we suggest that energy cosmopolitics have to emerge from ethnographic details.

Energy and its use in low income households

Authors: Andy Stephenson (De-Montfort)  email
Jamie-Leigh Ruse  email

Short Abstract

Low income households require energy for the basic living. Real decisions on what they can and can’t afford are the main factor in decision making. Working with communities and understanding lifestyles is paramount to help make energy use more cost-effective rather than relying on technology.

Long Abstract

Energy is a necessity for everyday living. However, low income households face decisions including choosing between washing clothes or cooking meals. Traditionally, helping these households to meet energy needs has been done through fabric improvements to a building. Whilst advice provision is designed to help the household manage their energy effectively, in practice the way people live in their homes or use their energy systems is ignored. While many improvements to the national housing stock have taken place, there remains significant numbers of people who can't afford to pay for energy when it is most needed and have to ration it accordingly. While Fuel Poverty is a complex mix caused mainly by poor quality housing, low household income and high fuel bills; technology has been shown to only solve part of the problem. Despite this, there is still a drive to develop further technologies and install them to create "low energy homes" at a national level. Truly understanding the social causes, pressures and lifestyles which can contribute to fuel poverty can not only help devise ways of tackling the problem but can also provide households with real information and support which is community based. This can in turn create a more effective management of energy and a reduction of energy consumption. This paper will show the importance of interaction between households, a community, and those agencies looking to deliver measures to reduce fuel poverty. It will argue that personal and locally embedded advice provision should be a standard part of any energy strategy before technological improvements.

Ancestors for sale in New Zealand

Author: Marama Muru-Lanning (University of Auckland)  email

Short Abstract

Exploring Māori experiences and responses to privatising electricity generating assets in New Zealand.

Long Abstract

Against the wishes of many Māori and non-Māori New Zealanders the National government partially privatised the country's electricity generating assets. Using kaitiakitanga (a fundamental Māori concept similar to guardianship) as a lens I will examine how contemporary privatisation processes redefine Māori relationships with their lands, resources and ancestral territories. I will discuss what kaitiakitanga means now and explore the moral dilemmas and ethical contradictions that emerge for Māori from the combination of commercial interests that now seem to underpin it. I ask: how are Māori dealing with the sale of electricity companies that draw on natural resources understood as: tūpuna (ancestors), taonga (treasures), atua (super-natural beings) and whānau (family); have Māori become shareholders in electricity assets; and how might being shareholders mediate their duties as kaitiaki?

My paper will advance knowledge by revealing the complex range of Māori experiences and responses to privatisation. It will also contribute to international scholarship on the impacts of privatisation on indigenous peoples.

Between national interest and peoples' right: hydro-power and ethnicity in 'Federal' Nepal

Author: Mukta Lama (Tribhuvan University)  email

Short Abstract

Hydroelectricity projects are proliferating in Nepal. They have also become focus of public protest and legal dispute for negative environmental and social impact. This paper analyses contestation between national interest and peoples’ right in the context of neo-liberal expansion in the Himalaya.

Long Abstract

In recent years, hydroelectricity projects are proliferating in Nepal. The government of Nepal and private sector argue that hydropower development is critical to combat severe power shortage and build basis for economic growth. They see downstream rivers in the mid hills mostly flowing from Himalayan range as major local resources. Given the increasingly positive state policies and demand for electricity, interest in investing in hydropower development from both domestic and foreign investors is booming. While many of the hydropower projects are being justified on the ground of economic development or national interest and pride, their environmental and social impact have not been adequately understood. Extractive nature of private investment, in the absence of transparent benefit sharing mechanism at the local level emerged as a issue of contention. As a result, hydroelectricity projects in Nepal have become center of legal dispute and public protest. Based on study of Chilime and Melung hydroelectricity projects located at Nepal-China corridor of Kyirung valley, this paper analyses dynamics surrounding national interest and peoples' right in the context of neo-liberal expansion in the Himalayan region.

Becoming a hydropower nation: Nepal's promised dams

Author: Matthäus Rest (Ludwig Maximilian University)  email

Short Abstract

For decades, the citizens of Nepal have been been promised an economic boom due to large scale hydropower exports. But instead, the hours of load shedding have increased. Looking at the long delayed Arun-3 dam project, I will investigate the power of an unfulifilled promise.

Long Abstract

While only half of Nepal's inhabitants are connected to the national electricity grid, for many years they have been told they are the citizens of a Hydropower Nation-to-be: every schoolchild knows the fantastic hydro potential of 83,000 MW by heart. Politicians of all major parties habitually claim that the country will turn into the Switzerland of Asia through electricity export. So far, however, only 800 MW have been installed and those connected to the grid suffer from up to 14 hours of 'load shedding' every day. Based on previous work on the suspension of the Arun-3 project, my paper will address how people around an unbuilt dam have coped with 25 years of uncertainty and the unfulfilled promise of becoming connected to modern infrastructures. In November 2014, the Nepalese government signed a contract with an Indian state-owned company to resume construction. The involvement of the powerful southern neighbour is further complicating the relationship many people in the Arun valley and throughout the country have had with Arun-3.

The promise of hydropower adds a new set of power potentials to a landscape that is considered inherently powerful by the people who dwell in it. Through an engagement with stories of place-making and marginalisation, I will ask what new forms of power relations and resource extractions become possible between peripheries and centres while a radically alternative landscape is emerging on a regional level: a massively dammed up Himalaya.

The energy quest as social practice for renewable empowerment

Author: Ben Campbell (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at theoretical influences in approaching two contrasting energy problems in highland Nepal and northern England, and finds common strategies for making energy an innovative field for the discipline

Long Abstract

Recognisably anthropological theorisations of energy are now coming on stream with remarkable rapidity. This paper looks at theoretical influences in approaching two contrasting energy problems, and finds common strategies for making energy an innovative field for the discipline. The principal route lies in enquiry into humanising perspectives on power inequalities in energy discourse, and in making energy at home in comparative research. Emergent anthropological approaches in dialogue with theories of socio-technical transition and cultural theory of risk will be examined in relation to ethnographic contexts of renewable energy innovation in Nepal, and post-industrial agro-ecology in the north of England. In both cases the energy problematic is used to map relational power complexes and role of personhood and practice approaches in emerging governance institutions that mark on-going social appropriations of energy 'nexus' flows into normative sustainability projects.

Living with solar power: energy transitions in the Global South

Authors: Raihana Ferdous (Durham University)  email
Britta Turner (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic researches, this paper investigates what small amounts of solar electricity do in domestic households in the Global South

Long Abstract

This paper is concerned with the question of how energy transitions are lived with in the Global South. As global policies designed for mitigating and adapting to climate change converge locally with efforts to bring "Energy for All", therefore the notion of "energy transition" is presented as an unquestionable necessity. As such there has been a tendency to focus on diffusion in assessments of Renewable Energy Technologies (RET) such as Solar Home Systems (SHS) and insufficient effort has been put into understanding how these operate in everyday life in off grid areas in the Global South. Based on ethnographic researches in off grid areas of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the paper investigates how SHS users live with and make use of the intermittent powers of solar electricity in everyday life. It addresses questions of what happens when the quantity or quality of energy flows, and the social arrangements and cultural understandings built around them change and how the situated capacities of solar electricity emerge in everyday practices and narratives. It thus aims to join a conversation which has so far been dominated by science, engineering and economics: the conversation of what makes specific RETs appropriate as capacity to do (specific kinds of) work. The authors suggest that social scientists are particularly well positioned to challenge the diffusion-oriented focus and predominantly quantitative impact evaluation which has been dominant in this field and to attend much more closely to the temporal and spatial variability of energy transitions.

Conflicting sustainability: poetics and politics of the wind in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico

Author: Francesco Zanotelli (University of Messina)  email

Short Abstract

Wind-farm transnational industry sponsors the renewable energy transition through the governance of meteorological elements. For Ikoots people of Southern Mexico it means a threat to their political autonomy as indigenous citizens and the moral disorder in their relationship with non-humans.

Long Abstract

The aim of the paper is to present an ethnographic account of the struggle of the Indigenous Ikojts of the municipality of San Dionisio del Mar (Southern Mexico), against the proposed construction of an enormous wind-farm in the lagoons and in the communal lands they inhabit. The first outcome of this struggle has been the abandonment of the project of the multinational corporation in 2012, soon after the pronouncement of the regional court in favor of the indigenous right to reach an informed consent. Beyond the contingency, this case highlights some contradictory processes. On one side, the study of documentary sources shows that the production of "green" energy is supported by an hegemonic poetic based on technology and on the universality of ecology. However, the ethnographic analysis shows that behind such unity the search for consensus is based instead on methods like misinformation, bribes, violence and the community fragmentation. The questions that this case raises are even more ambiguous regarding the concept of sustainability, as both parties to the conflict are appealing to environmental sustainability to support their reasons. Renewable energy industries look for a short-term kind of sustainability, as they invest for immediate and high level profits, even if they claim to work for a global, common benefit; instead, Ikojts are fighting for a long-term environmental sustainability, because for them this concept is linked to the renewability of the life-cycle that is based on non-human beings (fish, rain, crop) and the moral relations that humans establish with them.

The West Africa solar pioneers (1963-mid 80's): an anthropological inquiry about the memory and narratives of thermic Solar energy in Africa

Author: Frederic Caille (Laboratoire Triangle Lyon / Université Savoie Mont Blanc)  email

Short Abstract

The paper presents a mix historical/ethnological investigation about the first research’s and experimentations in solar energy in Africa, especially in Dakar with the French engineer Jean-Pierre Girardier who did his PhD there in 1963, and create the mix private-public firm SOFRETES.

Long Abstract

The paper presents a work in progress, which is a mix historical/ethnological investigation about the first research's and experimentations in solar energy in Africa. The inquiry is empirical but the objective is also epistemological about the place of cultural representations in capacity of innovations and appropriation in energy. We did many interviews with the French engineer Jean-Pierre Girardier, who worked the first during his PhD in Dakar in 1963 on the low temperature thermic water pumps for tropical countries. Girardier tested some models in Senegal during years and created in 1972 the economy-mixed society SOFRETES, which realised many installations (a total near 80) until some "big partners" stopped his activity in 1980. We did also interviews, photographs and films in Senegal during the years 2015/2016, trying to find some "fossils" of the period. What is the memory of this partnership with inclued African scientists, like Albert Moumouni in Niger? Why are so few the mentions of this period and more largely of the non photovoltaic solar innovation? We will show that the answer needs to re-open imagination, discussion and memory about the "low" and decentralised technologies and their possible places and real capacity in civil society and in the south, as did some pioneers even before Girardier, since the end of the 19th century. This is an urgent mission for anthropology and environmental human sciences to show that the future of green energy means not only huge electric solar power stations and very high or "Silicon Valley" technology.

Women's empowerment through electrification: what is (the) evidence?

Authors: Tanja Winther (University of Oslo)  email
Margaret Matinga  email

Short Abstract

The paper reviews the literature on electricity’s gendered impacts in the rural South and develops a framework for analysing women’s empowerment. We find solid documentation for electricity’s positive impact women’s welfare while studies focusing on the impact on gender relations are scarce.

Long Abstract

Initiatives are currently taken to provide electricity to the 1.2 billion people world-wide who lack access. Electricity policies tend to be gender neutral; assuming that electrification benefits women and men equally, though there is an emerging interest in promoting women's empowerment through electrification.

This paper reviews the empirical literature to establish electricity's impact on women's empowerment in the rural South and some of the underlying causes for electricity's gendered impacts. For this purpose we develop a framework for analysing women's empowerment through electrification. Following Naila Kabeer, we conceive the concept of empowerment in relational terms, and which core aspects include women and men's influence on decision making and control over resources.

The results show that access to electricity clearly increases women's welfare by providing an easier life through more choice in organizing the day, reduced drudgery, access to television and mobile phones, shifts in cooking technology away from the open hearth and fuel collection, improved water and health facilities and girls' higher enrolment in school. Television watching in turn reduces high fertility rates. However, the literature on electricity's impact on gender relations is scarce. For example, little is known about how women's reallocation of time affects men's time use or women's social position. There are signs that gender blind electrification interventions reproduce or even reinforce structures of inequality whereas in a few studied cases where women were recruited and put in control of the system of supply, this heightened women's position and balanced discriminating norms.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.