Accepted Paper:

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


Myles Lennon (Yale University)

Paper 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.

Paper 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.

Panel T124
Energy Beyond Crisis: Energetic Bodies, Ecologies, and Economies