ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

(P07)
The energy transition: an anti-politics machine?
Location Palatine - PCL054
Date and Start Time 05 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Nathalie Ortar (ENTPE) email
  • Tristan Loloum (University of Durham) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Daniel Knight (University of St Andrews)

Short Abstract

In times of urgency when the "energy transition" is presented as an indisputable necessity, this panel aims to question the political uses of such a transformation, as well as the intents to depoliticize it through expert knowledge and technicist ideologies.

Long Abstract

In times of urgency when the "energy transition" is presented as an indisputable necessity, this panel aims to question the political uses of such a transformation, as well as the intents to depoliticize it through expert knowledge and technicist ideologies. The very choice of the term "transition" seems to depoliticize its real implications: a "transition" implies a gentle, gradual, consensual change; unlike "revolution" or change itself which can be structural, critical or violent. How revolutionary, or eventually counter-revolutionary, is the so-called energy transition? What are the implications of these techno-political decisions on everyday life? Whether it is supported by heavy infrastructure changes or by off-grid technological initiatives, the energy transition from primarily carbon-based to other forms of energy production fundamentally affects social relations and what Dominic Boyer (2014) has recently termed the "energopolitics". Faced to "urgent time", how can slow ethnography and anthropological analysis contribute to (re)politicize the energy transition ?

We invite papers offering an analysis of the political processes underlying the development of new energy technologies in different global contexts in order to understand the impact of energy transitions beyond purely technological and economic frames. Papers may address the administration and bureaucracy of energy, environmental management, ownership of energy infrastructure (by the state or community groups), household energy schemes, and new understandings of energy extraction, in order to build a broader picture of the grassroots effects of energopolitics and the development of new energy horizons.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

(De)politicizing the energy transition

Author: Tristan Loloum (University of Durham)  email

Short Abstract

This theoretical paper analyses the ways in which the « energy transition » is defined, problematized and debated.

Long Abstract

This theoretical paper analyses the ways in which the « energy transition » is defined, problematized and debated. Drawing mostly on examples from western democracies, I identify some of the common logics of depoliticization (technocratic, scientific, discursive, aesthetic, corporate depoliticization) and their consequences on the capacity to design innovative and socially embedded solutions for current energy problems. As depoliticization tends to restrict the scope of a debate, it forecloses the number of possible energy alternatives and future scenarios. Identifying such mechanisms of dispossession is a step towards new political engagements with energy systems.

Energy transition from the inside: how to live in a time of energy transition? A point of view from France

Author: Nathalie Ortar (ENTPE)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation propose to question the implications on every day life of energy transition. We want to question the offset between a political discourse promoting an energy transition and the everyday life of ordinary people.

Long Abstract

In times of urgency when the "energy transition" appears like an undisputable necessity, what are then the implications of the techno-political decisions on everyday life? What are household energy schemes?

This presentation propose to question the implications on every day life of energy transition. The study has been conducted in France in 2011-2012 at a time of high energy prices. The point was to understand the implications of the transition on dwelling and every day mobility. Through this paper we want to question the offset between a political discourse promoting an energy transition presented mainly as without consequences on the way of life thanks to the improvement of technology and the everyday life of ordinary people who might have a partial or no access to those technologies. We will present the distortion between the discourse and the realities of everyday life to then question what can ethnography give in an urgent time.

The ecological role of nuclear power in Britain's energy transition: an anatomy of a political construct

Author: Lucie de Carvalho (université La Sorbonne Nouvelle)  email

Short Abstract

Nuclear power now features as one of the key components of the UK’s energy transition scheme towards a low-carbon economy. To what extent has the crisis narrative used by the Blair governments helped construct and guarantee the revival of such a controversial technology?

Long Abstract

Since the end of the 1990s, the UK government has been increasingly concerned with the country's future energy mix. With the anticipated end of the fossil fuel era and the still limited domestic development of renewables, the Blair governments rather quickly determined that nuclear power would be a key component of the Britain's drastic shift towards a more sustainable and low-carbon emission energy production system. However, justifying the revival of such an industry, weakened by a previous decline in state interest and irreducible concerns over its waste policy, was no easy task. To launch a nuclear renaissance, the Blair governments therefore had to engage in a thorough, modernising communication strategy around nuclear power, which entailed redefining it not as a tool of mere technological progress, but as a "necessary evil", a transitional technology into what Rifkin called "the Third Industrial Revolution". So doing, the Blair governments managed to successfully reframe nuclear power as critical for a more ecologically-modern approach to the nation's energy production system. Such reframing strategy managed to greatly defuse anti-nuclear opposition, by borrowing many of their traditional arguments, thus guaranteeing an unproblematic level of support within public opinion.

By analysing parliamentarian and political discourses during the rise in ecological and energy concerns at the turn of the 21st century, this analysis will study how the Blair governments' communication strategies and their rhetoric of crisis were instrumental in fostering political social acceptability and paving the way for today's new nuclear build.

Electric cars but no electricity: Why international codes for sustainable construction will fail in Nigeria

Authors: Afolabi Dania (University of Reading)  email
Ian Ewart (University of Reading)  email
Graeme Larsen (University of Reading)  email

Short Abstract

Regulatory codes to promote sustainable construction, introduced into Nigeria from Europe and America, are shown to be insensitive to cultural specifics. We describe some of the ongoing problems, such as the requirement to provide for electric cars, when electricity is unreliable.

Long Abstract

Anthropology has shown how imported ideas and beliefs merge with existing traditions to form a syncretic concept that satisfies each party while retaining enough local character to be socially acceptable. Well known examples come from the introduction of religion or technologies. An ongoing example of this process comes from Nigeria, as it struggles to come to terms with international codes for sustainable construction, developed in and for a very different context. The construction sector is a major consumer of energy, which in developed countries is targeted for reductions in carbon emissions and increases in energy efficiency. Since 1990, codes for sustainable construction have been implemented with increasing urgency in Europe (the BREEAM code) and America (LEED). In Nigeria the drive for sustainable construction is limited by the requirement to satisfy more basic needs, and yet Nigerian construction companies are encouraged to implement LEED and BREEAM to align their working practices with the global push for sustainability. Unfortunately, Euro-American regulations are in many ways unsuitable for the cultural, economic and ecological conditions in developing countries. This leads to tensions between the desire to achieve certification (to win contracts from international clients reinforcing their ecological credentials), and the requirement to tick inappropriate boxes (such as the need to provide for electric cars in countries where the supply of electricity is at best unreliable). Here we report on the Nigerian Construction Sector, and their attempts to abide by international codes for sustainable construction, with a mix of humorous, ludicrous and tragic results.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.