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Cultures of Energy

Cultures of Energy brings writers, artists and scholars together to talk, think and feel their way into the Anthropocene. We cover serious issues like climate change, species extinction and energy transition. But we also try to confront seemingly huge and insurmountable problems with insight, creativity and laughter. We believe in the possibility of personal and cultural change. And we believe that the arts and humanities can help guide us toward a more sustainable future. Cultures of Energy is sponsored by Rice University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS, pronounced ‘sense’). Join the conversation on Twitter @cenhs and on the web at culturesofenergy.com
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Aug 9, 2018

Cymene and Dominic check in from Iceland on this week’s edition of the podcast and talk about the virtues of the Icelandic horse. Then (12:36) we welcome dear friend and horsexpert John Hartigan back to the podcast. We’ve come a long way since Episode 4 but it turns out John has been keeping pretty busy too. We start off with his new book, Care of the Species (U Minnesota Press, 2017) about human-maize relations and the science of plant biodiversity in Mexico and Spain. We talk about maize as an emblematic companion species as it both feeds and works humans on its own behalf, about John’s discovery that the concept of raza (race) was applied to non-humans long before humans, and what that implies for understanding the intersection of race and care today. This gets us to what nonhumans like sheep and cattle contributed to colonization, efforts to maintain plant biodiversity as a bulwark against the unknowns of climate change, the enduring power of taxonomical conceptions of species, plant sexuality under human care, and the modern tendency toward “plant blindness” in our relationship to the world. Finally, we do a lightning round of updates on John’s current suite of projects including an ethnography of the sociality of wild horses in Spain, a study of Peruvian bullfighting and a historical novel about the wreck of the Spanish armada in Ireland and the hidden cultural connection between Spain and Ireland that followed.

Aug 3, 2018

We start this week’s double episode on climate science and climate policy with ruminations on Trumpian arguments against fuel efficiency, Europe breaking its heat record, and what in retrospect were the breakthrough technological achievements of the 1970s—the Ronco inside the egg shell egg scrambler and the Popeil pocket fisherman. Then (14:04) we chat with star climate scientist Michael E. Mann. Mike brings us up to speed on the implications of the latest climate science and explains why the current attribution models connecting climate change to extreme weather events and sea level rise may be too conservative. We talk about the 20thanniversary of his famous “hockey stick” chart and how far we’ve come on climate adaptation since then. We turn from there to some of his recent projects branching out into new media ranging from his blog (http://michaelmann.net) to his much anticipated children’s book (The Tantrum that Saved the World)—a collaboration with author/illustrator Meg Herbert—and Mike tells us why he thinks scientists need to engage the public directly in an era of fragmented and often manipulated news media. We close by discussing why it’s so important to engage youth around climate issues and why We. All. Need. To. Vote. This. November. In our second segment (48:32) we check in with Soren Dudley and Johnathan Guy, two editors of an impressive brand new online magazine, The Trouble, which offers a forum for bringing together left political thinking and climate policy. Johnny and Soren explain why they think this intervention is so timely and necessary today, bringing together direct action spirit and wonky policy discussion. Please check out their excellent work at https://www.the-trouble.com, follow them @thetroublemag and, above all, send them love!

Jul 26, 2018

Your cohosts discuss what sensory technologies they might wish for their own home and the kind of multispecies encounters Cymene might have had in a Tegucigalpa red light district hotel (trigger warning: there be cockroach stories ahead!) Then (20:29) we chat with the multitalented Jennifer Gabrys from Goldsmiths (https://www.jennifergabrys.net), author most recently of Program Earth (U Minnesota Press, 2016), and her fascinating work on the spread of environmental sensing technologies and the impacts they are having on our worlds. Jennifer explains to us why she became taken with Whitehead’s concept of the “superject” as a different, more distributed and relational way of thinking about sensation and experience. That gets us to talking about nonhuman modes of sensing, what humans want from all these sensors, the problem of environmentality in smart city designs, computational urbanism, and why the figure of the idiot interests her in terms of thinking about models of digital participation. Jennifer explains how we can be for a world (and for other worlds) rather than simply of the world and why the etho-ecological is thus such an interesting domain for her.  In closing, we return to Jennifer’s pathbreaking work on digital waste and the need for electronic environmentalism and talk about the e-waste/energy nexus and the paradox of spending ever more energy to monitoring ourselves using more energy. Listen on!

Jul 19, 2018

Cymene and Dominic talk surprising energy trends and how to make news more fun with games. Then (15:05) we talk with the marvelous Christina Cogdell from UC-Davis about her fascinating soon-to-be-published book, Toward a Living Architecture? Complexism and Biology in Generative Design (U Minnesota Press, https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/toward-a-living-architecture). We talk about how her background studying eugenics in the 1930s informed her interest in the interplay of architecture, biology and computational science in the emergent field she calls, “generative design.” We discuss what the growing interest in using living materials for architectural purposes might have to do with climate change, the relationship between complexity theory and eugenicism, the porting of natural systems models across the human sciences and why some in generative architecture actually oppose notions of “sustainability.” We turn from there to topics like eugenic algorithms, the idea that complexity is the key to the universe and living building projects from arborsculpture to bioprinting to genmod kudzu cities and beyond. Will buildings and other architectural objects need veterinarians in the future? Is Lamarckism making a comeback in generative design? This and many other questions will be covered in this week’s episode. Listen on! PS And check out Christina and her students’ amazing product life cycle website at: http://www.designlife-cycle.com

Jul 12, 2018

Dominic and Cymene react to the new CENHS podcast studio and share a tale of robot sushi misadventure. Then (15:02) we welcome Leo Coleman (Hunter College) to the program and get right into his new book, A Moral Technology: Electrification as Political Ritual in New Delhi (Cornell U Press, 2017) and its exploration of the political and moral history of electricity in India since the early 20th century. We talk about how electricity unleashes the imagination of modern urban life, mundane uses vs. grand rituals of electrified power, and, apropos of the making of the postcolonial Indian state, Leo argues we need a more subtle understanding of Gandhi’s concerns about the ethical impact of electrification. We turn from there to what extent electricity reshaped India’s public sphere in the past, how the grid became an object of political concern, and whether the neoliberal era has brought new moralities of electricity to India. That brings us to the electronic and political dimensions of India’s new energy metering, biometric and surveillance projects. We close with Leo’s fascinating essay on the impact of electricity upon Durkheim’s thinking about morality and his new research on hydropower and equality in Scotland.

Jul 5, 2018

Dominic and Cymene indulge a little post-Pruitt glee on this week’s podcast and speculate about the possibility of six foot tall low carbon lava lamps in the future. Then (16:46) we are thrilled to be joined by star STS scholar and emergent anthropologist María Puig de la Bellacasa to talk about her celebrated new book, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds (U Minnesota Press, 2017). We start with the importance of care in feminist philosophy and how this work, alongside her own activist background, inspired this project. She asks us to consider how we can make knowledge that takes seriously a politics of care without giving ourselves over to the neoliberal commodification of care. And she asks how a commitment to speculative ethics can lead us to imagine and enact worlds different than the one we inhabit now. Later on, María tells us about what led her to quit philosophy and why appropriation might not actually be such a bad thing. Then we turn to her work with permaculturalists and soil scientists, what it was like to study with Starhawk, changing paradigms of soil ontology and ecology, what are alterbiopolitics, speculative ethics in a time of political crisis, and so much more.

Jun 29, 2018

Cymene and Dominic debate the Pet Rock as a capitalist or proto-new-materialist venture on this week’s episode of the podcast. Then (16:59) we welcome to the podcast multitalented environmental humanist and soon-to-be decanal superstar Jeffrey Jerome Cohen from Arizona State. With Jeffrey we talk about unsustainably hot desert cities as harbingers of the future and then quickly get to his fascinating book Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (U Minnesota Press, 2015) and its exploration of litho-human relationships both medieval and modern. Jeffrey explains how his work seeks to appreciate medieval ways of knowing. He argues that they might help us to reinvigorate our way of understanding the world today—not least by conceiving lithic materials as something more than inert resources—and improve our ethics of relationality with the more-than-human world. We talk about stones as transport devices in human storytelling and as archives of catastrophe, the Noah’s Ark trope, and fire as elemental force, human companion, and challenge to think with. We then turn to Jeffrey’s work on monsters, but mostly as a pretense to get him to tell us his Pixar lawsuit story. Finally we discuss his most recent book, Earth(Bloomsbury, 2017), co-authored with planetary geologist, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, and how we might imagine human life as part of planetary life more widely. Wondering why monsters and aliens are green? Listen on!

Jun 21, 2018

On this week’s podcast, in honor of the summer solstice we bring to you another edition of Soylent Rainbow, our occasional special feature talking ecopocalyptic films past and present. This time, we decided to revisit the 1995 Kevin Costner vehicle, Waterworld, to see if the critics of yesteryear were too harsh. Was Waterworld really ahead of its time in spotlighting climate change? We surface the energy and environmental themes of the film, muse on its clunky dialogue and nods to Greek mythology, and then talk recycling, colanders-as-hats, the charm and hokiness of non-CGI effects, “go juice,” “smeat,” the cameo of the Exxon Valdez, toxic masculinity and nuclear families and much more. Thanks to everyone who sent us suggestions! There were so many good ones, it was hard to choose and we’ll try to squeeze in more Soylent Rainbow episodes in the weeks to come :)

Jun 14, 2018

On this week’s Cultures of Energy pod we discuss this week’s disturbing revelations concerning the toxic work environment at the journal HAU (3:04)—if you need/want to catch up on the story please check out @hilaryagro and footnotesblog.com—and discuss the wider implications for Open Access publishing in Anthropology. Then, after a brief detour through feats of superraccoon strength we turn (18:00) to imaginaries of the more-than-human as we welcome (21:01) Andrew Pilsch to the podcast to discuss his new book Transhumanism: Evolutionary Futurism and the Human Technologies of Utopia (U Minnesota Press, 2017). We start by talking about the principal tenets of transhumanist thinking, as technological futurist movement and lifestyle brand and then get into the controversies surrounding transhumanism’s settler colonial and masculinist instincts and its impact upon Silicon Valley culture. We explore some of the evolutionary futurisms that predated transhumanism and ask whether computerization drove h+ thinking or vice-versa. We talk meme culture, ideas of the afterlife, Skynet, accelerationism, jetpack communism, and Andrew explains why feminist scholarship has been so important for his thinking about technological futurism. That leads us to xenofeminism and the effort to reclaim reason from patriarchal knowledge. And what Generation Z thinks of transhumanism. As Andrew says, just because things sound like crazy sci/fi ideas doesn’t make them less real. So if you care to upload your consciousness into our eternal cloud of reason, listen on!

Jun 8, 2018

Live from Santa Cruz, CA, Cymene and Dominic cover the politics of homelessness, celebrity academic sightings, and the legacy of R.E.M. Then (13:01) anthropologist and filmmaker Juan Salazar joins us from the future (or at least Friday). We talk with him about his several currents projects related to climate change and Antarctica, including a comparative project on Antarctica’s “gateway cities” (Capetown, Christchurch, Hobart, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia) and how they are creating a new urban culture facing South rather than North. We discuss how climate change has generated unprecedented attention in the Antarctic and Juan explains how he became interested in charting “anticipatory modes of futuring” through media ranging from documentaries to museums to games. That leads us to his film Nightfall on Gaia (https://vimeo.com/117241386) and to why he thinks anthropological theory has not sufficiently engaged the problem of the future in recent years. Juan talks us through his filmmaking process, how he bridges the ethnographic and speculative dimensions of the work, and what he finds problematic in Antarctica films like Werner Herzog’s, Encounters at the End of the World. We turn then to Antarctica as an extraterrestrial space and close by talking about new projects including one concerning the longest bamboo bridge in the world and another about the rise of environmental insecurity following the peace process in Colombia.

May 31, 2018

Cymene and Dominic talk about climate despair and climate violence on this week’s edition of the Cultures of Energy podcast, and on a lighter note, a perfect 48 hours in Santa Cruz, CA, in 1986. Then (14:56) we are delighted to welcome superhero humanist Bethany Wiggin to the podcast. Bethany directs the marvelous Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (http://www.ppehlab.org), co-founded Data Refuge (https://www.datarefuge.org) and the Schuylkill River & Urban Water Research Corps (http://www.schuylkillcorps.org) and, when she’s not caping up to save the planet, Bethany is a mild-mannered Germanist researching and writing about novels and cultural translation, among other things. In the conversation we cover her current and future projects, highlighting especially the importance of pursuing utopias and ecotopian experiments in dark times, the need to care for ugly places, the importance of systems interdisciplinarity, data as a living organism, object biographies, and the logistics of teaching in boats. Bethany gives us a preview of her next book, Utopia Found, Lost, and Re-Imagined in Penn’s Woodsand discusses her comparative research on Rising Waters. Why do Germanists keep founding environmental humanities initiatives? We crack that case wiiiide open this week. Listen on! PS Check out the website for the new Anthropocene Unseen lexicon at: https://punctumbooks.com/titles/anthropocene-unseen-a-lexicon/ PPS This week’s cover image is from Jacob Rivkin’s Floating Archives project. Jacob is currently artist-in-residence at PPEH.

May 24, 2018

Dominic and Cymene wish Westworld was better on this week’s episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast and then dry their tears with the news that the trailer and website for the “Not Ok” film has launched. Please check it out at https://www.notokmovie.com. We then (12:16) welcome University of Chicago historian Hervé Reculeau to the podcast to talk about how Bronze Age civilizations in Mesopotamia coped with climate change. Hervé explains how recent attention to paleoenvironmental evidence has helped to disrupt and complexify narratives of civilizational health and collapse in the region. That gets us to his research on irrigation as a tool against advancing aridification and why massive infrastructure projects of the period may have had very little impact. We talk about the ways in which past civilizational collapses are being mobilized now as commentaries upon our present ecological crises and Hervé cautions against projecting our own environmental problems on to ancient societies. Did ancient societies have conceptions of “climate” at all? Can understandings of “climate change” coexist with weather gods? Listen on and find out!

May 18, 2018

Cymene and Dominic talk air pollution and bumper stickers on this week’s ozone action edition of the podcast. Then (9:19) we are happily joined by fellow wind power enthusiast Jaume Franquesa (SUNY-Buffalo) to talk about his brand new book, Power Struggles: Dignity, Value, and the Renewable Energy Frontier in Spain (Indiana U Press, 2018), which focuses on Southern Catalonia to tell a broader story about the politics of renewable energy transition in Spain (and beyond). We discuss the diverse energy landscape of the region and how legacies of nuclear energy and anti-nuclear activism came to shape wind power’s adoption. Jaume discusses the radical cooperativist roots of Spanish wind power and also how it was metabolized over time by energy corporations, an electric oligopoly and the state to create a more extractivist model of aeolian politics. We turn from there to the invisibilization of energy production and its consequences for energy frontiers as well as how agrarian and industrial imaginations compete in Catalonia, a place long projected as both a terroir of luxury goods and a wasteland in need of modern development. Jaume explains how the separation of country and city helps support capitalist accumulation and we close by exploring the importance of dignity and indignation in the resistant subjectivity of Catalonia. Can we challenge the idea that political inventiveness only emerges in cities? Listen on and find out!

May 10, 2018

This week’s podcast is devoted to discussing a prototype for making academic conferences less carbon intensive and more accessible to our colleagues outside the global North. Case in point is last month’s remarkably successful Displacements conference (https://displacements.jhu.edu) organized by the Society for Cultural Anthropology which broke all previous SCA records for contributions and participation because of its unique hybrid format of online screenings and in person gatherings at fifty sites across the world. Gathered together (13:18) to discuss how it all went down and what it meant are chief conference organizer Anand Pandian (Johns Hopkins), operations guru Marcel LaFlamme (Rice) and Andrea Muehlebach  (U Toronto) who organized one of the most active gatherings in Toronto. We talk about frustrations with conventional conference formats, how to create a synchronous sense of eventness across the world, the challenges of accessibility and decarbonization, whether Displacements was really more of a distributed festival and how to unlock the artistic potential in scholarship. We close with a discussion of how simple folk like our listeners could start their own Displacements-style projects for as little as a hundred bucks. The low carbon academic revolution is coming!

May 4, 2018

Dominic and Cymene begin with a deep dive into the marvelous world of goat yoga and wonder what other animals should get into the game. Of course, we only learned about goat yoga because of this week’s guest, the fabulous Summerson Carr from the University of Chicago. We talk to her (17:39) about her most recent book, Scale: Discourse and Dimensions of Social Life (co-edited with Michael Lempert, downloadable for free at luminosoa.org) and explore why scale has become such a resonant thematic across the human sciences today. We talk about how researchers often pre-scale their objects of analysis and why scaling always seems to mean thinking bigger. That gets us to talking about climate science and how American scientists in particular are both undermined by anti-intellectualism but also informed by pragmatist ideas of knowledge that suspend certainty in favor of inquiry into the unknown. Summerson tells us about the similarities she sees between anthropology and social work and how we might attend to the plurality of scaling practices at work in the world. Switching gears, Summerson tells us the amazing story of a 66 foot concrete Japanese dock that set to sea by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and its several months’ voyage across the Pacific to Oregon. And that brings us to her amazing “Operation Bedbug” essay, which shows how bedbugs have forced a recalibration of social workers’ professional expertise beyond means-ends thinking and toward embracing the experimental possibilities of the present moment. We close with her current research on therapeutic animals and, of course, the discovery of goat yoga. If you’re feeling stressed out dear listeners chances are there is a goat yoga situation near you. Send us pictures!

Apr 27, 2018

Cymene and Dominic talk true crime and Pruitt crime on this week’s podcast before (13:59) welcoming the fabulous Liz Roberts from the University of Michigan to the conversation. Our offspeed start features the legend of Mick Taussig’s formica table before Liz tells us how she became interested in building bridges between anthropology and epigenetic science and found her way to the ELEMENT study, which has been investigating the impact of chemical exposure upon Mexican children since the 1990s. We talk genes, bodies and environments and Liz links deterministic models of the gene to infrastructures of impermeability that flourished (for some) during the mid 20thcentury. Turning to her fieldwork in Mexico City, Liz shares what she learned about how borders matter and why she is cautious to embrace “entanglement” as an analytical norm. We talk about white middle class anxieties about exposure and permeability and how they compare with sentiments in Mexico. This leads us to her recent work on water and trust and how Coca Cola made people in Mexico City not trust the tap water. And that gets us to soda and its relationship to class and care. Finally we turn to Liz’s latest project, “Mexican Exposures” (mexicanexposures.com) and her interdisciplinary approach to collaborative bioethnography.

Apr 20, 2018

After Cymene and Dominic take a moment to call out for profit academic publishing and cheerleading, this week’s podcast brings you (16:00) the keynote panel from CENHS’s Cultures of Energy 7 symposium, which explored the art, craft and significance of making alternate worlds. The conversation features famed Egyptian artist Ganzeer (The Solar Grid) celebrated novelist Jeff VanderMeer (Annihilation, Borne) in conversation with Cymene (Unda) about worldmaking in the context of our the ecological crises besetting our planet and its species. All three explain their approaches to storytelling and worldmaking and the conversation that follows (43:51) ranges widely from what kinds of new opportunities for story-making our contemporary ecological conditions offer us to the dangers of colonial and racialized imaginations carrying over into alternate worlding practices and how we break free of old systems of thought to imagine true alternatives to the status quo. Special thanks to Caroline Levander for moderating the discussion!! PS If you haven’t checked out the amazing virtual SCA conference, Displacements 2018, you should (!) and can at http://displacements.jhu.edu

Apr 12, 2018

Dominic and Cymene plug Cultures of Energy 7—this year’s energy humanities symposium at Rice which begins today, details at culturesofenergy.org—and then they turn to cheese, why it’s funny, how it can be applied to cats, “cheddaring,” and much more. Is there an anthropologist who knows more about cheese than anyone? Yes of course there is, it’s MIT’s Heather Paxson, author of the award-winning The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America (U California Press, 2012). She joins us (14:59) to talk about her research on the microbiopolitics of food and naturally we begin with what’s in her fridge. Heather tells us about her investigation of artisanal cheesemaking and what it tells us about the shift from Pasteurian to Post-Pasteurian regimes of microbiopower. We hear about goat ladies as revolutionaries, the truth about vegan cheese, and debate whether artisanal foodmaking is an elite project. Heather discusses the search for moral meaning in everyday life as a throughline in her work and we turn to her latest research on food safety inspections, the porosity of food borders and the synecdochic reasoning of the state when it comes to managing food flows. We close by discussing the impact of feminist analytics of labor in her research. What is “beef candy China”? Listen on and you might just find out!

Apr 5, 2018

Dominic and Cymene discuss the Houston city government’s recent decision to elevate new homes in the floodplains and they take a few moments to plan their dream dinner parties. We then (18:12) teleport you to the office of amazing Columbia anthropologist and infrastructure guru, Brian Larkin. Brian explains to us how his interest in practices of media circulation led him to research infrastructures of communication and mediation. That leads us to his recent work on electricity in Nigeria, the productivity of the grid’s failure and the ontogenesis of new electric systems like generators. We talk about how the state and modernity figure into electrical discourse, ambient infrastructures, the in/visibilization of infrastructure, and how technology overcodes space in order to create its conditions of existence. We then turn to China’s becoming a global infrastructural powerhouse and how the digital infrastructures of everyday life differ across the world. We stump Brian momentarily as to his own ideal dinner party companions but he reciprocally blindsides us with the information that his masters thesis was on … wait for it … Donald Trump and then shares what he learned about Trump’s appeal. We talk about the explosion of both the conception and reality of mediation in the Internet era and whether a Media Worlds vol 2 might be coming. We close on questionsof infrastructural repair and being perpetually in beta. Hey, who’s on your dinner party wish list?

Mar 29, 2018

This week on the Cultures of Energy podcast we offer up a special double episode of petrocultural analysis. Cymene and Dominic set the stage with a new offshore pub concept, The Oily Hound, and then in the first segment (9:26) Dominic chats with Carola Hein from TU-Delft about her work at the intersection of oil, architecture and cities. They talk about her current research on the “global petroleumscape,” how the constant reinvention of oil has transformed urban environments over time, her design studios on imagining post-oil cityscapes in places like Rotterdam and Dunkirk and the uneven and somewhat paradoxical greening of petroscapes in the 21st century. They close by ruminating on whether the world is really done with oil and what sea level rise will mean for the Netherlands. In our second segment (59:00) Cymene and Dominic speak with Rebecca Babcock and Jason Lagapa from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin about their NEH-funded “Boom or Bust” project (https://www.utpb.edu/cas/academic-departments/literature-and-languages-department/boomorbust/) that collects the energy stories of West Texas and sponsors public conversations around energy’s economic and social impacts in the region. We talk about their experiences organizing book clubs and writing workshops and what they’ve learned—about the precarity of energy jobs, economic justice, the relations between landowning and working families, and local perceptions of climate change—along the way. We close with what people are making of wind power in West Texas.

Mar 22, 2018

Dominic and Cymene talk Tom Waits, velour jumpsuits and the long afterlife of Hurricane Harvey. And then (13:33) we are most fortunate to welcome to the podcast Candis Callison (U British Columbia) a scholar doing amazing work on indigeneity, climate change and journalism. We start by discussing the wonderful podcast, Media Indigena, which Candis co-hosts with Kim TallBear and Rick Harp, which tackles indigenous issues across North America, including most recently the politics of pipeline expansion in Canada. We move from there to Candis’s recent book, How Climate Change Comes to Matter: The Communal Life of Facts (Duke U Press 2014), which explores the multiplicity of meanings of “climate” and “climate change” in different discourse communities ranging from the Inuit to journalists to evangelical Christians in the United States. We talk about the paradoxes journalists face in trying to provide objective and yet affective reporting on climate issues and whether indigenous media projects have different stories to tell than mainstream climate journalism. We turn from there to how we can collaborate on climate issues despite different cultures and meanings, the ethics of care, the layering of climate change upon colonialism in the Arctic and why “collective continuance” is a better way of thinking about the climate struggle than individualist environmentalism. Check out Candis’s recent podcasts at (https://www.mediaindigena.com/podcast/) and take frequent breaks from the news this week to think about warm puppies!

Mar 16, 2018

Cymene and Dominic share wild tales on this week’s Spring Break edition of the Cultures of Energy podcast and make the case for #feralgarden4thward as the weedy edge of Houston urbanism. Then (11:30) we welcome the fantastic Orit Halpern to the podcast to discuss her research at the intersection of data, smartness, resilience and cities. We start off with her recent book, Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945 (Duke U Press, 2015) and what it teaches us about how ubiquitous computing became positioned as the solution to all our ills. We talk about the importance of cybernetics to this story and Orit gives us her take on its origins, rise to prominence, and impact on how we understand rationality before we turn to the aesthetics and affects of data and how cybernetics has informed contemporary obsessions with “smartness” and “resilience.” That brings us to Orit’s new book project, The Smartness Mandate, and she tells us about the paradigm shift from environment to ecology in the 1970s, how cybernetic thought machines came to inform governmentality, and how financial instruments have come to be fused into projects of ecology. Finally we do a deep dive into the surveillance apparatuses and infrastructural sublime of smart cities, exploring how one can grapple analytically with these ideas without becoming submerged in smartness’s own logic of versioning and iterability. Why join the Borg? They might be better than your bad boyfriend. For that to make sense, listen on!

Mar 8, 2018

Happy International Women’s Day from the Cultures of Energy podcast! Cymene and Dominic struggle to remember an Indigo Girls song and reminisce about desert Stonehenge and vegan punk. Then (12:18) we welcome to the podcast anthropologist Dana Powell who has just published a remarkable new book, Landscapes of Power (Duke U Press, 2018), on the long and complicated history of Diné (Navajo) engagements of energy from oil and uranium to coal and sheep. We begin with the story of what brought her to the study of Diné energy and environmental concerns and how and why the energopolitics of coal and indigenous sovereignty came to dominate her fieldwork. We talk about the resonance of OPEC for Navajo nationalism, the significance of Diné mineral rights, the need to complicate our understanding of what indigenous resistance looks like in terms of energy, the importance of Standing Rock, and the importance of extraction for the Navajo national economy. We turn from there to the growing awareness of climate change impacts on the Colorado plateau, the rising interest in renewable energy in Navajo nation and Diné metaphysics of landscape. Dana shares her reflections on the ethics of ally work and her advice on doing it well. We close with a discussion of indigenous futurist art and how it has inspired her work.

Mar 2, 2018

Dominic and Cymene make a cinematic announcement and offer dubious pronunciations. Then (13:05) we welcome to the podcast legendary anthropologist of waste, Joshua Reno from Binghamton University, author of Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill (U California Press, 2015). We remind Josh first of all about his undergraduate thesis on the “Columbine effect” in American society and talk through school shootings as a media, racial and political phenomenon ever since. Josh explains how he got interested in studying the United States as a “nation of landfills” and we talk about landfills’ logic of material repression and how they enable fantasies of limitless growth. We discuss the need to rescale waste and make visible its social, material and multispecies dimensions and Josh describes the advantages of his biosemiotic approach to theorizing waste. We turn from there to wastework as a form of labor, metabolism as a conversation in the human sciences, and the energy/waste nexus. Josh explains how many waste-to-energy projects don’t actually trouble the logic of landfill as much as one might expect and the connection he sees between denying waste and denying death in our culture. We discuss the dark horizon of spectacular disaster waste that will accompany climate change and close with a discussion of Josh’s current book project about what happened to all that Cold War American military hardware that wasn’t used in battle. Interested in hearing about landfill ghosts? Then listen on!

Feb 23, 2018

The kids are all kinds of all right on this week’s episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast. Then (12:55) we welcome our guest, environmental economist Shanti Gamper-Rabindran from the University of Pittsburgh to discuss her remarkable new volume, The Shale Dilemma: A Global Perspective on Fracking and State Development (U Pittsburgh Press, 2018) that gives us a comparative snapshot of where shale oil and gas development is at across the world today. Following the lead of the U.S. where hydraulic fracturing, despite its many environmental consequences, has led an enormous rise in fuel productivity, some countries are actively developing shale resources while others have banned fracking and still others wait and see. Shanti explains the arguments governments make in favor of developing shale resources and why the energy security argument seems to dominate all other concerns. We talk about the dangers of shale development and how the risks and benefits of fracking are very often unevenly distributed. She explains what she’s learned about the frontlines of shale development in China and explains the differences between the outcomes of shale development vs conventional oil and gas extraction. We talk about “carbon leakage,” why inadequate carbon credit schemes have not impacted greenhouse gas emissions and, finally, whether it is truly possible to estimate the “social cost of carbon” when the impacts of climate change appear to be accelerating.

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