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Accepted Paper:

What should we do with solar power? Loving, hoping for, and critiquing our objects.  
Tom Neumark (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper uses off-grid solar power in Tanzania as a route into considering anthropologists' own forms of hope and disappointment towards ostensibly good things. It considers ways we might learn from our interlocutor's own way of living with these things that does not lead to detached critiques.

Paper long abstract:

Almost half of rural Tanzanians use small household solar panels, rather than plug into a fossil-fuelled mains grid, for their electricity. This is considered by some commentators as an example, like the mobile phone, of Africa "leapfrogging" the rest of the world. Critical social scientists challenge such grandiose claims. They point out that what are not bypassed are the existing, largely capitalist, global political and economic relationships that harm people and the environment, for example, in the supply chains that result in photovoltaic components. Consequently, technologies like solar electricity become, despite their popular appeal, difficult for social scientists to like, much less, love.

Drawing from on-going discussions about the idea of loving objects, this paper suggests that a more common social scientific disposition is to hope for them. It explores how hope, however, often leads to detached, even denunciatory, forms of critique. These become akin to what Donna Haraway (2016) has described as the poles of utopian hope and dystopian despair. The paper considers possible strategies to avoid attaching to these poles that involve learning from our interlocutors; not only about their way of life but how they live with their way of life.

Panel Evid01b
Critiquing what we like II
  Session 1 Friday 2 April, 2021, -