EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P107)
Power legacies, energy futures: governmentalities along the grid
Location U7-8
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

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

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Simone Abram

Short Abstract

This panel aims to explore the many forms of political power embedded in energy grids, from resource extraction to daily consumption. We are particularly interested in contributions that focus on the discursive and symbolic dimensions of energy and their historical incorporation in the body politic.

Long Abstract

This panel aims to explore the many forms of political power embedded in energy grids, from resource extraction to daily consumption. Just like energy, political power is intangible and diffuse; it strikes societies when channelled through techno-political infrastructures, imaginaries and legalities. Power is a classic theme in social anthropology, but it is only recently that authors have started investigating the energetics of power and the politics of energy. Pioneering works like Mitchell's Carbon Democracy (2011) are questioning the role of energy infrastructure on the crafting of modern states and corporations, expert and local knowledge, identities and habits, households and communities. Dominic Boyer (2014) calls for a revisit of critical theory in the light of energy, applying Marxian theory to modes of energy production, or extending Foucault's notion of biopower to « energopower ». For this panel, we are interested in contributions that focus on the govern-mentality of energy, that is, the discursive and symbolic dimensions of energy, their historical incorporation in the body politic and the power/knowledge articulations on which they stand. A reflexive consideration could also be given to the increasingly frequent collaborations between energy actors and social scientists in order to change energy behaviours. Then, to what could possibly look like a critical theory of energy? More generally, we would like to initiate discussions on how can the legacies of political anthropology contribute to envisioning energetic futures differently, and conversely, how can energy studies shed a new light on the understanding of contemporary power?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Energoculture: the politics of cultural action in the energy sector

Author: Tristan Loloum (University of Durham)  email

Short Abstract

The research addresses the power relations and public controversies at stake behind the cultural actions sponsored by energy providers. As we draw attention to the normative influence of public relations programs in the energy sector, we also consider the resistances to which they are subjected.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on cultural activities using energy infrastructures as key attractions: "coal safari tours", trails in wind farms or along hydroelectric dams, visitor centres in nuclear power plants, electricity museums, energy heritage, etc. The research addresses the power relations and public controversies at stake behind the cultural actions sponsored by energy providers. As we draw attention to the normative influence and the strategic purposes of public relations (PR) programs in the energy sector, we also consider the resistances (both organised and spontaneous) to which they are subjected. The work of Douglas Rogers (2014) on "social and cultural projects" accomplished under the banner of "corporate social responsibility" (CSR) by an important oil-company in post-socialist Russia is a good illustration of how energy providers are increasingly solicited to fulfil political missions. This situation creates a new field of state and corporate power which Boyer describes as an "energopolitical regime". Here, "energopower" (Boyer, 2014) is not only considered as an infrastructural power that shape the formation of cities, but also as a soft power that ingrains representations and practices through communication campaigns and artistic/educational projects.

Gas and energopolitics in Russia: energy to build the image of power

Author: Sophie Hou (Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on natural gas in Russia, and especially in Eastern Russia. It aims at showing the power strategies and relations that are linked with the gas projects and how the “energopolitics” is built and can be observed through discourses and ceremonies.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on a Ph.D. thesis in geography on the "gasification program of the regions of Russian Federation", i.e. the development of gas transportation network in Eastern Russia. Natural gas plays a major role in Russia. It is often seen as a political and economic weapon, but it is also the dominant source of energy for the country. Energy and power are both intangible, thus difficult to grasp. However, they can be apprehended through some physical objects and through representations and discourses. The gasification program is led by Gazprom with the support of the federal government and involves regional authorities. The importance of gas varies according to the types of customers and to territories, which leads to reflect on the most relevant scale of analysis to understand "energopolitics" (Boyer, 2011). It should be noted that Eastern Russian territories were not connected to the gas network and Gazprom was not established in these regions. Therefore, the development of gas networks represents a major change and its structure results from compromises between different interests (Raffestin, 1980). As for discourses, they convey representations that focus on raising the living standards of the population and developing territories. When a settlement is connected to the gas network, an inauguration ceremony takes place. These events give dominant players a stage to demonstrate their actions. This paper aims at showing how energy is at the core of the building of power through the physical network as well as through the symbolic dimensions.

Making energy grids smart: the transition of socio-technical apparatuses toward a new social ontology

Authors: Dario Padovan (University of Torino)  email
Alfredo Agustoni (Chieti University)  email
Osman Arrobbio (Università di Torino)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, we describe the assemblages and functioning of conventional energy grids at the beginning of the smartness process. This exercise is useful as it makes possible to pinpoint obstacles,resistances, conflicts, differences in the process of energy grids' democratization and aligning.

Long Abstract

Usually, the description of an energy smart grid consists of a list of properties that the grid needs to get to be called "smart". Thus, smart grids are tools that "can make imaginable the management of direct interaction and communication among consumers, households or companies, other grid users and energy suppliers". A smart grid give smart information, allows for savings, allows for good and real-time information, connect providers and users. Yet, what is still lacking in the claim for smart grid is an ontological dimension of both energy and grid. In our idea it is not enough to enunciate an amount of technical characteristics that should mark the grid and its smartness. What we are trying to do is to provide a deeper and more complex frame for the energy smart grid implementation. It should be useful to understand problems in the process of implementation. To accomplish this task, we use two main perspectives. The first one is to conceive energy grids as technological zones, in which standard metering, communication infrastructures, and social evaluation assemble. The second one is to conceive energy grids as apparatuses in which asymmetries of power, information, decision-making, intensity, constitutes the ontology of the grid itself.

Southern spectrums: the energy nexus around a nuclear power plant in South India

Author: Raminder Kaur (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on the energy nexus around a nuclear power plant in the hinterlands of south India. Boyer's Foucaulidan 'energopower' need be further qualified to taken on board instances of direct or authoritarian government in what I have called the raw politics of energy.

Long Abstract

The paper focuses on the energy nexus around a nuclear power plant in the hinterlands of south India that has been under construction since 2002. In the process, the state has intensified its presence in the region through extra policing, paramilitary, and attendant development projects including the building of more roads, hospitals and schools. Such recent phenomena have met with an ambivalent if not outright hostile reception among local communities. Dominic Boyer discusses how 'electropolitics infuse governance' (2015: 534) with reference to the term 'energopower'. However, he overlooks the fact that in the postcolonial context, we have a case of modern governance entwined with more direct and authoritarian government that follows on from colonial regimes. Accordingly, Boyer's 'energopower' need be further qualified: from Foucauldian notions of governance that corresponds most closely with Boyer's energy politics to more direct government in what I have called the raw politics of energy.

The earth is trembling, and we are shaken

Author: Elisabeth Moolenaar (Universität Bremen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper researches the experience of self, place, and belonging for Groningers in the context of their recent experiences with mining-induced earthquakes, exploring the relationship between identities and natural disasters, and trauma as a rupture of social structure in the wake of these events.

Long Abstract

This paper researches the experience of self, place, and belonging for people from Groningen, the Netherlands, with a focus on rural-urban and center-periphery antagonisms, in the context of their recent experiences with mining-induced earthquakes. It explores the relationship between the construction and experience of identities and natural disasters, and trauma as a rupture of social structure in the wake of these events.

The research is located in the province of Groningen, a peripheral place in relation to the rest of the country. In this province there is only one major city surrounded by rural towns and agricultural land. The people who live here, Groningers, distance themselves proudly from the more urban west, and the administrative and cultural center of the nation-state. The province is located above one of the biggest natural gas deposits in the world. Rapid extraction of large amounts of natural gas has induced earthquakes in the province.

Drawing on two years of ethnographic fieldwork the paper addresses how, and to what extent, the earthquakes have become part of Groninger identities in daily life. It describes the sense of loss of security regarding environment, natural resources, technologies, and government that some Groningers experience. This analysis emphasizes indigenous understandings of the earthquakes and ways of dealing with them. The paper outlines a culture-specific symptomology, and unveils Groninger attitudes toward class, region, and nation. Finally, the paper probes the potential contribution of anthropology to research on traumas caused by natural disasters, and to research on trauma as a social/cultural phenomenon.

Energy politic at the core of everyday life: the burden of power legacies?

Author: Nathalie Ortar (ENTPE)  email

Short Abstract

A study conducted in France in 2011-2012 at a time of high energy prices about the energetical choices made by the household in their everyday life has led us to question the energy choices made and their origin which are both political and economic.

Long Abstract

Energy infrastructure shapes the crafting of modern states and corporations, identities and sociabilities, habits and mentalities, expert and local knowledge, households and communities. A study conducted in France in 2011-2012 at a time of high energy prices about the energetical choices made by the household in their everyday life has led us to question the energy choices made and their origin which are both political and economic. In this presentation we want to question the govern-mentality of energy, that is, the discursive and symbolic dimensions of energy, their historical incorporation in the body politic and their implication on every life. This will lead us to question what a critical theory of energy possibly look like.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.