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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: May, 2018
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!

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