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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: 2018
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.

Feb 15, 2018

Cymene and Dominic talk love and precarity and then (13:52) we are very fortunate to welcome Stanford historian of climate science extraordinaire, Paul N. Edwards to the podcast. We ask Paul how he might update his portrait of “climate knowledge infrastructure” were his landmark book, A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (MIT Press, 2010), to be published today. Paul talks about how the Internet impacted public understanding of climate science and helped to make what was once a relatively quiet and settled area of science into a highly politicized field, at least in places like the U.S. We talk about the strategic production of ignorance (agnotology), how skeptics are wreathing themselves in the trappings of science and Paul briefs us on the Trump administration’s war on climate data and peer review. That gets us back into the history of climate science and how scientific consensus was produced around the relationship of atmospheric carbon dioxide to global warming. We discuss whether contemporary climate models are “kludgey,” the Holy Grail of cloud-resolving models, the art of hindcasting the 20th century and how we know the post 1970s temperature spike is anthropogenic. Paul gives his take on whether there is enough climate knowledge infrastructure out there globally to withstand a 4 or 8 year US withdrawal. We turn from there to the energy politics of building new data infrastructure and why Paul finds Bitcoin appalling. Finally, we close on Paul’s all-too-timely new project on the modeling of nuclear winter scenarios and their climatological impacts.

Feb 9, 2018

What do the Super Bowl, horse-based gymnastics, the fact that magic might be really real and bragging about Bruno Latour have in common? Why, they are on your co-hosts minds this week on the podcast. Then (13:00) we are most fortunate to welcome philosopher Graham Harman (Sci-Arc, https://doctorzamalek2.wordpress.com) to the program. Graham starts us off with a beginner’s guide to his philosophy, object oriented ontology (ooo) including what does and does not count as an “object” in his thinking. That gets us to the influence of Heidegger and Husserl upon ooo and from there to the optimal relationship between philosophy and science, why aesthetics is first philosophy, the problem of causation and how we are all Stanislavskian method actors when it comes to the experience of art. The conversation turns from there to speculative realism and ooo’s effort to reintroduce metaphysics to continental philosophy. Graham explains why ooo isn’t as anti-Kantian as it seems and also speaks out for what cannot be measured by science in a time when the humanities are under siege. We then explore the relationship between philosophy and physics with the help of Karan Barad’s work on agential realism and talk about ooo’s place in the broader anti-anthropocentric turn in the human sciences since the 1970s. Graham explains to us how Latour became such an important part of his post-Heideggerian recovery, what he makes of the Anthropocene, and how ethics and politics intersect with ooo. We close on his recent book Immaterialism: Objects and Social Theory (Polity, 2016) and what he discovered about the Dutch East India company along the way. What happens when humans aren’t 50% of every situation? Listen on and find out!

Feb 2, 2018

This week on the Cultures (not Vultures) of Energy podcast, Cymene and Dominic declare Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom the cultural grandparent of all Honey Badger videos. Then (15:32) we welcome to the podcast philosopher, activist and energy humanist hero, Prof. Adam Briggle (U North Texas, adambriggle.com), to discuss his remarkable book, A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking (Liveright, 2015), which tells the tale of how Adam and his fellow residents of Denton Texas organized a successful referendum to ban fracking in the heart of the Barnett Shale. Although later suppressed by the Texas legislature, the Denton case surfaces both the possibilities and limits of citizen action in a state that severs subsurface mineral rights from surface property rights. And it raises profound questions about the capacity of liberal political philosophy and the governmental institutions it has inspired in countries like the U.S. to truly meet the environmental challenges of our era. Together with Adam, we talk about what “field philosophy” is exactly, the surface/subsurface relation as philosophical and political problem, the rights of corporations vs. those of municipalities and what lessons the dark turn in the Denton story holds for anti-fracking activism going forward. We talk about how to create environmental messages that resonate across the ideological spectrum, the future of fracking, proactionary ethics and how fracking reveals the fault lines around liberty within liberal political ontology. Listen on! PS And please if you haven’t already check out our Chicago Climate Change and Culture (4CI) summer institute! https://summer.uchicago.edu/programs/chicago-climate-change-culture-institute-4ci

Jan 26, 2018

Cymene and Dominic announce their latest educational venture, the Chicago Climate Change & Culture Institute (4CI) and ask y’all’s help in getting the word out —

https://summer.uchicago.edu/programs/chicago-climate-change-culture-institute-4ci — Then (10:48) joining us from the fashionable eastern time zone is the fabulous Lisa Sideris. We talk to her about her new book Consecrating Science: Wonder, Knowledge, and the Natural World (U California Press, 2017). Lisa explains how her earlier research on the neglect of Darwinism in religious environmental ethics set the stage for this project investigating those who put forward science as a kind of religion. We talk about the historical roots of “Epic Science,” its anthrocentric narratives, our soft spot for the charisma of Carl Sagan, and how scientism leverages wonder to devalue the natural world. Lisa explains how the narratives from these “new cosmologists” also devalue the humanities relative to the sciences and we discuss whether patriarchal monotheism also informs ideas like Gaian spirituality and Teilhard de Chardin’s “noosphere.” She connects new cosmological thinking also to the conception of the Anthropocene, especially the “good Anthropocene,” the Ecozoic and the idea of human-directed evolution. And, case in point, we talk about the Koch-sponsored Smithsonian Hall of Human Origins exhibition and its agenda to rewrite the story of climate change as a positive one for Homo Sapiens. That leads us to Lisa’s thoughts on Pope Francis, Rachel Carson and Biosphere 2. We end with Lisa’s spirited defense of the humanities. Listen on and please help us to get the word out about 4CI!

Jan 19, 2018

Dominic and Cymene report on icy Rice and the raw and the cooked. And then (14:47) we speak to our dear friend Hannah Knox from University College London. We start with why Hannah thinks infrastructure has become such a lively area of research in the human sciences. We then turn to Hannah’s recent book, co-authored with Penny Harvey, Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise (Cornell U Press, 2015). We talk about how roads materialize political power at the same time that they incorporate expertise within themselves, whether thinking about infrastructure differs in the North and the South, cultures of engineering, and the co-dependency of rhetoric and materials in road-making. Hannah shares her thoughts on the promise of infrastructure, impossible publics and roads as future-making projects. We turn from there to a sampling of Hannah’s other ongoing research projects including studying a digital simulation that models the ecological future of Manchester and how climate science intersects with other kinds of administrative knowledge in the UK. Hannah explains how climate action and expertise is increasing moving outside expected spaces and politics because of austerity measures. And we close by talking about moral landscapes of sustainability and energy consumption.

Jan 12, 2018

Cymene and Dominic talk games and wombs of yore. And then (15:15) we turn to a conversation with the original blue humanist, Steve Mentz from St. John’s University. We start with his recent work, Shipwreck Modernity (U Minnesota Press, 2015) and its effort to pluralize thinking about the Anthropocene. We are introduced to concepts like the Homogenocene, the Thalassocene and of course the Naufragocene, the age of maritime disasters. We talk about shipwreck as ecological parable and master narrative, and how narrating catastrophes made it easier to endure them. The inhospitable environment of life on the water leads us to discuss scurvy, immersion, and why we need to learn to live inside of wrecks inside of trying to avoid them. Steve explains to us why the ecological future belongs to swimmers instead of sailors. We then turn to a recent collaborative project, Oceanic New York (Punctum, 2015) and his recent interest in Newtown Creek in Brooklyn, the site of an oil spill several times greater than the Exxon Valdez that few really know about. We close by talking about whether oceans are finally receiving their due in the humanities today and how we might reclaim our waterscapes through “wild swimming.”

 

 

Jan 4, 2018

Cymene and Dominic report on the insane fireworks situation in Reykjavík. Then (16:02) Dominic chats with our esteemed energy humanist colleague Michael Watts from UC-Berkeley. Michael explains how he accidently backed in to studying Nigerian petroculture in the 1970s and how he has traced the formation of the Nigerian petrostate from the Biafran war through the insurgencies of the 1990s and 2000s. We discuss the legacies of those insurgencies for the politics of oil in Nigeria today, the epistemological challenges of trying to comprehend the global character of the petroleum in its local/national manifestations especially when “the numbers make no bloody sense” and the industry shrouds itself in secrecy. We analyze the characteristics of oil frontiers and discuss whether an end to the boom/bust cycle of oil development is nigh. Then we turn to Michael’s recent volume, Subterranean Estates: Life Worlds of Oil and Gas (Cornell U Press, 2015) edited together with Hannah Appel and Arthur Mason, and especially his chapter on “accumulated insecurities” and the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Michael shows us the parallels between the neoliberal deregulation of, and actuarial logics within, the energy and financial industries and this brings Deepwater into a generative comparison with the 2008 financial crash. We move from there to Michael’s partnership with Ed Kashi and why photography has always been a passion of his. We close by talking about Michael’s ongoing interest in agriculture—in particular the future of Californian agriculture in a time of drought and fire—and about his work to demystify the research proposal as an element of graduate training.

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