Special Issue Energy Research & Social Science


David Ockwell, Rob Byrne, Ulrich Elmer Hansen, James Haselip, Ivan Nygaard, The uptake and diffusion of solar power in Africa: Socio-cultural and political insights on a rapidly emerging socio-technical transition, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 44, 2018, Pages 122-129, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.04.033.


Abstract: This special issue focusses on the now rapidly growing solar photovoltaics markets across various geographies and scales in Africa. Herein we summarise the contributions of the component papers and position them within the context of the sustainable energy access literature. We argue that there is an urgent need for greater attention to the neglected socio-cultural and political dimensions of sustainable energy access, dimensions that are vital to understand if ambitious global commitments to sustainable energy for all by 2030 are to be achieved. Included in this special issue are papers on the systemic and socio-technical nature of energy access transitions; their politics and political economy; gendered dimensions; critiques of their technologically determinist framing and the implications for marginalising local actors; and, perhaps for the first time in the energy access literature, application of social practice perspectives to the energy access challenge. The result is a diverse range of empirically-grounded, theoretically and methodologically novel approaches, providing new insights into and understandings of the neglected socio-cultural and political dimensions of sustainable energy access.

Keywords: Sustainable energy access; Solar PV; Socio-cultural; Political

Innovation systems thinking

Ulrich Elmer Hansen, Cecilia Gregersen, Rasmus Lema, Dominic Samoita, Faith Wandera, Technological shape and size: A disaggregated perspective on sectoral innovation systems in renewable electrification pathways, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 42, 2018, Pages 13-22, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.02.012. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629618301816)

Abstract: The sectoral innovation system perspective has been developed as an analytical framework to analyse and understand innovation dynamics within and across various sectors. Most of the research conducted on sectoral innovation systems has focused on an aggregate-level analysis of entire sectors. This paper argues that a disaggregated (sub-sectoral) focus is more suited to policy-oriented work on the development and diffusion of renewable energy, particularly in countries with rapidly developing energy systems and open technology choices. It focuses on size, distinguishing between small-scale (mini-grids) and large-scale (grid-connected) deployment paths in renewable energy. We explore how the development and diffusion of solar PV and wind technology evolve in these sub-sectoral systems. We find that innovation and diffusion dynamics differ more between small and large than between wind and solar. This has important analytical implications because the disaggregated perspective allows us to identify trajectories that cut across conventionally defined core technologies. This is important for ongoing discussions of electrification pathways in developing countries. We conclude the paper by distilling the implications of these findings in terms of the requirements and incentive mechanisms that shape different pathways.

Keywords: Sectoral innovation systems; Electrification pathways; Renewable energy; Kenya; Mini-grids; Diffusion; Solar PV; Wind energy

Mathilde Brix Pedersen, Ivan Nygaard, System building in the Kenyan electrification regime: The case of private solar mini-grid development, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 42, 2018, Pages 211-223, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.03.010. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629618302731)

Abstract: Given the growing interest in the ability of the private sector to contribute to the goal of providing universal access to energy in developing countries, this study sets out to investigate the practices and business approaches of private actors in the emerging niche of private mini-grid development in Kenya. The paper’s analytical focus is on how niche actors are influencing and creating change in the incumbent electrification regime of grid extension to strengthen and expand the niche for private mini-grids. The analysis shows that, in addition to internal niche processes like the alignment of expectations, learning and network building, niche actors actively engage in various forms of institutional work. The greatest emphasis here is on regulatory institutional work in order to influence legal and economic frameworks, but niche actors also engage in cognitive institutional work to enhance acceptance of the niche technology by constructing a shared world view between niche and regime actors. Interestingly, niche actors also engage in normative work to establish positive normative associations with the private-sector model, like equity and social justice. The research concludes that in this case institutional work is collective work drawing on different mandates and relying on different skills and resources.

Keywords: Institutional work; Solar PV; Mini-grid niche; System building; Kenya

Social practice perspectives

Festus Boamah, Eberhard Rothfuß, From technical innovations towards social practices and socio-technical transition? Re-thinking the transition to decentralised solar PV electrification in Africa, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 42, 2018, Pages 1-10, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.02.019.


Abstract: Technical innovations feature prominently in the current ‘energy transition’ debate in Africa but societal adaptation issues seldom receive a thorough airing. The mediating role of ‘societal conditionings’ in the adaptation to new energy technologies and the outcomes of such energy-society interrelations can offer some important insights. A study in Ghana shows a recent enthusiasm for Solar Home Systems (SHS) as power back-ups in residential facilities due to high/convoluted tariffs, perceived corruption and inefficiencies in the state-driven/centralised provision of electricity. A new class of “energy-elites” whose livelihoods and lifestyles require uninterrupted access to electricity sought to gain some autonomy in electricity provision and consumption by investing in power storage devices (e.g. power inverters and batteries) or fuel-powered Generator-Sets for use during unexpected frequent power outages. These infrastructures supported self-organised electrification initiatives only on ad hoc basis but SHS provided avenues to sustain that societal quest for autonomy. Achieving this autonomy, nonetheless, required SHS users to restrict their practices to energy services easily enabled by SHS alone, or adjust social practices according to the extent to which they intended to depend on the state-driven provision of electricity. The vision of energy autonomy and resultant societal practices are indeed realised through the use of SHS technology; the overarching driving force is the dynamics of energy-society interrelations. We therefore hypothesize that the adaptation to decentralised solar PV systems in Africa cannot be reduced solely to technical innovations nor even financial considerations but is instead dependent on how these factors intersect with social practices, the quality of the state’s electricity services, etc. to shape societal energy visions.

Keywords: Solar home systems; Socio-technical transitions; Social practices; Energy transition; Energy visions; Ghana

Kirsten Ulsrud, Harald Rohracher, Tanja Winther, Charles Muchunku, Debajit Palit, Pathways to electricity for all: What makes village-scale solar power successful?, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 44, 2018, Pages 32-40, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.04.027. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221462961830389X)

Abstract: This article presents new empirical research on what it takes to provide enduring access to affordable, reliable and useful electricity services for all. We analyze and synthesize the long-term experiences with three different systems for village-scale solar power supply in India, Senegal and Kenya. Since this scale of electricity provision forms part of village infrastructure, it requires particular types of knowledge, policies and support mechanisms. This research therefore investigates how village-scale solar systems can be designed, implemented, sustained and replicated in ways that make them accessible and useful for the community members. Drawing on a socio-technical and practice-oriented approach, we show that the electricity system’s degree of adaptedness to its social context affects many important qualities of the system such as the relevance of the available electricity services for the people, the system’s operational and economic sustainability and the potential for replication. Achieving such adaptation notably requires a flexible approach on the part of implementers, funders and local actors before, during and after implementation. We also show the need for institutionalization of decentralized electricity provision, discuss the current ambiguities in policies, regulations and funding mechanisms for village-scale solar power, and provide recommendations to policy makers and donors.

Keywords: Village-scale solar power; Solar mini-grids; Economic sustainability; Affordable electricity access

Tanja Winther, Kirsten Ulsrud, Anjali Saini, Solar powered electricity access: Implications for women’s empowerment in rural Kenya, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 44, 2018, Pages 61-74, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.04.017.


Abstract: This paper examines the gendered implications of various types of electricity access in rural Kenya spanning from the central grid to solar-based systems such as community projects, village scale supply and private solar home systems (SHS). Drawing on material collected in Homa Bay and Kitui counties in 2016, the paper examines the gendered set-up, organisation and effects of solarpowered electricity access as compared with the central grid. The paper employs a framework for analysing women’s empowerment through electrification, which draws on Kabeer, Friedman as well as anthropology, socio-technical system theory and practice theory. The results show that people tend to cherish solar-based solutions whereas the grid is perceived to be costly, unreliable and unavailable. As to the gendered organisation of supply, men dominate within the grid, mini-grids and private suppliers, leaving an important potential for women’s empowerment untapped. Two community projects included women’s ‘hands-on’ participation and spurred local discourses about women’s capabilities. Access is also gendered on the user side. Because men tend to own the houses, have a higher income and a moral right to make major decisions, fixed connections and high subscription fees provide women with less agency than what is the case in decentralised systems of supply.

Keywords: Gender relations; Agency; Electricity access; Women’s empowerment

Simon Batchelor, Ed Brown, Jon Leary, Nigel Scott, Alfie Alsop, Matthew Leach, Solar electric cooking in Africa: Where will the transition happen first?, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 40, 2018, Pages 257-272, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.01.019. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629618301087)

Abstract: Whilst the rapid spread of solar photovoltaics (PV) across Africa has already transformed millions of lives, it has yet to have an impact on the main energy need of poor households: cooking. In the context of falling global PV prices, recent advancements in battery technology and rising charcoal/fuelwood prices in severely deforested regions, the door is opening for a potentially transformative alternative – solar electric cooking (PV-eCook). While initial investigations focused on solar home systems sized for cooking (cooking device, battery storage, charge controller and PV array), it has since been shown that battery-supported electric cooking (eCook) can also strengthen national, mini, micro and nano grids. This paper presents a multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) based methodology, accounting for a wide variety of socio-cultural, political, technical and economic factors which are expected to affect the uptake and potential impact of eCook across a variety of African contexts. It shows the concept has considerable viability in many African countries, that there are significant sizeable markets (millions of potential users), and that within the next five years the anticipated costs of eCook are highly competitive against existing ‘commercialised polluting fuels’.

Keywords: Solar; Photovoltaic; Sub Saharan Africa; eCook

Iwona Bisaga, Priti Parikh, To climb or not to climb? Investigating energy use behaviour among Solar Home System adopters through energy ladder and social practice lens, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 44, 2018, Pages 293-303, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.05.019. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629618304961)

Abstract: Solar Home Systems (SHSs) and other off-grid solutions have shown promise in addressing the energy access gap for those with no or unreliable grid services. With that promise comes the expectation to boost socio-economic well-being of newly-connected households, who will continue climbing up the energy ladder. Despite the growing appreciation for the need to go beyond the techno-economics of energy access, and the recognition of the value of socio-technical systems perspective, the wider sociology of energy consumption and behaviour among adopters of off-grid solar solutions has been poorly explored. In this paper, we apply the Social Practice Theory (SPT) and the energy and solar energy ladder framework to analyse energy consumption and the changing social practices of SHSs users in Rwanda. We find that social practices change dynamically and depend on available appliances, whereas energy consumption follows a complex path but does not increase in a linear manner with time or more appliances. Insights can prove useful for public and private agencies working on off-grid electrification, offering a new perspective on the energy and solar energy ladder concepts while also showing the importance of social aspects of energy access even at relatively low levels of provision currently offered by SHSs.

Keywords: Solar Home Systems; Social practice theory; Solar energy ladder; Rwanda

Politics and political economy

Judit Rodríguez-Manotas, Padmasai Lakshmi Bhamidipati, James Haselip, Getting on the ground: Exploring the determinants of utility-scale solar PV in Rwanda, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 42, 2018, Pages 70-79, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.03.007. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629618302305)

Abstract: Solar PV is gaining ground in low and middle-income countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where a change from donor to more market-driven investments has been observed. This article contributes to energy transition research in low-income countries, taking Rwanda as a case study and focusing on the factors that determined the implementation of what was the largest on-grid solar project, upon completion in 2014. The multi-level perspective (MLP) is used to structure our analysis of the various socio-technical levels, and their interaction, to better understand the conditions that are enabling this transition. Our analysis reveals the central importance of bureaucratic and regulatory support for investment in low-carbon energy technologies, within a political economy influenced by processes of neo-liberalisation, while creating significant space for private contract negotiation. In particular, the provision of legal and financial guarantees was crucial to reduce risk for foreign capital investment, revealing contradictory forces that both promoted market rule, while limiting private capital’s exposure to competitive pressures. We also focus our analysis on the aspect of control and driving forces, in particular the role of development partners and private sector project champions.

Keywords: Energy transition; Multi-level perspective; Rwanda; Solar PV

Rob Byrne, Kennedy Mbeva, David Ockwell, A political economy of niche-building: Neoliberal-developmental encounters in photovoltaic electrification in Kenya, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 44, 2018, Pages 6-16, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.03.028. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629618303189)

Abstract: International agreements on energy access and climate change, formulated according to neoliberal orthodoxy, will drive significant finance to developing countries for clean technology investments. But critics call for more active state intervention – a developmental approach – arguing that free markets alone will not deliver what is required. This creates the potential for confrontation between contradictory ideologies in national policymaking and implementation: neoliberalism in global agreements versus developmentalism in national policy. The Kenyan photovoltaics (PV) market has long-experienced neoliberal-developmental policy interactions, reflecting on which can illuminate how such encounters might unfold in the future. We construct a new ‘niche political economy’ theoretical framework to analyse these past interactions, constituting one of three contributions we offer. The second is empirical, showing how PV practitioners, national policymakers and global development actors have negotiated their policymaking encounters over time. Our third contribution offers reflections on the issues explored, discussing what this might mean for future neoliberal-developmental encounters. We find that action on the ground will emerge from messy negotiated interactions between competing ideologies rather than be determined by powerful neoliberal actors. As such, realising global energy and climate ambitions becomes even more uncertain unless long-term active niche-building resources are secured in international agreements.

Keywords: Political economy; Strategic niche management; Sustainable energy access; Kenya

Critical perspectives on the framing of energy access

Jamie Cross, Declan Murray, The afterlives of solar power: Waste and repair off the grid in Kenya, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 44, 2018, Pages 100-109, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.04.034. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629618304055)

Abstract: One neglected socio-cultural and political dimension to the rapid diffusion of solar power in Sub-Saharan Africa is the question of what happens when things fall apart. Investors in the small-scale renewable energy sector are increasingly concerned with the status of broken or non-functioning products and there is an emerging consensus around the need for centralised recycling systems as the solution to future flows of ‘solar waste’. But what does the afterlife of off-grid solar products look like from below? Grounded in anthropology, geography and economic sociology, this paper tracks the impact of off grid solar products through contexts of breakdown, repair, and disposal. Combining stakeholder interviews, a longitudinal survey of product failure rates in Kenya and ethnographic research at a repair workshop in the town of Bomet, we challenge narratives of energy transitions that fail to address the environmental consequences of mass consumption and present an alternative approach to solar waste embedded in cultures and economies of repair.

Keywords: Solar; Waste; Repair; Off-grid; Kenya; Sub Saharan Africa

Gillian Davies, Clean energy product markets in sub-Saharan Africa: Complex market devices and power asymmetries, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 42, 2018, Pages 80-89, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.03.009. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629618302494)

Abstract: Low levels of access to modern energy services in sub-Saharan Africa combined with increasing awareness of climate change have made domestic-scale sustainable energy products, such as solar lanterns and improved efficiency cookstoves, popular within international development programmes. Following the turn towards private sector approaches to deliver basic services in the global South, many organisations of different types are trying to establish market infrastructure for these energy products to reach the ‘consumers’ they are designed for. This paper examines certain socio-technical arrangements within these market systems and identifies areas where they can inadvertently reinforce inequalities along the value chain, even if consumers are finally reached. Responding to Çalişkan and Callon’s call for more research into marketisation processes and drawing on the concept of ‘market devices’, the paper identifies three market devices as case studies: warranties, carbon credit frameworks and product standardisation tools with related certification schemes. Discussion of these devices is informed by ethnographic research in Kenya, Uganda and Malawi.

Keywords: Sustainable energy; Energy access; Solar lanterns; Improved efficiency cookstoves; Market-based approaches; Marketisation; Market devices; Black boxes

Hilton R. Simmet, “Lighting a dark continent”: Imaginaries of energy transition in Senegal, Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 40, 2018, Pages 71-81, ISSN 2214-6296, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2017.11.022. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629617304371)

Abstract: Electrification is increasingly proposed as a solution to the problem of Africa’s development. International organizations hope to light ‘a dark continent’, converting solar panels and global investment into jobs and thereby aiding Africa’s emergence into the global economy. Such straightforward expectations, however, are at odds with longstanding research in Science and Technology Studies (STS) and on-the-ground realities. This article examines the proposed energy transition in Senegal, drawing on over eight months of ethnographic observation at three sites: an energy conference in Dakar; the National Ecovillage Agency (ANEV), a body implementing the national energy project; and an energy development NGO designing alternative solutions for Africa’s poor. Using the STS concept of sociotechnical imaginaries, this article highlights two visions of the transition: an internationalist discourse in which technologies like solar panels, supported by foreign aid, are expected to transform society; and a locally embedded approach in which social conditions determine desirable futures, assisted by technology. The former is shown to create dependence on the universalist imaginaries of the industrial world, while the latter is reduced to a scramble for development projects and funding. Africa’s emergence, I argue, requires greater attentiveness to social and political institution building than to kW-hours and foreign dollars.

Keywords: African energy transition; Electrification; Sociotechnical imaginaries; STS

New book announcement: Energy, Resource Extraction and Society: Impacts and Contested Futures, 1st Edition

In this edited collection, we are trying to revisit the traditional notions of energy impacts and reconnect resource extraction and energy to society, democracy and justice:

“Energy impacts are often reduced to the narrow configurations of greenhouse gas emissions, chemical spills or land use changes. However, this neglects the fact that the way we produce, distribute and consume energy shapes society, political institutions and culture.

The authors trace the impacts of contemporary energy and resource extraction developments and explain their significance for the shaping of powerful social imaginaries and a reconfiguration of political and democratic systems. They analyse not only the complex histories and landscapes of industrial mining and energy development, including oil, coal, wind power, gas (fracking) and electrification, but also their significance for contested energy and social futures. Based on ethnographic and interdisciplinary research from around the world, including case studies from Australia, Germany, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Turkey, UK and USA, they document the effects on local communities and how these are often transformed into citizen engagement, protest and resistance. This sheds new light on the relationship between energy and power, reflecting a wide array of pertinent impacts beyond the usual considerations of economic efficiency and energy security.”

Find out more here: https://www.routledge.com/Energy-Resource-Extraction-and-Society-Impacts-and-Contested-Futures/Szolucha/p/book/9780815380153

Working for Oil Comparative Social Histories of Labor in the Global Oil Industry

Atabaki, Touraj, Bini, Elisabetta, Ehsani, Kaveh (Eds.). 2018. Working for Oil. Comparative Social Histories of Labor in the Global Oil Industry, Palgrave McMillan.

This volume examines the social history of oil workers and investigates how labor relations have shaped the global oil industry during the twentieth century and today. It brings together the work of scholars from a range of disciplines, approaching the social, political, economic and cultural dimensions of oil. The contributors analyze a number of key oil producing regions, including the Americas, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Europe and Africa.

About the editors: Touraj Atabaki is Senior Researcher at the International Institute of Social History at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science. He also holds the chair of the Social History of the Middle East and Central Asia at the School of the Middle East Studies of the Leiden University, The Netherlands.
Elisabetta Bini is Resarch Fellow at the University of Trieste, Italy. Her current research revolves around the history of international oil politics, in particular in the ways in which oil politics shaped relations between North Africa, Western Europe, and the United States after World War Two.
Kaveh Ehsani is Assistant Porfessor of International Studies at DePaul University, USA. His fields of interest include urban geography, critical social theory, and the political economy of development projects and their social and environmental repercussions. He is a regular media commentator and analyst on Iranian politics.


Power struggles: Dignity, value and the renewable energy frontier in Spain

Power struggles: Dignity, value and the renewable energy frontier in Spain

by Jaume Franquesa

Indiana University Pres, 2018

Wind energy is often portrayed as a panacea for the environmental and political ills brought on by an overreliance on fossil fuels, but this characterization may ignore the impact wind farms have on the regions that host them. Power Struggles investigates the uneven allocation of risks and benefits in the relationship between the regions that produce this energy and those that consume it.

Jaume Franquesa considers Spain, a country where wind now constitutes the main source of energy production. In particular, he looks at the Southern Catalonia region, which has traditionally been a source of energy production through nuclear reactors, dams, oil refineries, and gas and electrical lines. Despite providing energy that runs the country, the region is still forced to the political and economic periphery as the power they produce is controlled by centralized, international Spanish corporations. Local resistance to wind farm installation in Southern Catalonia relies on the notion of dignity: the ability to live within one’s means and according to one’s own decisions. Power Struggles shows how, without careful attention, renewable energy production can reinforce patterns of exploitation even as it promises a fair and hopeful future.


New book – Frac Sand Mining and the Struggle for Community (Thomas W. Pearson)

When the Hills Are Gone

Frac Sand Mining and the Struggle for Community

Thomas W. Pearson

An overlooked part of fracking’s environmental impact becomes a window into the activists and industrial interests fighting for the future of energy production—and the fate of rural communities

When the Hills Are Gone tells the story of Wisconsin’s sand mining wars. Providing on-the-ground accounts from both the mining industry and the concerned citizens who fought back, Thomas W. Pearson blends social theory, ethnography, stirring journalism, and his own passionate point of view to offer an essential chapter of Wisconsin’s history and an important episode in the national environmental movement.

Fracking is one of the most controversial methods of fossil fuel extraction in the United States, but a great deal about it remains out of the public eye. In Wisconsin it has ignited an unprecedented explosion in the state’s sand mining operations, an essential ingredient in hydraulic fracturing that has shaken local communities to the core.

In When the Hills Are Gone, Thomas W. Pearson reveals the jolting impact of sand mining on Wisconsin’s environment and politics. A source of extraordinary wealth for a lucky few, and the cause of despoiled land for many others, sand mining has raised alarm over air quality, water purity, noise, blasting, depressed tourism, and damage to the local way of life. It has also spurred a backlash in a grassroots effort that has grown into a mature political movement battling a powerful mining industry.

When the Hills Are Gone tells the story of Wisconsin’s sand mining wars. Providing on-the-ground accounts from both the mining industry and the concerned citizens who fought back, Pearson blends social theory, ethnography, stirring journalism, and his own passionate point of view to offer an essential chapter of Wisconsin’s history and an important episode in the national environmental movement. Digging deep into the struggles over place, community, and local democracy that are occurring across the United States, When the Hills Are Gone gives vital insight into America’s environmental battles along the unexpected frontlines of energy development.

Introduction: Magic Mineral
1. Save Our Hills
2. Low-Hanging Fruit
3. Dangers Unseen
4. Where You Live
5. Neighbors
6. In Pursuit of Local Democracy
7. Confronting the Next Boom


Thomas W. Pearson is associate professor of anthropology and assistant director of the Honors College at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. His research has been published in American Anthropologist, Cultural Anthropology, American Ethnologist, Human Organization, and other academic journals. He lives in Menomonie, Wisconsin.


Editor’s webpage: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/when-the-hills-are-gone

New book: Mise à l’épreuve des pratiques sociales : la recherche appliquée chez EDF

Isabelle Garabuau-Moussaoui, Magali Pierre (dir.), Pratiques sociales et usages de l’énergie, Paris, Lavoisier, Editions Tec & Doc, coll. « Socio-économie de l’énergie », 2016, 253 p., ISBN : 978-2-7430-2021-7.

Des crises pétrolières à la loi de transition énergétique, en passant par les différents événements nationaux et mondiaux concernant l’environnement et l’énergie, différents acteurs ont appelé à un changement de comportements des utilisateurs finaux d’énergie, appuyés par des analyses de l’homo oeconomicus (agent mu par sa rationalité économique) et de l’homo ecologicus (agent mu par ses valeurs environnementales). Cette démarche, qui n’a pas porté tous les fruits attendus, considère les comportements comme points d’aboutissement des politiques publiques, des dispositifs techniques ou des offres.

Cet ouvrage propose de renverser cette perspective. Posant les pratiques sociales comme point de départ, notre démarche consiste à appréhender leur diversité et leur ancrage quotidien et à saisir leurs logiques propres, pour analyser ensuite comment les outils et dispositifs sont mobilisés dans ces pratiques.

Dans un premier temps, les pratiques sociales et activités qui produisent une consommation d’énergie sont étudiées, afin de montrer comment les usagers jouent avec les systèmes, les équipements, les expérimentations, les catégories, les prescriptions. Dans un second temps, l’analyse se décale vers les acteurs intermédiaires, afin de prendre en compte les dispositifs socio-techniques, les acteurs et les instruments. C’est ainsi le « façonnement social » des technologies et la « fabrique des pratiques » qui sont explorés. Enfin, le rapport entre normes et pratiques (imbrication ou décalage) est examiné, en s’attachant aux discours portés par les ménages et les médias sur les consommations d’énergie et en analysant ce que chacun en raconte, dans ses actes langagiers.

Les contributions alternent entre restitutions d’enquêtes empiriques originales et travaux de synthèse faisant le point sur une notion. L’acteur de terrain comme le chercheur académique et l’étudiant pourront ainsi tirer profit de plusieurs niveaux de lecture correspondant à des formats de papier qui se complètent.

Introduction générale
Isabelle Garabuau- Moussaoui et Magali Pierre


Le consommateur- producteur d’énergie : des pratiques énergétiques en transition
Véronique Beillan

Acheter un appareil électroménager efficace
Caroline Escoffier

L’engagement dans une expérimentation d’effacement : des attitudes aux projets énergétiques des ménages
Cécile Caron et Mathieu Durand- Daubin

Précaires en milieu rural : quelles pratiques énergétiques ?
Dominique Le Roux

Expérimenter le véhicule hybride rechargeable dans la durée. Décrire et expliquer une nouvelle pratique sociale
Magali Pierre

Pratiques quotidiennes et rapport à la performance énergétique dans les bâtiments du secteur tertiaire : comment les occupants vivent au quotidien, entre figure de l’usager, du salarié et du consommateur- citoyen
Isabelle Garabuau- Moussaoui


L’approche « par les instruments » des politiques visant influencer les pratiques énergétiques. Points de repère et perspectives pour les sciences sociales de l’énergie
Arthur Jobert

Dépenses énergétiques des ménages en Europe
Rachel Guyet, Ferenc Fodor et Dominique Le Roux

La « mise en société » du compteur d’électricité communicant Linky.
Enseignements sociologiques de la trajectoire d’innovation d’un outil de régulation économique
Aude Danieli

Travailler dans une école « zéro énergie » : pratiques sociales, enjeux professionnels et impacts sur la pédagogie
Isabelle Garabuau- Moussaoui

La maîtrise de l’énergie vue comme la conception d’une situation durable (appropriée et efficace) : apports de l’analyse ergonomique des activités domestiques
Myriam Fréjus

Les véhicules électriques, des démonstrateurs au prisme d’approches multidisciplinaires
Thierry Brincourt et Magali Pierre


La question énergétique : entre pratiques sociales et problème public. Un exemple en région Provence- Alpes- Côte d’Azur (PACA)
Jérémy Bouillet

Liens entre attitudes à l’égard des économies d’énergie et valeurs
Béatrice Hammer et Monique Wach

Discours émergents et élaboration de nouvelles normes sociales : la médiatisation de la consommation durable
Ferenc Fodor et Patrick Couton- Wyporek

Le chaud et le froid des politiques énergétiques : des usages de la climatisation à leur prévention
Sophie Bouly de Lesdain

L’effet de la crise sur les ménages : Représentations, perceptions et pratiques
Christiane Legris – Desportes et Nina Testut

Faire preuve de discernement à propos des économies d’énergie : un nouvel énoncé des ménages/citoyens
Mathieu Brugidou

Températures du séjour en hiver : entre idéal et préconisations
Jérôme Cubillé


Les pratiques sociales à l’appui de la prospective énergétique ?
Catherine Kasbi

Le besoin d’une connaissance en sciences humaines et sociales sur l’énergie sans cesse renouvelé
Karine Berthonnet

New book : Fueling Culture – 101 Words for Energy and Environment

Keywords to understand the impact of fossil fuels on contemporary culture and politics


Fueling Culture

101 Words for Energy and Environment

Edited by Imre Szeman, Jennifer Wenzel, and Patricia Yaeger (2017)

A Fordham University Press Publication


How has our relation to energy changed over time? What differences do particular energy sources make to human values, politics, and imagination? How have transitions from one energy source to another–from wood to coal, or from oil to solar to whatever comes next–transformed culture and society? What are the implications of uneven access to energy in the past, present, and future? Which concepts and theories clarify our relation to energy, and which just get in the way? Fueling Culture offers a compendium of keywords written by scholars and practitioners from around the world and across the humanities and social sciences. These keywords offer new ways of thinking about energy as both the source and the limit of how we inhabit culture, with the aim of opening up new ways of understanding the seemingly irresolvable contradictions of dependence upon unsustainable energy forms.
Fueling Culture brings together writing that is risk-taking and interdisciplinary, drawing on insights from literary and cultural studies, environmental history and ecocriticism, political economy and political ecology, postcolonial and globalization studies, and materialisms old and new

Keywords in this volume include: Aboriginal, Accumulation, Addiction, Affect, America, Animal, Anthropocene, Architecture, Arctic, Automobile, Boom, Canada, Catastrophe, Change, Charcoal, China, Coal, Community, Corporation, Crisis, Dams, Demand, Detritus, Disaster, Ecology, Electricity, Embodiment, Ethics, Evolution, Exhaust, Fallout, Fiction, Fracking, Future, Gender, Green, Grids, Guilt, Identity, Image, Infrastructure, Innervation, Kerosene, Lebenskraft, Limits, Media, Metabolism, Middle East, Nature, Necessity, Networks, Nigeria, Nuclear, Petroviolence, Photography, Pipelines, Plastics, Renewable, Resilience, Risk, Roads, Rubber, Rural, Russia, Servers, Shame, Solar, Spill, Spiritual, Statistics, Surveillance, Sustainability, Tallow, Texas, Textiles, Utopia, Venezuela, Whaling, Wood, Work


Author Information

Imre Szeman is Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English, Film Studies and Sociology at the University of Alberta.

Jennifer Wenzel is Associate Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University.

Patricia Yaeger was Henry Simmons Frieze Collegiate Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.



Alan Ackerman, Philip Aghoghovwia, Daniel Anderson, Claudia Aradau, Chris Arsenault, Lynn Badia, Joaquin Bandera, Georgiana Banita, Daniel Barber, Darin Barney, Crystal Bartolovich, Bart Beaty, Brent Bellamy, Franco Berardi, Amanda Boetzkes, Dominic Boyer, Ian Buchanan, Frederick Buell, Graham Burnett, Gerry Canavan, Warren Cariou, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Sharad Chari, Juan Cole, Claire Mary Colebrook, Patricia Corcoran, Ashley Dawson, Jeff Diamanti, Adam Dickinson, Arif Dirlik, Kit Dobson, Sara Dorow, Abbey Dubin, Todd Dufresne, Danine Farquharson, Matthew Flisfeder, Anna Galkina, Louise Green, Lindsey Green-Simms, Susie Hatmaker, Gay Hawkins, Lisa Haynes, Gabrielle Hecht, Peter Hitchcock, Werner Hofer, Mél Hogan, Cymene Howe, Carren Irr, Kelly Jazvac, Bob Johnson, Antonia Juhasz, Tim Kaposy, Ed Kashi, Donald Kingsbury, Alice Kuzniar, Philipp Lehmann, Stephanie LeMenager, Ernst Logar, Andrew Loman, Graeme MacDonald, Joseph Masco, Lee Medovoi, Toby Miller, Mika Minio-Paluello, Jason Moore, Spencer Morrison, Timothy Morton, Erin Morton, Vin Nardizzi, Michael Niblett, Rob Nixon, Susie O’Brien, Lisa Parks, Donald E. Pease, Andrew Pendakis, Alexei Penzin, Karen Pinkus, Fiona Polack, Pedro Reyes, Kirsty Robertson, Rafico Ruiz, Robert Ryder, Deena Rymhs, Anna Sajecki, Gordon Sayre, Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Laurie Shannon, Elizabeth Shove, Stevphen Shukaitis, Lisa Sideris, Mark Simpson, John Soluri, Vivasvan Soni, Janet Stewart, Allan Stoekl, Imre Szeman, Geo Takach, Noah Toly, Susan Turcot, Priscilla Wald, Gordon Walker, Michael Watts, Viviane Weitzner, Jennifer Wenzel, Sheena Wilson, Daniel Worden, Amy Zhang, Joanna Zylinska

New book: Electrification as Political Ritual in New Delhi

A Moral Technology

Electrification as Political Ritual in New Delhi

by Leo Coleman
Cornell University Press


In India over the past century, electrification has meant many things: it has been a colonial gift of modern technology, a tool of national integration and political communication, and a means of gauging the country’s participation in globalization. Electric lights have marked out places of power, and massive infrastructures have been installed in hopes of realizing political promises. In A Moral Technology, the grids and wires of an urban public utility are revealed to be not only material goods but also objects of intense moral concern. Leo Coleman offers a distinctive anthropological approach to electrification in New Delhi as more than just an economic or industrial process, or a “gridding” of social and political relations. It may be understood instead as a ritual action that has formed modern urban communities and people’s sense of citizenship, and structured debates over state power and political legitimacy.

Coleman explores three historical and ethnographic case studies from the founding of New Delhi as an imperial capital city, to its reshaping as a national capital for post-independence India, up to its recent emergence as a contemporary global city. These case studies closely describe technological politics, rituals, and legal reforms at key moments of political change in India, and together they support Coleman’s argument that ritual performances, moral judgments, and technological installations combine to shape modern state power, civic life, and political community.

Introduction: Electricity Acts

Part I. Imperial Installations

1. The Machinery of Government

2. Ritual Center and Divided City

Part II. National Grids

3. The Lifeblood of the Nation

4. Broadcast Mantras

Part III. Urban Transformations

5. The Life of Property

6. A Model Colony Conclusion: The Art of a Free Society



New book : Energy Humanities

Energy Humanities – An Anthology




Energy humanities is a field of scholarship that, like medical and digital humanities before it, aims to overcome traditional boundaries between the disciplines and between academic and applied research. Responding to growing public concern about anthropogenic climate change and the unsustainability of the fuels we use to power our modern society, energy humanists highlight the essential contribution that humanistic insights and methods can make to areas of analysis once thought best left to the natural sciences.

In this groundbreaking anthology, Imre Szeman and Dominic Boyer have brought together a carefully curated selection of the best and most influential work in energy humanities. Arguing that today’s energy and environmental dilemmas are fundamentally problems of ethics, habits, imagination, values, institutions, belief, and power—all traditional areas of expertise of the humanities and humanistic social sciences—the essays and other pieces featured here demonstrate the scale and complexity of the issues the world faces. Their authors offer compelling possibilities for finding our way beyond our current energy dependencies toward a sustainable future.

Contributors include: Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Lesley Battler, Ursula Biemann, Dominic Boyer, Italo Calvino, Warren Cariou, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Una Chaudhuri, Claire Colebrook, Stephen Collis, Erik M. Conway, Amy De’Ath, Adam Dickinson, Fritz Ertl, Pope Francis, Amitav Ghosh, Gökçe Günel, Gabrielle Hecht, Cymene Howe, Dale Jamieson, Julia Kasdorf, Oliver Kellhammer, Stephanie LeMenager, Barry Lord, Graeme Macdonald, Joseph Masco, John McGrath, Martin McQuillan, Timothy Mitchell, Timothy Morton, Jean-François Mouhot, Abdul Rahman Munif, Judy Natal, Reza Negarestani, Pablo Neruda, David Nye, Naomi Oreskes, Andrew Pendakis, Karen Pinkus, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Hermann Scheer, Roy Scranton, Allan Stoekl, Imre Szeman, Laura Watts, Michael Watts, Jennifer Wenzel, Sheena Wilson, Patricia Yaeger, and Marina Zurkow


Link to Table of Contents (pdf)

New book: Fear and Fortune

Fear and Fortune — Spirit Worlds and Emerging Economies in the Mongolian Gold Rush

By Mette M. High
Cornell University Press, 09 May 2017, Ithaca, NY, United States

Mongolia over the last decade has seen a substantial and ongoing gold rush. The widespread mining of gold looks at first glance to be a blessing for a desperately poor and largely pastoralist country where people’s lives were disrupted by the end of the USSR and tens of millions of livestock were killed in devastating droughts in the early 2000s. Volatility and uncertainty as well as political and economic turmoil led many people to join the hopeful search for gold. This activity, born out of uncertain times, poses an intense moral problem; in the “land of dust,” disturbing the ground and extracting the precious metal is widely believed to have calamitous consequences. With gold retaining strong ties to the landscape and its many spirit beings, the fortune of the precious metal is inseparable from the fears that surround mining. Tracing the continuities and discontinuities between human and nonhuman worlds, Mette M. High follows the paths of gold as it is excavated and converted into “polluted money,” entering local shops and Buddhist monasteries, joining the illegal gold trade, and returning as “renewed” money for the “big bosses” of the gold mines.

High has done several years of fieldwork in Mongolia, spending time with the “ninjas,” as the miners are known locally, as well as the people who disapprove of their illegal activities and warn of the retribution that the land and its inhabitants may suffer as a result. This book is about radical change, or as many Mongolians put it, when life becomes “strange” and “chaotic.” High has gained a deep understanding of the processes by which Mongolians square a morally questionable activity with the lure of profit. How do they involve themselves with tainted sources of money, and can it ever be cleansed and made usable? Addressing how our lives and those of others are intimately intertwined, Fear and Fortune offers an expansive and capacious approach to understanding the high stakes involved in human economic life.

Introduction: Land of Fortune

1. The Burden of Patriarchy

2. The Power of Gold

3. Angered Spirits

4. Polluted Money

5. Wealth and Devotion

6. Trading Gold

“Energy without Conscience” : free course book (open access)

Energy without Conscience is now effectively a free course book.

Duke U Press has made a special deal to provide this book and a few others as open access.  In the spirit of Copy Left and Creative Commons, you may download and share the PDF from this link:



Author(s) Hughes, David McDermott
Publisher Duke University Press, Durham NC
Published 20170301
Subjects HumanitiesHistoryRegional and national history__History of the Americas
‘In Energy without Conscience’ David McDermott Hughes investigates why climate change has yet to be seen as a moral issue. He examines the forces that render the use of fossil fuels ordinary and therefore exempt from ethical evaluation. Hughes centers his analysis on Trinidad and Tobago, which is the world’s oldest petro-state, having drilled the first continuously producing oil well in 1866. Marrying historical research with interviews with Trinidadian petroleum scientists, policymakers, technicians, and managers, he draws parallels between Trinidad’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century slave labor energy economy and its contemporary oil industry. Hughes shows how both forms of energy rely upon a complicity that absolves producers and consumers from acknowledging the immoral nature of each. He passionately argues that like slavery, producing oil is a moral choice and that oil is at its most dangerous when it is accepted as an ordinary part of everyday life.


Keywords History
Language English
ISBN 9780822363064