Programme

(T124)
Energy Beyond Crisis: Energetic Bodies, Ecologies, and Economies
Location M212
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 16:00
Sessions 2

Convenor

  • Energy Working Group email

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Short Abstract

This panel interrogates the multiple meanings of "energy," beyond apocalyptic visions, by focusing on its complex forms and interactions.

Long Abstract

In our current geopolitical landscape, marked by crisis, energy has emerged as a multidisciplinary field of study ranging from social sciences and humanities to natural and physical sciences and engineering practices. This panel interrogates the multiple meanings of "energy," beyond apocalyptic visions, by focusing on its complex forms and interactions. We invite papers that pay particular attention to the multiple and entangled ontologies and epistemologies of energy. It is our aim that this attunement will foster conversations across disciplines by troubling the notions of crisis, sustainability, scarcity, risk and harm that shape thinking around energy.

This panel is structured around three containers: bodies, ecologies, and economies. We ask: how do we come to imagine, represent, and interact with energy beyond crisis? What can particular visions of energy—as utility, service provider, health disrupter, infrastructure and energetic force—do to the bodies and environments they interact with?

SESSIONS: 5/5

This track is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Free Radical Ambivalence: Tracing the Controversy around Low Frequency Radiation and Human Health

Author: Kelly Ladd (York University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper is examines the growing controversy around low-frequency radiation from wifi and cell phones and human health through the ambivalent figure of the free radical as both a destructive bodily force and as a figure of radical thought and innovation.

Long Abstract

This paper is situated within the growing controversy around low-frequency radiation from wifi and cell phones and human health. There are an increasing number of people who claim to be made sick by low frequency radiation and as well as researchers who are working to uncover the "mechanism" by which low frequency is making them sick. One of these potential mechanisms is that low-frequency radiation increases the production of free radicals: molecules with an unpaired electron in the outer shell. These rogue, energetic molecules pull electrons from other molecules, creating a harmful, energetic cascade. Tying harm to free radical production is not new, from the free radical theory of aging to the explosion in popularity of free radical fighting super foods, free radicals have long been seen as the mechanism by which the environment negatively affects bodies. While free radicals are seen as harmful, they have simultaneously been taken up a metaphor for a new mode of anti-institutional thinking, fostered by digital technologies. At the molecular scale free radicals are harmful energetic actors while at the larger scale of bodies, they are independent, radical thinkers. As such, this paper broadly examines the controversy surrounding the health effects of low frequency radiation through the tangled and ambivalent figure of the free radical, as both a destructive bodily force and as a figure of radical thought and innovation.

Re-circuiting Expertise: Race, Class, and Energy Epistemologies Amid Renewable Transitions

Author: Myles Lennon (Yale University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper argues that renewable technologies are reconfiguring expert energy epistemologies, entangling Newtonian knowledge with ontological/spiritual knowledge while transforming the race and class dynamics of energy expertise.

Long Abstract

Social science literature often conceptualizes energy epistemologies through a dichotomous heuristic. It contends that we can define energy either as a Newtonian phenomenon made legible through quantitative metrics (e.g. gigajoules) and technologies of calculation, or as a context-specific force of life characterized by relations among different living beings and ontologies of matter. Furthermore, this heuristic frequently employs a race- and class-based framework, linking the quantitative epistemology with educated white male experts and the qualitative epistemology with poor people of color. Recent anthropological literature and my ethnographic research on energy experts suggest that this heuristic is inadequate for conceptualizing epistemologies in the renewable energy field. While white renewable energy experts with STEM credentials view energy in quantitative terms, they are also attuned to its spiritual and social nature. Furthermore, energy expertise is no longer the exclusive domain of white males with scientific training. Increasingly, poor communities of color position themselves as experts on renewables, leveraging energy measurement regimes to make authoritative claims about their experiences as marginalized people. This paper calls for a new heuristic of energy epistemologies to address these shifts in expert knowledge. Building on Lohmann's conception of Big E Energy/little e energies (2013), I bring attention to what I call "middle E" energy. The middle E occupies the space between the quantitative outlook of modern energy technologies and the qualitative experience of non-mechanized energy generation, suggesting that renewables reconfigure our understandings of what energy is and whose "expert" conceptions of it matter.

Figuring Nuclear Power: The Multiple Japanese Meanings of Nuclear Energy

Author: Maxime Polleri (York University)  email

Short Abstract

Nuclear power is part of Japanese technological culture, central to their everyday lives, and a potential destroyer that contaminates environments. Following the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, I explore how specific figures of Japanese society experience, mobilize, and rationalize nuclear energy.

Long Abstract

Nuclear power is part of Japanese technological culture, central to their everyday lives, and correspondingly a potential destroyer that contaminates environments. In the aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, I ask how does Japanese society make sense of nuclear power? To conduct this anthropological study I concentrate on two figures: state officials and anti-nuclear activists. In this, I explore how each figure - informed by different political horizons and technical means - experience, mobilize, and rationalize nuclear power. Energetically speaking, I highlight the manifold technological, political and cultural discourses/practices that frame nuclear power in given states of knowing and being. To do so, I draw on Joshua Barker idea of figures, which encompasses individuals who also stand as symbols of specific socio-cultural realities. This conceptualization offers pragmatic empirical tools and an abstract analytic lens, allowing one to oscillate between the daily materiality of nuclear power (infrastructure, electricity, radiation, nuclear arsenals) and the symbolism that it takes (progress, fear, nationalism) for a specific figure of Japanese modernity. Through ethnographic fieldwork research, I expose the different epistemic lenses and sensory accesses that allow figures to rationalize the various meanings of nuclear power. Subsequently, I analyse the concrete effects of the un/official materialization of the many framings that surround this source of energy in post-Fukushima Japan, especially toward the ongoing problem of radioactive contamination. Through this historical juncture, much is to be gain in rethinking the intersection between the concept of energy and nuclear power.

Knowing the Land: Ontologies and Landscapes in Northern Saskatchewan

Author: Emily Simmonds (York University)  email

Short Abstract

Emphasizing the unequal social relations that power global energy markets, this paper brings the material-social entanglements of Canada’s national electric grid and flourishing uranium market into conversation with the colonial tenure land system and neoliberal development policies.

Long Abstract

Canada is one of the world's largest producers and exporters of the uranium ore required to power nuclear fission technologies. Currently, all of this is ore is sourced from the Athabasca Basin region located in northern Saskatchewan, which is the ancestral home of the Dene, and Cree, First Nation communities. While the mines employ many members of these communities, and provide much of the local infrastructure, including community roads, churches and recreational facilities, they are also a source of anxiety that instills, in some residents, a profound sense of alienation from their ancestral landscapes. Foregrounding the ways in which the environmental impacts of energy markets are constituted and made knowable through experience, I explore how a sense of place, at a First Nations reserve in the region, is disrupted and reworked by mining. In so doing, I privilege local residents' response and accounts of how mining alters the landscapes and the environment. Ultimately, I suggest that energy production zones are not simply passive outcomes of energy markets but are active sites where substances and phenomena, like uranium ore, are simultaneously political and historical projects, and entities with unique material influences on the social relations of their production.

The race to build 'black boxes' in the scientific debate over the health effects of wind turbines

Authors: Jennifer Taylor (University of Toronto)  email
Nicole Klenk (University of Toronto)  email

Short Abstract

We examine science 'in the making' in the scholarly debate over the health impacts of wind turbines. We find it a complex and partial process, revealing tensions implicit in discerning what constitutes a valid public health concern and precautionary approach in the uptake of renewable energy.

Long Abstract

We examine science "in the making" in the scholarly debate over the health impacts of wind turbines to explore knowledge production in the context of sustainable energy transition. One of the fastest growing sources of electricity in the world, wind energy serves as a potent symbol of a desirable energy future, widely regarded as a clean, safe and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Yet, wind farms have also been found to have a polarizing effect on many communities, perceived as industrial intrusions on the landscape that pose potential environmental risks, including risks to human health stemming from exposure to wind turbine noise and vibration. The authenticity and legitimacy of human health risks to is an ongoing debate in the scholarly literature, drawing input from social and physical scientists, medical practitioners, and industry consultants. We analyze this controversy with the conceptual tools of actor-network theory, examining trials of strength, allies, and chains of explanation used to construct evidence in 67 peer-reviewed articles addressing the question of whether wind turbines can make people physically ill. We find that the making of facts in the wind debate is a complex, partial and contingent process through which scholars promote physiological and psychosocial explanations and attempt to 'harden' them through technical, pragmatic and value-based reasoning. Furthermore, the debate reveals the tensions and ambiguities implicit in discerning what constitutes a valid public health concern and a precautionary approach in the uptake of new renewable energy technologies.

Energy, nature and rhythm: social, corporeal and cosmological entanglements

Author: Gordon Walker (Lancaster University)  email

Short Abstract

All rhythms are expenditures of energy. Time, space and energy are the ‘essential triadic’, Lefebvre (2004) argues, with intertwining rhythms of social, corporeal and cosmological forms. In this paper I bring multiple rhythmic entanglements into the ontology of energy and into the making of energy demand

Long Abstract

All rhythms, from the movement of the planets to the pulsing of data and the beating of the heart involve expenditures of energy, 'without energy there is no rhythm' (Lefebvre 2004). Time, space and energy are the 'essential triadic', Lefebvre argues, animating experience through intertwining rhythms of social, corporeal and cosmological forms. One way that 'nature' has agency, then, is through its many rhythmic qualities, interweaving with socially made beats, cycles and pulses to constitute the polyrhythmic patterning of everyday life. In this paper I consider how this conceptualisation brings multiple interacting rhythmic entanglements centrally into both our understanding of the ontology of energy and into the making of energy demand, its changing profile over time as well as its repetitive peaks, troughs and variations. These rhythmic entanglements and dynamic relations between socially produced and natural energy flows, are constitutive of the shifting temporalities of energy demand, as well as increasingly embedded within both forms of energy flow automation and the anticipated possibilities of smarter energy infrastructures.

Propagations: The economic and energetic lives of Mauritian sugarcane

Author: Jessica Caporusso (York University)  email

Short Abstract

In its pursuit of energy security, Mauritius has refigured sugarcane from a colonial cash crop into a modern biofuel. This paper focuses on the work of making cane economically and energetically productive—a process that exploits the generative capacity of plants to envision “green” energy futures.

Long Abstract

In the small-island developing state of Mauritius, energy security depends on a socially combustive mix of petrochemicals and renewable energy. One such renewable, sugarcane biomass—discards of the sugarcane plant after sucrose extraction—has been recently championed as a modern, sustainable biofuel. This reimagining of plant waste into energy feedstocks capitalizes on mounting demands for environmentally friendly sources of power in an ecologically fragile island context. By concentrating on the realization of Mauritian waste-to-bioenergy schemes, this paper traces the material and figurative transformation of plant excess into potentialized energy. I follow two groups—sugarcane biomass technologists and environmental justice activists—to understand the ways that plant matter has become absorbed, displaced or conscripted into debates around energy security. By studying leftovers of Mauritian sugarcane, I focus on how trajectories of colonial-era commodity crops come to matter in conversations with and in 'doings' of postcolonial energy production. I pay particular attention to how such models of cash crop exploitation capitalize on the generative capacity of plants, rendering new forms of value out of biowaste. As a result, I try to make sense of the possibilities and constraints of using discards of sugarcane, a plant rooted in colonialism, as feedstock to actualize energy futures. This paper contributes to emerging debates on the contradictory impulse towards sustainable consumption and economic resilience in postcolonial energetic landscapes.

Data Metabolisms, Waste Heat & Speculative Futures: Investigating Waste Heat, Sustainability and Climate Change

Author: Stephanie Creighton (York University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper is an exploration of how meanings of climate change, energy, waste and sustainability are negotiated. As a preliminary investigation of a data centre in Paris, France, it asks how actors produce understandings of and speculations about climate change, energy, waste and sustainability.

Long Abstract

Bringing together anthropological studies of energy, infrastructure and the environment this paper is an exploration into how meanings of climate change, energy, waste and sustainability are negotiated by a variety of actors such as corporations, scientists, government bodies, computer servers, big data and heat. This paper engages closely with how the concept of "energy" has been used by anthropologists and their interlocutors and seeks to critically engage with current debates around "energy crisis" and the way that this notion of crisis is addressed by corporations and scientists. As a point of departure, this paper looks at the eco-efficiency and heat recovery program implemented by a data centre located near Paris, France. This site is unique in that the waste heat recovered from the data centre is used to heat a Climate Change Arboretum where researchers experiment with plants to evaluate survival in climate change conditions. Research in the arboretum is conducted by the French National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA). As the INRA is a government institution, this collaboration provides an interesting opportunity to explore the effects of public-private partnerships on both political and corporate environmental policy. Central to this project is a concern with the materiality of 'big data', energy and heat - a process that I call "data metabolism".

Integrated Systems for Algal Biofuels Production: An Investigation of "Energy" through "Potentiated Materials"

Author: Duygu Kasdogan (York University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses how researchers potentiate algae as sustainable biofuels through the design and engineering of "integrated systems."

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on a particular way of algal biofuels development, that is, through integrated systems, which basically couple wastewater treatment facilities and carbon dioxide intensive industries with biofuels production processes. It juxtaposes two integrated algal biofuels projects led by scientists working in distinct geo-political locations. The first case is located in the United States and led by a NASA scientist. The second project is based in Turkey and developed by an environmental engineer. By juxtaposing these two projects, this paper explores how materials, knowledge, ideas, techniques, technologies, and affects are choreographed to potentiate algae as sustainable biofuels. It first provides a meta-scale analysis of epistemic, affective and temporal conditions that make engineering integrated algal biofuels production systems possible. It then moves to the scale of laboratory practices and focuses on the experiments that seek to optimize algal cultivation in wastewater as well as biogas production via algal biomass. The analysis of integrated systems for algal biofuels production through a multi-sited ethnography at different scales sheds light on particular effects of the-not-yet projects that are salient in renewables sector. This paper underlines the re-envisioning of "ecosystems" through integrated algal biofuels development systems. It concludes with the claim for "potentiated materials" as an object of study to explore how energy futures unfold in the present.

Residual Forests: Making Ontario's Crown Forests into Bioenergy Feedstock

Author: Andrew Schuldt (University of British Columbia)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates how trees from Ontario’s Crown forests are being made into potential sources of energy. It examines the processes of knowledge production that make forests legible to speculation including: forestry science; consulting and financial reporting; and renewable energy policies.

Long Abstract

This paper examines how trees from Ontario's Crown forests are being made into potential sources of energy. Approximately 2% of the world's forests are located in Ontario; roughly 90% of which fall under state ("Crown") control. Management of these resources, therefore, plays an important economic and cultural role in the province. Ontario is actively seeking to replace aging electricity generating capacity with renewable sources, including bioenergy. Whether used to produce energy, fuel, or other bioproducts, projects utilizing woody biomass require large volumes of suitable feedstock at a cost that enables profitability. Developers have historically selected sites at or near existing primary forestry industries, like sawmills, where inexpensive residual wood "wastes" have been available in abundance. However, declining consumption from the forest products industry has reduced the available volume of biomass and employment. As a result, unprocessed whole trees are being reimagined as potential sources of bioenergy and jobs. This change marks an important categorical shift in the usage of forests, effectively reconfiguring them as potential energy crops, and disrupting the image of energy projects using woody biomass as waste recyclers.

Based upon over three years' experience conducting feedstock supply assessments, this paper investigates the intersection of state, capital, and nature and presents an account of how forests are turned into potential sources of renewable energy. I examine the processes of knowledge production and circulation that make forests legible to speculation including: forestry science and sustainability standards; consulting and financial reporting; and renewable energy policies.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.