Ukraine: Energy in the Spotlight seminar series

Presented in conjunction with CRSCEES, the Centre for Energy Ethics invites you to join them for a “Ukraine: Energy in the Spotlight” 5-part seminar series that will run virtually every Thursday at 2pm BST, starting on 7 April. Joined by Ukrainian experts and special guests from and beyond the region, the seminar series will delve into the everyday energy realities faced by Ukrainians, the new ethical dimensions of energy that have emerged from the war, and the transregional implications for energy futures in Ukraine and worldwide. 

Part 1: Nuclear Worlds, Thursday 7 AprilPart 2: Natural Gas & Pipeline Geopolitics, Thursday 14 AprilPart 3: Electricity Networks – Connecting Worlds by Wires, Thursday 21 AprilPart 4: Oil Markets and Crude Politics, Thursday 28 AprilPart 5: Coal, Old and New, Thursday 5 May Register and find out more information here. 

Crucially, the Centre for Energy Ethics invites donations to the University’s Hardship Appeal for St Andrews students and staff affected by the war in Ukraine. Assisting with accommodation, living expenses and other incidentals faced in the months ahead, the Fund aims to provide peace of mind that St Andrews will remain a safe and supportive haven for anyone directly affected by the war. Donate here.

ETROD session on deep time reckoning, February 24th, 16-17:45 CE(S)T

ETROD welcomes Vincent Ialenti to discuss the introduction to his book “Deep time reckoning: How Future Thinking Can Help Earth Now“ (2020, MIT Press) in which he argues that we need to become “more skilled deep time reckoners” and to learn to inhabit a longer now. 

Topic: ETROD – Extractivism and Transition Research Online Dialogues

Time: Feb 24, 2022 04:00 PM Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna

 ETROD occurs every month on the Fourth Thursday. Three upcoming dates: Feb 24, March 24, April 28 all at 4pm CEST.

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 648 9546 8707

Password: 407026

Reminder deadline CFP EASA meeting, January 13th!

This Thursday is the deadline for panel proposals for the EASA biennial meeting this summer. EAN is guaranteed one accepted panel, so please indicate in your proposal that you would like it to be considered for the Energy Anthro Network by writing [Energy Anthro Network] after your proposal title (when submitting or afterwards by editing it through Cocoa). Please let the network convenors know if you want your panel to be sponsored by emailing Katja, Siddharth or Elisabeth (,,

The rules for panel submission have become a bit more extensive: among other things you must make sure that there are at least two people from different institutions (ideally: countries) convening, with at least one having a PhD and at least one being present in Belfast during the fully hybrid conference.
Please feel free to use the EAN list if you are looking for someone to partner up with, e.g. through stating the proposed panel title, your institution and whether you’d like to attend in person – people interested might then use the chance to reply to you directly.

Fall 2021 AAG Energy and Environment Specialty Group Lecture Series

First session: “The European Geographies of Energy Transition: Policies and Complexities” , Friday, October 8th at 2PM ET

Register at:

Silvia Grandi is the inaugural AAG Energy and Environment Specialty Group Invited Lecture. Professor Grandi is a permanent director at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development since 2010 and works on a variety of national and European energy and environment committees. Her research focuses on sustainable development, circular economies, natural resources, and European environmental policies. For more information about Professor Grandi, you can visit her website at:

Details about the second Fall 2021 invited lecturer will be published in the coming weeks. To stay up to date on all things EESG, visit the website or follow us on Twitter.

Questions? Email Trey Murphy at mur… 

New ETROD & City Industries, Aug. 19

The next ETROD & CityIndustries session is scheduled for Thursday, August 19th, 4pm CEST. We’ll discuss with Gargi Bhattacharyya the fourth chapter of her book “Racial Capitalism“. If you feel like joining this online dialogue and haven’t already signed up and received the chapter, please email Katja Müller

Extractivism and Transition Research Online Dialogue, July 15

Discuss the article Populism, Instability, and Rupture in Sustainability Transformations with us and its author. Access to article:

If you feel like joining the discussion next Thursday, July 15th at 4pm CEST, please read Havard’s text and email for the Zoom link.

Call for abstracts North American Wind Energy Academy 2021. Deadline April 16, 2021

North American Wind Energy Academy is accepting abstracts: NAWEA/WindTech 2021

The NAWEA/WindTech 2021 conference will take place in-person at the University of Delaware, USA, on September 22-24, 2021

Social/environmental Track Call for Abstracts
We start from the premise that deployment of wind turbines and related grid infrastructure on a scale to transform the energy economy is a public policy issue. Without a comprehensive appreciation of the realities of the larger human and environmental context, society may fall well short of realizing the full potential of wind energy. We thus seek cross-sectional analyses and case studies, quantitative, qualitative and mixed-method approaches from not only the United States and Canada, but also from beyond our borders, on-land and offshore. 

Submit an abstract:

CFP Taking Care of Energy Infrastructures (STS Conference, Graz, 4-6 May)

For those who “care” for energy infrastructures (or work with people who do), please consider sharing or contributing to this session at the STS Conference in Graz (Austria), 4-6 May. Description below.

The abstract needs to be submitted using the online form. It should not exceed 500 words, max. 5 keywords. Choose the number of the session in which your presentation should be included (Thematic field “Towards Low-Carbon Energy Systems”; session “C.7 Taking care of energy infrastructures”).

Submission deadline for abstracts is January 20, 2020.

C.7 Taking care of energy infrastructures

Loloum, Tristan, Fürst, Moritz, Bovet, Alain (Université de Lausanne)

The energy transition is often framed in terms of a technological challenge and an engineering problem, involving innovative design, efficient planning, and effective optimization of energy infrastructures and the built environment. This innovation-centric view tends to neglect the fact that ‘change’ often occurs once energy systems are already in place, through incremental adaptations, additions and enhancements. The focus on engineers, planners and designers also puts aside the many actors in charge of operating and maintaining such systems on a daily basis: grid operators, HVAC technicians, facility managers, installers, caretakers, etc.

Drawing on authors like Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (2017), Dona Haraway (2016) and Bruno Latour (2013), we argue that fixing ‘things’ and taking care of energy infrastructure implies more than maintaining their technical functioning: it means caring for the people who use them and their environments, and it requires active engagement, social skills and a sense of concern towards associations between humans and non-humans. The session therefore extends on current debates in science and technology studies and energy social science that (I) observe how classical dichotomies (e.g. between planning and operation, professionals and users, engineers and technicians, people and machines) are maintained, and sometimes contested and reconfigured; (II) investigate energy infrastructure and energy transition at the level of everyday lay and professional care-taking activities, i.e. considering energy practices as situated and culturally embedded realities rather than in terms of dominant paradigms of technological innovation and economic rationality.

This panel session invites contributors from all disciplinary horizons, looking at energy infrastructure “from below and within”, focusing on operation routines, control rooms, repair and maintenance, incremental improvements, “middle actors” (technicians, installers, controllers, caretakers, facility managers), disruption, practices of daily-use and socio-technical encounters. We particularly encourage prospective participants to emphasize the richness of empirical material in their presentations, exhibit visual and/or audio data, or even material objects that can form a basis for a fruitful discussion. If appropriate conditions are in place, the session will be introduced or followed up by a quick tour of the conference venue’s infrastructural backstage and a discussion with one of the building’s facility managers in order to get a concrete grasp of what energy infrastructure is, and what taking care of it actually entails.

KEYWORDS: energy infrastructure, care, operation, repair & maintenance, energy practices

Deadline approaching CFP EASA 2020 (Lisbon July 21-24)!

January 20th is the deadline for paper proposals for EASA 2020 (to be held in Lisbon July 21-24). There are several panels dealing with energy that EAN encourages you to submit to (or share with interested friends) before the deadline.

P020 At the grid edge: homes, neighbourhoods and energy markets (Energy Anthropology Network)


Charlotte Johnson (University College London)

Abhigyan Singh (Delft University of Technology (TU Delft))

Across Europe the grid edge has become a site of innovation, experimentation and legal exception. Extra-regulatory markets such as peer-to-peer energy trading are being trialled. Algorithms and control systems are being piloted to automate household appliances. Communities are becoming virtual power plants. The emerging distributed, decentralised, and off-grid energy systems profoundly challenge the universalist logic of national energy infrastructures and create an urgent role for anthropological knowledge. Anthropologists are entering these spaces to critique and to intervene. They question the assumptions supporting energy market construction and bring attention to non-market perspectives. They interrogate the inter- and intra-household dynamics that are created and destabilised as new flows of energy interact with existing gender, class and power relations. They examine the ethics, moralities, and values that are implicated and invoked. They are working in interdisciplinary ways, using interventionist approaches and are challenging the creation of binaries that pit automation against human control. In this panel we discuss this as a new horizon for anthropological inquiry. One that is provoked by the changing ways energy is being negotiated within homes, circulated through neighbourhoods, and getting entangled in local markets. We invite papers that critique ‘low carbon transition’, provide ethnographic accounts of energy, or offer methodological innovations for collaborative, experimental or interdisciplinary working. We are particularly interested in insights from global south contexts and its cross-cultural comparison with the ‘smart energy’ narrative in the global north. Overall, we invite broad critical engagement with issues raised by doing anthropology at the grid edge.

P037 Mining the Energy Transition: Technology, Resource Chains, and Extractive Encounters


    Nikkie Wiegink (Utrecht University)

    Angela Kronenburg García (UCLouvain (Belgium))

The energy transition from a fossil fuel-based system to a low-carbon future has engendered new technologies and is changing consumer patterns across the world. Less known is that the energy transition is restructuring the extractive sector due to new policies and increasing demand for metals and minerals needed in low-carbon technologies (Addison 2018). This panel explores new horizons by linking two sub-fields of anthropology: the anthropology of energy and the anthropology of mining, and invites papers to address the energy transition from the perspective of its minerals and metals. Where do the minerals come from that power the batteries from electric vehicles and make wind turbines durable? Who are the new global players in the emerging resource chains? And how can we study these global dynamics ethnographically? How do, for example, ‘energy ethics’ (Smith & High 2017) in Europe relate to ‘mining encounters’ (Pijpers & Eriksen 2019) in the global south? And what kinds of contestations do these encounters engender? We aim to build further on the discussion of ‘energopolitics’ (Boyer 2019) to illuminate and politicize the processes that tend to be obscured by the ‘good’ of the energy transition and the urgency to fight climate change. Our intention is to unravel the tensions, interconnectedness, and ambiguities of extractive encounters at different scales. We welcome submissions based on empirical work or methodological reflections that engage with the technologies, policymaking, mining realities, multi-actor encounters, resource chains and resource booms emerging at the intersections of the energy transition and the extractive industries.

P134 Energy production, environment, and human rights in the context of climate change


    Elisabeth Moolenaar (Regis University)

    Ana Isabel Afonso (FCSH-Universidade Nova de Lisboa & CICS.NOVA)

    Dorle Dracklé (University of Bremen)

One of the goals of the “energy anthropology” is placing energy and the environment in cultural perspective, taking into account meaning (making), relationships, value, and agency. Using ethnography/ethnographic research on energy production can open up a dialogue on urgent matters such as environmental justice, human rights and climate change. This panel deals with struggles over energy production, debates over climate change, and the politics of natural resource extraction within broader socio-cultural contexts. Energy landscapes are sites of power and control. These sites frequently face environmental degradation, ecological disasters, and/or social disintegration or upheaval. Sites of energy production are oftentimes located in less urban areas far away from the sites where most energy is consumed, turning the former into “sacrifice zones.” Local (at times indigenous) populations are most vulnerable because they have acquired less entitlement to the natural resources, through law, economic and political systems, and/or processes of colonization. Energy production affects not only environmental quality but also human rights. Without a livable environment, human rights may become either unachievable or meaningless. Energy production intensifies challenges to populations who are unable to claim rights such as the right to self-determination, sovereignty, or mineral or traditional land rights. We welcome papers that locate environmental justice, human rights, and/or climate change within ethnographic explorations of energy production & consumption and natural resource extraction. Papers might investigate these matters for populations affected by energy production, from the perspective of the researcher, and/or as they inform each other.

P062 The political power of energy futures within and beyond Europe


    Charlotte Bruckermann (University of Bergen, Norway)

    Kirsten Endres (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

    Katja Müller (Halle University)

Debates about climate change have long entered political arenas through diplomacy, bureaucracy and regulations as part of worldwide environmental governance. Although global efforts to foster greener energy increasingly supplement resource extractivism, unfolding protests point to the insufficiencies of current measures. This panel asks what political legitimacies and forms of power become possible through renewables’ development and the greening of energy systems. From top-down policymaking regarding energy access to grassroots calls for climate justice, this panel interrogates the policies and politics surrounding renewable energy, and the unintended consequences and alliances in its delivery. Ethnographic investigations in this panel will combine the intertwined complexities of greening energy with abstractions of political power at various scales. Questions could include: How does political decision-making on energy sources unfold, including expanding resource extraction, extending the grid, or developing renewables? What brute materialities of wires, cables, and power plants come into play? How do historic injustices and exclusionary legacies of extraction, production and consumption affect future energy horizons? Do imperatives of greening energy create new role models in energy matters that shift the focus within and beyond Europe? When do debates about local environmental priorities and energy rights undermine or bolster global climate targets? What new forms of precarity and scarcity do large-scale infrastructural impositions by local or international powerholders entail? We welcome contributions that investigate the contradictions and contestations between the persistence of conventional energy systems and the rise of renewables within the complex operations of political power that affect our anticipated energy futures.

On proposing a paper:

More about the Lisbon EASA conference here

Anthropology and Environment Society Junior Scholar Award

The Anthropology and Environment Society (AES) of the American Anthropological Association is pleased to announce the 2019 Junior Scholar Award competition. This award is made each year at the American Anthropology Association’s annual meeting.

The award is for early-career scholars who are untenured and/or within five years of having obtained a Ph.D. The purpose of this $250 award is to encourage talented junior scholars to continue working in the domain of anthropology and environment by recognizing their exemplary scholarship. Judging will be based on a refereed journal article published in the last two calendar years (2018-2019), which must be at least in galley or page-proof stage of publication. Co-authored papers are acceptable, but the nominee must be the lead author.

We invite anthropologists and colleagues in other disciplines to nominate candidates for the award based on their knowledge of the field and the work of junior scholars. Authors are also invited to nominate one of their own articles.

Nominated articles should be sent to Dana E. Powell (
together with brief memos that nominate the author(s) and identify the key contributions and qualities of the nominated work.  The deadline is October 13, 2019 and the award will be announced at the AAA Annual Meeting.

Coping Strategies. Questions regarding Resettlement, Participation, and Energy Self-sufficiency

author: Valeska Flor


“Nothing was normal anymore in this village that was disbanding bit by bit; bombarded by noise during the day, but desolately quiet at night. Not only the buildings were missing, the people that had given life and breath to them were missing as well” (Bachér 2011, 37). With these words the author Ingrid Bachér describes the resettlement of the town Garzweiler, Germany, during the 1980s. In her novel Bachér reports about the daily life of the fictional Aschoff family and how lignite mining causes rifts in the landscape and in the lives of the people living there. The German energy requirement is covered by a mix of fossil fuels, nuclear power and renewable energy. Although renewable energies are to be supported during the course of the German energy transition, lignite is still presented as an important partner and transitory technology in this mix. Therefore, the contribution of coal/lignite in this mix has decreased considerably but still has its use. However, the consequences of a constant energy supply for thousands of people in lignite areas, in particular resettlement, are often disregarded. The ethnography of the Rhenish lignite area presented in this paper has allowed to show the ambivalence of energy production, consumption as well as coping strategies of resettlers.

Energy Issues and the Electrification of Society

“Energy” is omnipresent and determines our everyday life. But what does “energy” actually mean? In physics, energy is defined by the ability of a substance, body or system to do work, and this also applies to humans. As long as we live, we convert energy: while breathing, eating, moving, sleeping and thinking. Nature also supplies an infinite amount of energy: sunlight, wind movement, water power, geothermal energy, or renewable biomass can be used for energy and supply us with electricity. Energy is therefore not only a purely physical quantity; it is a metaphor for individual prosperity and the prosperity of a country and its society. The electrification of society as a whole began with the introduction of electric illumination, initially around the turn of the century in public spaces and later—around the 1920s—in private spaces. During this period, the extraction of energy resources and the production of electricity were increasingly integrated into the economic, political and socio-cultural argumentation patterns (which today are also referred to in connection with lignite mining). The basis for the idea that energy is the fundamental driving force of the economy and society was formed precisely in this context. Energy was no longer just an “energetic view of the world” but a “general cultural principle” (Binder 1999, 241). Nowadays, our understanding of energy is rather everyday and universal, but also diffuse: “hardly imaginable is a life without the many electrical aids, and at the same time it is a secret, the path of electricity in our everyday life lies in the dark” (Ibid., 9). Electricity is simply there, but during crises—like resettlement—, more thought is given to electricity and energy consumption.

Reasons for Lignite Mining and Resettlement in Germany

The resettlements procedures currently taking place in Germany are drastically changing the lives of their residents. In this context it is to say that most of the villagers do not leave voluntarily. They have to leave because of the Section 79, subsection 1, of the federal mining law which says that: “The assignment of property is permitted in individual cases if it serves the public good [. . .], and if due to the site dependency of the mining operation the enterprise cannot be carried out by any other reasonable means.” (BbergG § 79, 1). To put it bluntly: the law puts the good of the many before the good of the few. The resettlers do not have the option to stay. They have to move and (re) settle somewhere else and find a way to cope with these experiences.

Coping Strategies: Participation and Energy Self-Sufficiency

Coping and adjustment are important aspects of the Rhenish lignite mining area, e.g. during the planned citizen participation process where the resettlers gain agency through civic engagement. This is done through a participation procedure in the resettlement process. Keywords such as democratic legitimacy, social compatibility, planning and competence acquisition, self-determination and participation, as well as compensation for material and immaterial losses of resettlers were mentioned, explained, and criticized by my interview partners. In addition, numerous practices could be observed. These participatory practices can be understood as the “skillful performances of competent bodies” (Reckwitz 2003, 290), where the habitus and the social, cultural and symbolic capital of the resettlers are merging with the embodiment of knowledge (Bourdieu 1977). They are knowledge-based activities and practical abilities guided by the acquisition of skills, i.e. activities in which practical knowledge and understanding are central (Reckwitz 2003, 292).

During the resettlement process, behavioral routines are developed, which enable the resettlers to act as experts in their environment. The behavioral routine “energy expert” is one of the most important roles in the process. As the villages resettle due to society’s need for energy, there is a special motivation for discussing holistic energy concepts and reducing dependence on fossil energies in the future. For this reason, the resettlers acquire knowledge in connection with a wide variety of energy issues: they learn about innovative energy concepts, such as climate protection settlements, current energy-saving regulations, passive houses, and centralized and decentralized energy supply. Being an energy expert means being independent of the energy companies in the future. To be independent from a company that is responsible for the demolishing of their own Heimat—an image that is prominent in most of the interviews. But learning is not enough, being active—in the planning process and in (political) activism—is presented as a way to gain agency. Agency in a normative political process which reduces resettlers—at least in the beginning—to a passive role, i.e. they do not move on their own free will, is the basis for coping and adjustment. In this context agency encourages the resettlers to think about their own energy requirements consumption and enables them to plan their future accordingly.


Bachér Ingrid (2011): Die Grube. Berlin: Dittrich Verlag.

Binder Beate (1999): Elektrifizierung als Vision. Zur Symbolgeschichte einer Technik im Alltag. Tübingen: TVV.

Bourdieu Pierre (1977): Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reckwitz Andreas (2003): Grundelemente einer Theorie sozialer Praktiken. Eine sozialtheoretische Perspektive. Zeitschrift für Soziologie 32/4, 282-201.

EASA Conference panel 25: Energy in Motion

EASA 2018 conference in Stockholm was the occasion for the EAN Network’s first fully fledged energy panel. A strong line up of papers reflected the quality of current anthropological research in the field, and the growing interest in an expanding range of topics. The theme of the panel was ‘Energy in Motion’, reflecting the conference theme: ‘Staying, Moving , Settling’.


Papers touched on themes relating to the state and citizenship, superstate or transnational agendas, resource colonies and participatory planning, economic citizenship and ethics, to name but the most prominent. Importantly for the network, the first paper reported on efforts to ensure that anthropology is well represented in European energy research, through the SHAPE-ENERGY project (‘Social Sciences and Humanities for Advancing Policy in European Energy’), but the findings reported raise some concerns. The project set out without a well considered methodology, and although it tried to incorporate ‘stakeholder participation’, it committed elementary mistakes, such a demanding that minimally trained researchers try to combine running multi-stakeholder meetings while also trying to observe and report on them.  Nathalie Ortar presented a troubling case, raising concerns that even in a project that aims to include social sciences and humanities in energy research, the humanities were completely excluded, and the social science was deeply flawed. Where was the critique in the development of the project? Why did it start from the EU Comission’s premise (ie energy behaviour change) rather than  those posited the SSH disciplines? Where in the broader project are studies of energy practices, analyses of bureaucratic organisations, powers of capital, political dilemmas, oppositions and resistances, systems of exchange and distribution, or other questions that are of concern to social sciences? And how were anthropological ideas so clearly sidelined? Given the role of this project in purportedly shaping the Comission’s research agenda in energy in the coming years, it is crucial that we put forward our collective views from Anthropology about what we think should be on the agenda.

The other papers amply demonstrated what value can be gained from anthropological research. Several of them addressed questions about energy as an abstract and analytic concept that has is also a concept of state and science, and is already embedded in hierarchies of power. The term itself may be alienating in some circumstances, and rarely unites people politically in ways that can dominate the political agenda. At the same time, the ‘energy nexus’ is on the move – while concepts like ‘transition’ suggest before and after states, multiple and intersecting energy systems are constantly in motion and difficult to pin down. Where they are represented as fixed (eg as material infrastructure), then attention must be paid to the means by which stability is conjured, by whom, and to what effect. 

In one of Europe’s largest gas fields, apparently stable things are quite literally moving. Elisabeth Moolenaar showed how the early days of gas extraction in the northern Netherlands in the 1960s were associated with national solidarity, as profits from international gas exports were ploughed into a national rail system and other social programmes. The national gas company gained respect as a good employer, and gas became a ‘national treasure’. Fast forward to the 2010s and increasingly damaging earthquakes were causing significant structural damage to houses and other properties in what is one of the Netherlands’ poorer and peripheral areas. Suddenly, gas is no longer a treasure but a curse, and the state is no longer the great provider but a ‘gas mafia’ who extract resource from the region and leave it in ruins. Environmentalism and conservation bring new energy subjectivities into play, as early resistance to wind turbines takes on new shades of green. Citizens become energy experts, while craving recognition from the state that appears as a kind of renegade parent. A new formation, ‘gas opposition’ sees activists generate solidarity with First Nation Americans and Nigerians in their suffering caused by the actions of the Dutch oil multinational, Shell.

The role of such multinationals, and the differences between them, was the subject broached by Ståle Knudsen, who began by pointing out that over 70% of world oil is owned by national companies. Reporting on a project entitled ‘Energethics’, Ståle showed how Nordic energy companies prefer not to employ philanthropy in their interpretation of Corporate Social Responsibility, but prefer to talk about environmental and social management of sustainable livelihoods. But this causes difficulties when they begin to operate in countries such as Turkey, where philanthropy is the primary mode of corporate plenitude. Nordic discourses about social responsibility and competitive edge fall flat, and employees struggle to reconcile the demands from HQ for good-news stories with the local context in the countries of operation. For electricity corporations, engaging in electrical development means engaging with grids, which in turn are are kind of state-technology nexus. Agnese Cimdina elaborated on the role of Nordic corporations struggling to gain a foothold in the United Arab Emirates. Despite persistent attempts to buy into the UAE’s energy market, corporations such as Statoil have failed to make headway, despite the enormous, even hubristic ambitions of the UAE organisers of Expo2020 and the World Future Energy Summit, to transform hundreds of hectares of desert into an exhibition city. In the UAE, social relations always go before business relations, whereas the Nordic model starts from business and fails to make progress.

Where, then, are the spaces for insertion into infrastructural matrices for different actors, whether corporations, entrepreneurs, or the citizens, community groups and activists that Moolenaar and others described? And what of the many people displaced by energy developments, such as the coal-communities of North Rhein Westphalia described by Valeska Flor? Flor adopted a scheme devised by Scudder and Colson in 1982 to evaluate the role of self-determination in mitigating the effects of forced resettlement. According to her findings, where citizens participate in the resettlement planning and implementation, they find it easier to find ways to cope with the immense upheaval of moving not only house but village and community. For such citizens, becoming an ‘energy expert’ can be an  important role that allows people to be independent of the energy companies who are responsible for destroying their homes. Energy citizenship here is articulated in terms of agency and respect, as the state’s commitment to enforcing unlimited energy supply has consequences that are not born equally among citizens.

Of course, such uneven effects are not to be found only in Europe, far from it. High ambitions for rapid transitions away from fossil fuels in Nepal, for example, could have dire consequence for those Nepalis who rely on cheaper, more accessible and flexible fuels such as kerosine. According to Mikkel Vindegg, a radical crackdown on corruption in the electricity sector in Nepal in 2016 improved the situation, but did not bring an end to ‘load shedding’, the regular switching off of supply district by district that is used to deal with the lack of generating capacity. In such a context, the adoption of solar panels might be expected to be attractive, but the additional cost of equipment, including inverters or batteries mean that solar has not been adopted as a household solution to blackouts, as fossil fuels have, not least because solar power is seen to serve the grid, not the household. Once again the ambivalent role of the state as both provider and beneficiary causes unease about so-called ‘transitions’. Where people, in addition, are subject to migration and/or urbanisation, particularly in peri-urban settlements, the benefits of any kind of grid may be beyond their reach. Ben Campbell criticised a techno-agenda focused on ‘end users’ which ignores narratives of energy resilience that might be better served by categories of need. His current project,  ‘Energy on the Move’ addresses many such issues in Nigeria, Nepal, Bangladesh and South Sudan, focusing on gendered practices, informality, safety and health. He raised questions about the social and collective energy infrastructures such as the provision of diesel-generated electricity through patronage networks that do not fall within market rationalities.

Martin Fronck characterised ideas about future energies not as technical problems, but as political and ethical challenges between incommensurable forms of knowledge. In Southern Chile, a national ambition to achieve 70% renewable energy brings great pressure to develop geothermal resources found primarily in Mapuche regions of the Andes. Classic political discourses of ‘remote’ areas as locations of ‘undeveloped resources’ have brought significant scientific funding to explore geothermal possibilities. Martin showed images of a landscape littered with defunct experimental equipment in an environment experienced by Mapuche as alive with spirits whom humans should request permission from for any incursion into forests or mountains. Ruins of geological curiosity and failed future-visions risk enraging the spirits who may rend the land asunder through eruptions and earthquakes. Martin reminded us that geoscientists cn also experience an ethics of care, and the powers of embodied experience, but that the language of science promotes stabilisation and depersonalisation. Scientific methods promote distance as a resource, but require proximity for experimentation, at least temporarily. And here, again, we see science being used as a tool of statecraft, with state patronage for science that is not matched for citizens.

Together, these papers raised an array of questions for energy anthropology, about the role of  states and international bodies in energy infrastructures, the politics of energy transitions and the materiality of energetic visions, future and past. There is much work to be done, and impressive degrees of enthusiasm from anthropologists engaging in a myriad of energy questions, making it all the more urgent that European research agendas and opportunities make space for this exciting and productive research.


Simone Abram

September 2018

Smart Energy in Intercultural Contexts: Nordic Innovations in the Gulf

By Dr. Agnese Cimdina[1]


The following reflection is a prologue to my post-doctoral research, which focuses on the internationalization of clean tech and smart energy solutions. I study how the global shift towards green energy—away from fossil fuels and towards sustainable energy economies—is taking place locally in the context of specific business development plans of Nordic companies in the Gulf. Oil economies Norway and the UAE are my main case study areas.

Since the discovery of oil in the UAE in the 1960s, it has financed rapid socioeconomic development through hydrocarbon exports. Alongside the export market, the country has built an extremely energy-intensive economy. The country’s impressive oil and natural gas revenues have enabled them to build ultramodern infrastructure, to construct a high level of welfare for UAE nationals, to support an increase in population, as well as to exert international influence.[2] With sustainability challenges increasing rapidly, however, the UAE—along with the rest of the GCC[3] countries—has started to focus on diversification of the economy, investing in cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. In the UAE alone, “more than 300 billion dirhams[4] [have been] . . . invested in establishing a focus for the country’s path ahead, with the aim of preparing for a diverse economy that frees future generations from dependence on the ever-fluctuating oil market.”[5]

Meanwhile, the Nordic region aims to be at the forefront of a sustainable global energy supply and global climate change solutions: climate change is a priority for the region’s politicians and top-level management.[6] Researchers warn that emissions are increasing dramatically and should be cut by 45 per cent by 2030.[7] In its attempts to incentivize the transformation of their oil economy to a sustainable knowledge economy, the notion of a “green shift” has become Norway’s key slogan. Support systems are in place for Norwegian companies to develop and promote smarter and cleaner energy technologies internationally, including in the Gulf. However, although diversification of the UAE energy mix towards renewables seems to present a good opportunity for Nordic clean technologies, more than a hundred Norwegian companies are active in the conventional oil and gas sector here, but only few in the renewable energy and green business sector. 

Sustainable Desert?

During my research visits at Nordic companies in the Gulf in 2018 it did not take long to realize that before turning to business cooperation within smart and sustainable technologies, be it among Emiratis or Norwegians, it is necessary to understand local perceptions of sustainability, energy, oil, and well-being.

In the course of my research, I became aware that the desert embodies the sustainability narrative in the UAE: it was in a tent set in the desert in 1960 that the nation’s founding fathers decided to build a world class, developed country.[8] The optimism to transform the seven emirates—heretofore “governed by a tribal system and plagued by a lack of education into a unified, modern, educated nation”[9]—was based on recently discovered oil and gas.

My fieldwork started with the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, which was part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2018. There was a broad range of topics covering future energy solutions, which attracted more than 30,000 visitors from 170 countries. I was told that the UAE produces one of the highest per capita waste quantities in the world and has among the highest per capita consumption of energy. Thus, in addition to energy transition sessions, I chose to attend one session on issues dealing with waste and energy where most of the audience was youth. The keynote speaker opened the floor with a question: “How many of you know what the green economy is?” No one replied. The keynote carried on: “What can we do when a landfill is full?” A couple of students answered: “Make a new one.” While panel discussions targeting energy transition in the Gulf reflected high awareness of sustainable energy, the specific concept of green economy seemed to be strange for the general public, including the youth.

Soon afterwards I participated to a workshop in Dubai, which was organized for Norwegian companies to explore business opportunities at the upcoming Expo 2020 in Dubai. Sustainability was presented as one of the three main themes. To house those sustainability businesses from all over the world a huge Sustainability Pavilion will be erected in the desert, which would generate its own power, process its own water and waste, and run almost independently from the grid. Sustainability consultants were hired to look for alternative sources of energy to run the pavilion and to show the variety of green plants available in the UAE. Through the windows of the Expo Dubai headquarters, I could see no plants, no roads, no colours other than sand-yellow: just an endless desert landscape and excavators. Exhibits of coral reefs, mangroves, and oases that were supposed to be in place to showcase how the UAE’s natural environment might inspire ideas for sustainability and the green economy seemed like an impossibility. What would be the costs to the environment to make this possible, I wondered.

Leading by Example and Water Scarcity

“Is it possible to grow vegetables in the desert?” I asked an Emirati farmer while discussing the competitive advantages of Nordic technologies for sustainable desert farming. “We have the example of a leader,” he replied:


          Sheikh Zayed got experts from Japan, America, Europe. He asked them for advice on how to grow this area green. They told him it’s not possible due to extreme heat, salty soil, and lack of water. After 20 years, when the UAE had an agricultural exhibition, he told the organizers to invite those experts again. They took them to the farms and to the green belts around the desert. He showed them what he had made. It was an expensive choice, but he had made it.


Inspired by this example, the farmer plans to develop thousands of square meters large vegetable farm and fish pond in the desert to contribute to food security. Technology that one Nordic start-up can offer to turn desert sand into fertile farming soil could be helpful in his endeavour. It has developed technology that can green the desert and cut the associated irrigation need by 50 per cent. The start-up has established its presence in the UAE and has received regional innovation prizes for its technology and believes this recognition could open the doors for business with farmers and golf club owners in the Gulf.

While limiting emissions through innovations in renewable energy and clean technology is a main driver for mitigating climate change, adaptation work focuses on water scarcity.[10] Interestingly, technology developed by this Nordic start-up addresses both these key issues. Their technology also has direct impact on 8 of the 17 UN sustainability goals. However, after being active and present in the Gulf for more than a year their product is not in the market yet. As for several other ambitious Nordic start-ups, matching supply with the local demand has turned out to be a time- and investment consuming process.

Research shows that water scarcity is a fundamental problem in the UAE – groundwater reserves are depleting at alarming rates not only by the impacts of climate change but also as result of overconsumption. These challenges are born of a mix of environmental, socio-cultural economic, and political conditions, such as high levels of per capita water and energy consumption and an increasing population.[11] By relying on desalination, locals tend to envision an idea of “water’s infinity,” regardless of its actual scarcity.[12] It has been estimated that the energy-intensive desalination processes cost the UAE about $18 million a day, but despite the challenges of fresh water production, the UAE has the highest per capita use of water.[13] Moreover, some estimates say that local water use might contribute 9 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year.[14]

Technology That Does Not Count

The events surrounding the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi were significant not only for my own understanding of local sustainability perceptions and prospects for Nordic clean tech start-ups in the Gulf, but also for a major player in the international energy business—Norwegian Statoil[15]. During the summit in 2017, Statoil signed a cooperation agreement with Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, over renewable energy development in Scotland. Hywind Scotland was to be the world’s first commercial-scale floating wind farm off the coast of Aberdeen. At the summit in 2018, they announced extension of their cooperation at Hywind.

Masdar and Statoil’s strategic partnership to pursue joint offshore wind projects was a success story for both companies and a significant step for these two oil economies in terms of diversifying energy resources. However, business in the renewable energy sector was not what Statoil primarily had hoped for when entering the UAE in 2010. At that time, Norwegian offshore technology was estimated to be 60 per cent less carbon intensive than the world average, and Statoil strongly believed their technological competence was a significant factor that gave them a competitive advantage. However, in 2018 when ADNOC[16] offered six oil and gas concessions for bidding, the first time ever offering major onshore and offshore blocks in a competitive round, Statoil was not among the companies to enter into agreements that would grant business development in the Abu Dhabi oil and gas sector for the next 40 years. Of note here is that Abu Dhabi has about 6 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves, containing multiple billions of barrels of oil and multiple trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

If Statoil’s technology can extract more oil in a more “environmentally friendly” way, if they can deploy carbon capture and storage to prevent carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, and use electric instead of gas turbines, why did their proven environmental technologies not open the door to a country that has one of the highest levels per capita of CO2 emissions in the world? Speculation in the Nordic business milieu was intense. Some agreed with Statoil’s explanation about UAE’s focus on commercial aspects rather than technological areas; some believed that Statoil’s technology was too advanced for the region; and others felt that ADNOC wanted to keep the business for themselves. The majority, however, speculated that important relationships were not properly considered: the UAE is known not only as an oil economy but also as a relational economy, where relationships come before business.

First Conclusions

After 25 visits to Nordic companies in the UAE and Bahrain during 2016 and 2018 as part of my research to understand how they succeed in entering the emerging smart tech and energy market in the Gulf, I have come to realize that managing relations and negotiating understandings of sustainability and models of development towards a greener economy is a core issue.

As Gunnel[17] observes, the imagined infinity of wealth in the region risks engendering the illusion that it is possible to revive the desert and construct water infrastructure as necessary through a seemingly ever-expanding oil economy. However, oil extraction is itself a water-intensive process, and as oil resources are decreasing more water is used in oil production processes, which in turn produces waste water that needs to be cleaned. Local narratives about a transformed, sustainable desert seem to be detached from the fossil fuel optimism that made these transformations possible.

Insights into the cases of Start-up and Statoil show that technological solutions alone cannot deal with resource scarcity, be it of water or oil, as long as there are divergent perceptions of sustainability and a refusal to believe in the limitations of ecosystems.

If we are to move further on smart energy business development, it is vital that we develop a better understanding of how sociocultural and political factors influence the use of energy resources, of how perceptions of sustainability are negotiated and reinterpreted, and of how such factors shape the ways in which oil economies articulate and act upon sustainability problems. Research aimed at adapting current energy technologies into more sustainable ones requires to bridge the gap between social sciences and technology, and to show the links between contemporary cultures, technologies, and economic actions.



[1] Social anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Business, Management and Economics at the University of Latvia. Applied research project “Smart Energy in Intercultural Contexts: Nordic and Middle East Business Interactions in the Name of Sustainability” carried out in cooperation with the University of Bergen (Norway) and Nordic Innovation Hub (UAE), funded by the ERDF. Special thanks for critical comments to Dr.Mari Luomi.

[2] Abdel Raouf M., Luomi M.2016. Introduction. The Green Economy in the Gulf. Routledge. London, New York.

[3] Gulf Cooperation Council

[4] Ca 72 billion EUR

[5] Al Maktum, M.B.R 2017:149. Reflections on Happiness & Positivity. Explorer Publishing. Dubai.



[8] Al Maktum, M.B.R 2017. Reflections on Happiness & Positivity. Explorer Publishing. Dubai.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Gunel G. 2016. The Infinity of Water: Climate Change Adaptation in the Arabian Peninsula. Public Culture 28:2. Duke University Press.

[11] Gunel 2016 (ibid.); Ahmed M., Al-Jabri A., Choudri B.S. 2016. Green challenges and some technological solutions in the water sector of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. In Abdel Raouf M., Luomi M.2016. Introduction. The Green Economy in the Gulf. Routledge. London, New York.

[12] Gunel 2016 (ibid.).

[13] Ibid.

[14] The Abu Dhabi Water Resources Master Plan (2009), Gunel 2016.

[15] As from May 2018 Equinor.

[16] Abu Dhabi National Oil Company

[17] Gunel G. 2016. The Infinity of Water: Climate Change Adaptation in the Arabian Peninsula. Public Culture 28:2. Duke University Press.