CfP POLLEN20 – Energising Political Ecology

Call for participants
Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Session convenors

Siddharth Sareen (University of Bergen and University of Sussex) and Stefan Bouzarovski (University of Manchester). Abstracts are due 25th October to Siddharth.Sareen@uib.no and stefan.bouzarovski@manchester.ac.uk

Session description

As global rallies grow around the climate emergency, supported by strong divestment movements and cheap renewable energy technologies, the demand for low-carbon energy transitions gets a strong fillip. Scholarship on sustainability transitions has burgeoned in recognition of key sectoral trends, and socio-technical complements to techno-economic accounts have come into their own during the 2010s (Kohler et al 2019). Yet political ecology has remained shy of engaging. Over the years, notable exceptions have shown the value that political ecology lenses can bring to issues of carbon democracy, extractive dispossession and the agentic force of energy infrastructure and its imaginaries (Lawhon and Murphy 2012; Burke and Stephens 2018). As the importance of energy demand and the everyday navigation of energy landscapes mounts under transitions, they merit attention as issues of governance but also claim-making. We seek to build on such work by the ENGAGER network on energy poverty (http://engager-energy.net).

The current historical moment marks an acute juncture in the remaking of the ecology of energy, which is a deeply political matter (Daggett 2019). Within the energy sector, experts are batting for energy efficiency as a mitigation strategy (Lovins 2018), the integration of renewable energy into energy systems, and the potential to democratise the ownership and functions of a historically centralised sector (Szulecki 2018). These parallel projects are inevitably intertwined, and can very easily be at loggerheads rather than synergistic (Howe and Boyer 2016). Energy efficiency retrofits of buildings, for instance, can lead to low-carbon gentrification (Bouzarovski et al 2018). Moreover, the timing and modalities of energy transitions can determine whether they benefit large oil companies diversifying their asset portfolios or energy communities trying to invest in distributed energy infrastructure (Healy and Barry 2017). Publics and energy transitions clearly matter to each other, but it is unclear which benefits the other (Sareen and Kale 2018).

This session invites contributions that address two classic political ecology concerns in relation to energy transitions: how are large shifts in energy infrastructure transitions governed, and how are the benefits and burdens of these shifts distributed? The first question foregrounds the role of experts in decision-making around changing energy infrastructures and logics. We seek to interrogate the changing nature of institutional authority along with the evolving socio-materiality of the energy sector by adopting a relational ontology that privileges interactions between actors as constitutive of new ecologies (Bouzarovski and Haarstad 2018; Sareen 2019). The second question points to equity and justice, inviting political ecologists to probe the effects that monumental shifts in this vital sector have on marginalised and privileged groups. We welcome empirically and conceptually rich accounts that probe whether transitions are actually geared to secure low-carbon futures, or represent evolving forms of responsibilising citizens in a long-running contestation of power between states and their subjects (Mitchell 2011).

If consumption is to decrease, surely those who consume most should take the lead, rather than those who struggle to access even basic forms of energy (Bouzarovski 2018). And if we are putting in place solutions that claim to reduce the demand that consumption places on our energy resources, then it would be good to make sure that this is truly so rather than a pipe dream (Sareen and Rommetveit 2019). By throwing down this normative gauntlet, we invite political ecologists to hold energy transitions to account through our apt but under-utilised sensibilities.

References

Bouzarovski, Stefan. Energy poverty: (Dis) assembling Europe’s infrastructural divide. Springer, 2017.

Bouzarovski, Stefan, and Håvard Haarstad. “Rescaling low‐carbon transformations: Towards a relational ontology.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 44.2 (2019): 256-269.

Bouzarovski Stefan, Jan Frankowski, and Sergio Tirado Herrero. “Low carbon gentrification: When climate change encounters residential displacement.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 42.5 (2018): 845-863.

Burke, Matthew J., and Jennie C. Stephens. “Political power and renewable energy futures: A critical review.” Energy Research & Social Science 35 (2018): 78-93.

Daggett, Cara N. The birth of energy: Fossil fuels, thermodynamics, and the politics of work. Duke University Press, 2019.

Healy, Noel, and John Barry. “Politicizing energy justice and energy system transitions: Fossil fuel divestment and a “just transition”.” Energy Policy 108 (2017): 451-459.

Howe, Cymene, and Dominic Boyer. “Aeolian extractivism and community wind in Southern Mexico.” Public Culture 28.2 (79) (2016): 215-235.

Köhler, Jonathan, et al. “An agenda for sustainability transitions research: State of the art and future directions.” Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 31 (2019): 1-32.

Lawhon, Mary, and James T. Murphy. “Socio-technical regimes and sustainability transitions: Insights from political ecology.” Progress in Human Geography 36.3 (2012): 354-378.

Lovins, Amory B. “How big is the energy efficiency resource?” Environmental Research Letters 13.9 (2018): 090401.

Mitchell, Timothy. Carbon democracy: Political power in the age of oil. Verso Books, 2011.

Sareen, Siddharth (Ed.). Enabling Sustainable Energy Transitions  Practices of legitimation and accountable governance. Palgrave, 2019. https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030268909

Sareen, Siddharth, and Sunila S. Kale. “Solar ‘power’: Socio-political dynamics of infrastructural development in two Western Indian states.” Energy research & social science 41 (2018): 270-278.

Sareen, Siddharth, and Kjetil Rommetveit. “Smart gridlock? Challenging hegemonic framings of mitigation solutions and scalability.” Environmental Research Letters 19 (2019): 075004.

Szulecki, Kacper. “Conceptualizing energy democracy.” Environmental Politics 27.1 (2018): 21-41.

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