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Accepted Paper:

Solar powered failures? Narratives of responsibility and blame in off-grid electrification in Odisha  
Kirsten Campbell (Loughborough University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the narratives of blame within the perceived failures of off-grid solar micro-grids in eastern India. Based on ethnographic accounts of India’s first ‘smart’ micro-grids, it deconstructs the contentious narratives of failure between those designing and those using the system.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the narratives of responsibility and blame within the perceived successes and failures of off-grid solar micro-grids in eastern India. Solar micro-grids, within the wider off-grid energy movement, have been touted as a ‘silver bullet’ technology in rural development and electrification discourses, fulfilling virtuous narratives of sustainability and green energy while promising technocentric visions of ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’ in remote and marginalised areas. While these innovations leverage impressive investment and funding opportunities, the ground reality has arguably failed to realise these aspirations. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork at the site of India’s first ‘smart’ solar micro-grid, installed in a tiger reserve in Odisha, this paper interrogates how the perceived failures of these projects were made sense of within both technical engineering communities and within the communities of users. It focuses on the dissonances between these groups in how they perceived the project, as well as the ideologies, beliefs and understandings which ultimately cast specific actors as agents of this failure. This paper argues that the failure of such projects are ultimately a product of the deconstruction of the technologised ideal of rural development and a subsequent decentred reassembly of such interventions within the framing of localised knowledges and subjectivities. The attribution of responsibility for this, however, becomes a contented and morally loaded issue, with overlying class, gender and caste tensions.

Panel Irre07
Responsibility and blame in the transformational projects of the Anthropocene
  Session 1 Wednesday 31 March, 2021, -