Exploring the Anthropology of Energy: Ethnography, Energy and Ethics

Call for Abstracts for an invited Special Issue in Energy Research & Social Science (ERSS)

Guest Editors: Dr Mette M. High, University of St Andrews, and Dr Jessica M. Smith, Colorado School of Mines

Remarkable growth in global energy production and consumption has inspired a new generation of scholars to draw on ethnographic methods and anthropological concepts to enhance our understanding of issues related to energy. Many of these works focus on particular energy sources and their suitability for meeting this rising demand. For example, a growing number of anthropologists examine oil as a site of corporate and state governance. New possibilities for renewable energy generation provide fertile ground from which to examine the articulations between local perceptions of wind, solar and other sources of renewable energy and the ways in which people know and interact with the environment. And increasing controversy surrounding unconventional energy development inspires scholarship on citizens who conduct grassroots or “citizen science” as a form of activism.

This special issue of Energy Research & Social Science will (1) emphasize an ethnographic focus on the numerous intersections of energy and ethics, as well as (2) expand upon earlier work to explore new directions in the anthropology of energy.

Making ethics and anthropology an explicit focus of scholarship will hone our understanding of the multiple, if not conflicting, ways in which ethical and cultural judgments inform people’s relationships with energy, debates about energy transitions, and the current scholarly frames used to study energy and society. Debates about energy futures raise fundamental ethical questions that involve judgments of the kinds of lives that we consider to be desirable or just:

What is the place of energy in human life? How do we make sense of the ways in which we produce, distribute and use it? And how do such actions relate to what we consider to be right or good? How do actors as diverse as consumers, producers, critics and developers pose and answer questions about the relationship between energy sociotechnical systems and their visions of a good life?

We seek papers from anthropology and beyond that explore the centrality of ethical practice, judgment and questioning in our relationship with energy. We encourage papers that offer new approaches to energy ethics, in particular by recognizing ethical sensibility as part of the human condition, animating the everyday thoughts and practices of people with a variety of attachments to and relationships with energy, from people who make a living working on well pads to proponents of renewable energy. We desire to move beyond simplistic frameworks that either ascribe ethics to particular energy sources (“good” renewable energy versus “bad” fossil fuel energy) or subsume ethics within corporate social responsibility discourses steeped in highly particular value regimes related to marketing, advertising and pricing. We lastly encourage papers that refine, challenge, or introduce anthropological concepts and theories as applied to energy.

In particular, we seek papers that offer novel frameworks for bringing together ethnographic studies of energy and ethnographic studies of ethics. Areas of interest include: energy policy, energy production and consumption, discourses of national security in relation to energy strategy, energy innovation, distribution networks of and access to energy, energy pricing, and the growing citizen science movement surrounding controversies related to energy.

Papers selected from this call will join a selection of papers that were originally presented at the 2016 Energy Ethics: Fragile Lives and Imagined Futures conference at the University of St Andrews. Those papers span the globe and range from algae harvesting to nuclear waste siting, from patriotic hydroelectric stations to fuel poverty, from the plunder of renewable energy to the everyday practices of biologists who create biofuels, and from erratic electricity supply in a mining town to the politics of a wind farm adjacent to pastoralist communities. We anticipate selecting an additional 5-10 papers from this call. Papers must use ethnographic methods and anthropological concepts to understand issues related to energy.

Interested authors should submit titles and 350-word abstracts by August 1, 2016 to the Guest Editors, Dr Jessica M. Smith, Colorado School of Mines, [email protected] and Dr Mette M. High, University of St Andrews, [email protected]. On the abstract, please include contact information and institutional affiliation.

Completed draft manuscripts will be due November 1, 2016, after which they will be double-blind peer-reviewed for a final publication decision. Manuscripts should be 8,000-10,000 words, including notes and references. Final articles will be due February 1, 2017 and published in the July 2017 volume.

Energy Research & Social Science (ERSS) is a fully peer-reviewed international journal that publishes original research and review articles examining the relationship between energy systems and society. ERSS welcomes research from those trained in the social sciences, including anthropology, geography, economics, political science, public policy, law, sociology, history, communication studies, and philosophy, as well as interdisciplinary work from engineers, psychologists, and others, as long as the focus is on society and energy. For more on the aims and goals of the journal and for detailed instructions for authors, see http://www.journals.elsevier.com/energy-research-and-social-science/.