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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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Now displaying: November, 2016
Nov 24, 2016

We’re offering some food for thought on Standing Rock this Thanksgiving week. Our guests are the brilliant scholar-activists Nick Estes and Kristen Simmons who help us to better understand what has happened with the water protectors over the past two months and especially during dramatic recent events at the camp. Nick Estes is Kul Wicasa from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at the University of New Mexico, an Andrew W. Mellon Dissertation Fellow, and a co-founder of activist organization, The Red Nation. Kristen Simmons is a member of the Moapa Band of Southern Paiutes (NV). She is a doctoral student at the University of Chicago in the Department of Anthropology. Her work engages toxicity and settler colonialism in the American West. In the conversation (9:40), they explain to us the evolving carceral geography of the camp and how it is functioning as an experimental space for military suppression of native people and social movements. We talk about the recent intensification of violence with the arrival of private security forces, mainstream media blackouts and the importance of social media and drones for both sides of the conflict. Nick emphasizes the intersectionality of the struggle and Kristen reminds us that the Obama administration’s current position to “let it play out” is an ancient strategy of American empire. We find out what Nick and Kristen think will happen next and whether they believe a peaceful resolution is still possible. As they put it, “For our nations to live, this pipeline has to die.” You can find out more information about Standing Rock at the following websites (where donations are also being accepted!): ocetisakowincamp.org, standingrock.org, sacredstone.org . And please check out the excellent Standing Rock syllabus page too at: https://nycstandswithstandingrock.wordpress.com/standingrocksyllabus/

And if we may add a plea from CENHS and the podcast to all our listeners: The situation at Standing Rock is incredibly urgent and a powerful reminder of how our colonial past is entangled with our energy future. Please talk about Standing Rock this Thanksgiving weekend with your families, please do something to support the water protectors, please work to counteract blackouts and misinformation, and please help to keep pressure on the political establishment to reach a peaceful solution that respects native rights and sovereignty.

Nov 17, 2016

On this week’s podcast, Dominic and Cymene continue to process election aftermath and offer thoughts on how to escape the dungeon. Then (14:20) things get wavy when Stefan Helmreich from MIT—author of Alien Ocean (U California Press, 2009) and Sounding the Limits of Life (Princeton U Press, 2016)—joins the conversation and we talk about his recent work on waves and water. We start with the submarine trip that got him interested in the sound of fieldwork underwater and these strange entities known as “waves.” He then introduces us to the world of wave science and explains how it can be viewed as anthropology by other means given its constant attention to social concerns like coastal infrastructure, shipping, recreation, and insurance. Stefan discusses why the problem of the 21st century is the problem of the waterline—rising sea level, changing sea surface, and wavy dynamics that modulate sea level. He also explains that even though current models of wave action are based on northern ocean data, it looks increasingly likely that the future will belong to southern ocean dynamics. We visit the largest tsunami simulation basin in the world, learn what “rogue waves” are, and come to understand how, with the coming of wave energy, waves are being reimagined not as enemies but rather as allies whose labor can be harnessed in the struggle against climate change. Stefan offers some reflections on “blue humanities,” the shipwreckocene and Haraway’s Chthulucene. Finally, we turn toward his current research in the Netherlands with its long and complex relationship to water. And, yes, Cymene asks him about surfing and his answer is the best. Listen on!

Nov 10, 2016

Cymene and Dominic share honest thoughts from the morning after the morning after. Then, because we all need a new superhero right about now, (27:07) Beth Povinelli of Columbia anthropology fame joins us for a conversation that riotously veers between serious philosophical discussion and Scooby Doo. Our dreaming is Beth’s latest work, Geontologies: A Requiem for Late Liberalism (Duke U Press, 2016). She explains what she means by “geontopower,” how it challenges our common biontological distinction between life and non-life, and why she is not arguing for a new metaphysics of power or objects. We talk about how Anthropocene conditions may have made geontopower more visible to some, but how it has been felt for a long time in places on the fringes of settler colonialism like the aboriginal community of Belyuen where Beth has been doing fieldwork for decades. She explains the three figures of geontological discourse and governance—the desert (nonlife is encroaching into life), the animist (everything is life anyway) and the virus (the tactical use of both life and nonlife that yet has unexpected outcomes)—and how they connect to late liberalism more generally. Beth then shares her concerns about contemporary philosophical movements like speculative realism and object-oriented ontology and explains why her intervention isn’t part of any “ontological turn” but rather a contribution to the revelation that our northern metaphysics of being are deeply biontological and epidermal, part of a love affair with the concept of life and its difference from non-life. So Geontologies means to offer a monstrous twist to that tradition. Turning back to Belyuen, Beth explains how Karrabing analytics offer by comparison probative epistemics, a testing of the world, rather than a bounded “belief system” or “body of knowledge” as normally construed. Karrabing analytics say that all forms of existence have extimate material relations to one another and illuminate how settlers prize the tight integrity of their bodies and overdramatize their lives and deaths as absolute beginnings and ends. In the end Beth explains that she’s not saying, and we quote, “Screw life. Who gives a fuck. I like rocks”—but rather underscoring the point that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine other modes of existence becoming dominant.

Nov 4, 2016

It turns out that one of your co-hosts is a magical creature – feel free to guess which one. This week we are thrilled to welcome to the podcast (9:35) fellow Oaxacanist anthropologist Andrew Mathews who shares his thoughts on states and statecraft and how best to conceptualize and study what they do. We talk about his excellent book, Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise and Power in Mexican Forests (MIT Press, 2011) and focus in specifically on the Mexican state and whether it is indeed as weak as is often claimed. Speaking of forest management, we discuss why states fear fire even as they frequently act to parasitize crises as opportunities for political intervention. We talk about how bureaucracies produce both knowledge and non-knowledge and about the gap between rhetorics of state power and the reality of disorder and transience within bureaucracies. We discuss the emotional landscape of patron-client relations and the political landscape of resource conservation. Then, we pivot toward Andrew’s new research on forest protection, biomass energy and climate change in Italy. He explains why modeling and “hypothetical futures” are becoming such key features of statecraft in the Anthropocene. Ever wonder what exactly constitutes “a forest”? That answer and much more on this week’s episode!

Nov 1, 2016

On today’s special bonus Tuesday episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast, Cymene and Dominic share their election season nerves and then have the chance (9:05) to talk to novelist Fred Stenson (http://fredstenson.ca ) about his recent and moving work, Who by Fire (Doubleday Canada, 2014), which explores the history of oil and gas development in Canada through its impact on two generations of one family. Fred shares his own family’s history with sour gas plants, which helped shape certain events in the novel and we talk about the complex legacy of wealth, toxicity and precarity that oil and gas extraction has left in his native Alberta. Fred explains why he wanted the novel to be about trauma and how fossil fueled progress has often been bought at the expense of rural people. But he also explains why he needed to represent the situation in its full complexity, including the efforts and idealism of many engineers working in the oil and gas industry. We discuss the codependence of government and industry in energy development and compare the dynamics of early oil and gas production with today’s fracking and tar sands production. We touch on the history of indigenous peoples’ relationship to oil and gas in Canada and Fred concludes by explaining why publishers aren’t very supportive of novels about oil, which can be both depressing and technical. His point well-taken is that readers need to back up their concerns with curiosity.

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