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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: March, 2018
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!

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