ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment


Force, change and readjustment: weather and energy

Location Quincentenary Building, Wolfson Hall A
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 14:00


Heid Jerstad (University of Edinburgh) email
Louise Rebecca Senior (University of Aberdeen) email
Mail All Convenors


This panel calls for papers on how weather and energy, re-seen, can re-shape our sense of place and purpose in the world. We are orienting ourselves in new ways, in a process of extra-somatic adaptation to new energies, new weathers and, in effect, a new world coming into shape around us.

Long Abstract

Anthropogenic climate change is threatening the conditions of our existence, demonstrating the ways in which our energy systems and our weather systems are bound up, contributing to an ever-changing world of experience. Both life lived with weather and with energy will be explored in this panel.

The human encounter with weather is not trivial; it is above and beyond, the sky and the sun, the medium in which we live. We depend on the weather, it creeps in, trickling between the roof slates, wafting in white clouds onto the veranda, unavoidably informing the shape of our lives.

The human encounter with energy is not just pylons and pipelines. It is a warm cup of tea on a chill day and a log on the fire to render raw food cooked. Energy production and consumption creates global connections and disparities. Energy is human too.

Can we apply this understanding to the study of risk, resources, inequality, and the changing landscape of material culture? How have we, as humans, developed techniques to measure, predict, describe, adapt to and exploit the weather? What is energy, a force, the elements, movement? What might a material culture of energy, of warmth and cold, look like?

Papers looking at experiences, linguistic registers, risk, placeness and belonging, coping horizons, emotional dimensions, political contestation, changing land use patterns, knowledge production and oral traditions, resource stress, religious and cosmological import, futures of energy and weather and related topics are invited.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Gardening in the Wind: Exploring life with the weather in Highland Scotland

Author: Louise Rebecca Senior (University of Aberdeen)  email


This paper focuses on social relationships with wind in northern Scotland. I describe everyday experiences of gardening in the wind. I contend that paying attention to this neglected aspect of being helps to develop more holistic anthropological analyses of human-environment relationships.

Long Abstract

Our relationship with the wind is such a familiar experience that it tends to be unremarked upon, almost disregarded in its ordinariness. Yet, as Ingold (2007, 2011) points out, the wind is the medium in which life is lived, influencing our capacity to see, to hear, to smell and to touch.

During ethnographic fieldwork in the far north of Scotland, I encountered many instances of how people incorporate an intimate knowledge of the wind into their everyday practices, from forestry and gardening to surfing and energy production.

I will use a focus on gardening practices to illustrate how the wind participates as an actor in its own right within the relationships of which it is a part, facilitating a continual dialogue of force and resistance, adaptation and compromise, drawing our attention to a notion of life as continually regulated by the surrounding world.

I argue that wind can be understood both as an influence that mediates action and as subject to influence by actions. Thus, everyday understandings of the wind are primarily practical, developed in relation to specific tasks and places.

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Habits, harm, and hope: an everyday experience of storms and energy blackouts in Finland

Author: Kristiina Korjonen-Kuusipuro  email


This paper explores the meaning of electricity in Finnish people’s everyday lives. I examine the vulnerability of the energy system at household level and tensions between risks and security by analysing energy blackouts caused by three storms in Finland during early winter 2013.

Long Abstract

Climate change is expected to change our weather. It is generally believed that the number and intensity of storms are likely to increase in the future. Since we are very dependable on electricity, an interesting question is how we are prepared for electricity blackouts that may follow the storms. Electricity blackouts can be seen as moments when the vulnerability of our everyday lives becomes visible. According to van der Vleuten et al. (2013, 10) vulnerability may refer to (technical) systems and even (technological) cultures that are susceptible to harm, and their ability to anticipate, resist, cope with and recover from events that could impede their functioning, but David Nye (2010) has pointed out that blackouts are most often seen as technical failure, and they have seldom been studied as social or cultural phenomena.

During early winter 2013 there were three powerful storms in Finland and during all these storms numerous households in many areas were left without electricity. At everyday level days without electricity were anthropologically interesting: How did people experience these blackouts? Did people consider energy blackouts as unexpected harm or were they prepared for them? How did their everyday patterns change? What remained unchanged? I am also interested in the question of normality - what kind of situation is considered as normal? Did people connect these blackouts to climate change?

This paper is part of UbiEnergy research project and it is based on an analysis of internet material, experiences gathered by interviews and an autoethnography.

Enlightened energy alternatives: persons, power and prospects for low carbon democracy in energy transitions, an example from Nepal

Author: Ben Campbell (Durham University)  email


Research on retooling energy in society focuses on niche examples of successful low carbon adoption. I explore the niche model in Nepal, review uses of niche in socio-technical change models, and consider prospects for low carbon development to counter the landscape of peripheral poverty in Nepal.

Long Abstract

Enlightened climate change policy for development was marked by the UN launching a 'Sustainable Energy for All' programme in 2013. In theory development can proceed by finding alternatives to coal, and diesel electricity generation (wind, hydro, solar), and low carbon infrastructures can be implemented by which the poor of the global south can leapfrog into modern energy systems without too much of the dirty black carbon phase. There is a massive interest in the autonomous resilience of off-grid energy generation, and this draws in theories and evidence for socio-technical transition. The simple hardware and finance model for energy technology transfer to the developing world has proved deficient, and a considerable momentum of research is going into retooling energy in society, with a focus on niche examples of successful low carbon adoption. I use northern Nepal as an example to explore the niche model, review some uses of niche in historical socio-technical change models, and consider the prospects for low carbon development to counter the landscape of peripheral poverty in Nepal. Steps towards enlightened, cleaner, pro-poor biomass usage cannot ignore Nepal's political transitions, and surprising experiences concerning sustainable livelihoods in participatory forest and water conservation. It is notable how the climate change agenda risks providing a new stick for beating the poor over biodiversity protection, jeopardising participatory elements of development dialogue. I present a more ontologically situated perspective of persons, community and peripheral places in an energy problematic of power relations, where anthropological analysis of energy can generate something different.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.