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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: 2019
May 2, 2019

Cymene and Dominic talk about homemade treadmills and the virtues of wasting time on this week’s podcast. Then (15:33) we welcome the one and only Kathryn Yusoff, Professor of Inhuman Geography (best job title ever!) at Queen Mary University of London. Her title mojo is virtually unstoppable because her latest book is called A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None(U Minnesota Press, 2019). We begin with how she became interested in the grammars that underlie geology in the context of colonial history.  We talk about the historical alchemy that produced what Kathryn terms “white geology” and how that history overdetermines much discourse surrounding the Anthropocene today, often erasing the extractive logics that have brought us to our present situation. From there we roam on to the intersection between geofeminist philosophy and critical race studies, the double life of the inhuman, the weaponization of energy, racial injustice and environmental futurity, geology as a low resolution form of biopolitics, the possibility of a geopoethics that breaks that cycle, and the gendered and racialized politics of citation. In closing we talk about queer fire and the flamboyance of the earth. PS The image credit for this week's cover image is © Justin Brice Guariglia (https://guariglia.com)

Apr 25, 2019

FINALLY an episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast that is for once totally wholesome and family-friendly and appropriate to listen to with your kids! Cymene and Dominic share their own thoughts about talking to children about climate change. And then (13:51) we welcome an author that will be well known (especially to listeners aged 8-12 and their families), Stuart Gibbs, the author of the very popular FunJungle, Spy School and Moonbase Alpha middle grade series. Stuart has thematized both climate change and animal conservation in his books and we talk to him about how readers have responded to those interventions, about his writing process in general, and why he thinks it’s important for adults to talk to children honestly about our environmental challenges. If you happen to be in the Houston area on April 30th, please check out Stuart’s reading at the Blue Willow Bookstore, deets here: https://www.bluewillowbookshop.com/event/stu-gibbs-0

PS And, as promised, here are some solid online resources for teaching especially younger kids about climate change and climate action: http://climatechangeconnection.org/resources/climate-friendly-schools/resources-for-schools/; https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/4-free-tools-to-teach-about-climate-change; https://www.earthguardians.org/50simplethings/; https://thinkprogress.org/how-to-talk-to-a-5-year-old-about-climate-change-ef8ec30b1bd1/

Apr 18, 2019

Dominic and Cymene talk about sunburns, the petrocultural epic that is the reboot of Dynasty, and whatever ASMR is. Then (19:46) the terrific Dina Gilio-Whitaker joins us to talk about her new book, As Long as Grass Grows:The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock (Beacon, 2019). A member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, Dina teaches America Indian Studies at Cal State San Marcos and is policy director and senior research associate at the Center for World Indigenous Studies. We begin by looking back at Standing Rock and the Idle No More movement and talk about how important those were to environmental politics and prospects of energy transition today. Then we talk about how to further the decolonization of the environmental justice movement. We cover colonial unknowing, the erasure of genocide, and the importance of land and place based ethics for human survival. Dina tells us about her research on Panhe, a long-standing Acjachemen sacred site threatened with development, the complexities of sovereignty and recognition it surfaces and then we talk about how far the Rights of Nature legal arguments can go in the settler courts. Finally we debate what’s the real surfing capital of the world, the Institute for Women Surfers project (https://www.instituteforwomensurfers.org), surf feminism, and why Dina and her collaborators see surfing as an environmental justice issue. PS Shout out to Krista Comer for this week’s episode and pls check out Dayla Soul’s film about women’s big wave surfing, It Ain’t Pretty (trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6VDCZudTlg)

Apr 11, 2019

Cymene and Dominic discuss last month’s catastrophic blackout in Venezuela on this week’s podcast. Then (17:39) we’re thrilled to have the chance to chat with Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright about their fascinating, provocative new book, Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future (Verso, 2018). We start with how the book came to be and what they mean by the potential future scenarios of “climate leviathan,” “climate behemoth” and “climate Mao.” We then turn to how climate change might prompt planetary sovereignty and what will happen if global capitalism is allowed to define that sovereignty. We talk about the enduring power of nationalist sentiments and imaginaries, especially in the form of adopting a “war footing” against climate change, and why they think we shouldn’t put all our eggs in the Green New Deal basket. We debate to what extent Keynesianism is really petroknowledge and how the image of leviathan haunts political thinking today. We close with a fourth scenario they term “climate X” and what we can imagine about the possibilities of a non-capitalist locally-sovereign future. PS For those of you in the Houston area, please join us for Cultures of Energy 8 this week (details at culturesofenergy.org) or follow the live-tweets from the symposium via @cenhs

Apr 4, 2019

Cymene and Dominic celebrate a podcast milestone and bid adieu to 1990s Democrats and their market-loving, head-kissing ways on this week’s show. Then (15:40) Dominic has a chance to chat with NYU’s Jerome Whitington who has just published a fascinating book on hydropower in Laos—a country some are calling the “battery of Southeast Asia”—entitled Anthropogenic Rivers: The Production of Uncertainty in Lao Hydropower(Cornell U Press, 2019). We start off with where hydropower fits within the contemporary debate on renewable energy transition and why it receives so much less attention than solar and wind energy. Then we turn to how Jerome got interested in the Theun-Hinboun Dam project in particular and why he decided to frame the study in terms of knowledge and uncertainty. We discuss the importance of an experimental moment in the dam’s history when the power company sought to collaborate with environmental activists to allay concerns about the ecological and social impacts of the dam project. Jerome explains what he means by “technical entrepreneurialism” and we talk about how to think about the meaning of “anthropogenic” without getting stuck in nature/culture binaries. Shifting gears, we discuss Jerome’s current research on carbon accounting and he explains the influence of corporate accounting logics and Silicon Valley culture on practices like carbon offsets and why he doesn’t think carbon accounting is ultimately going to stop climate change. We close on the need for more academic activism on climate.

Mar 28, 2019

Dominic and Cymene talk about the weltschmerz of turning 10, review this week’s flood & fire news and offer handy recycling tips (e.g. don't recycle snakes!) on this week’s podcast. We then (19:08) are delighted to welcome the marvelous video artist, curator and theorist, Ursula Biemann (https://www.geobodies.org) to the conversation; Ursula has thematized energy and environment themes extensively in her work. We start with oil and her 2005 project, Black Sea Files (https://www.geobodies.org/art-and-videos/black-sea-files) which explores how energy infrastructure shapes flows of fuel and people in the Caspian region. We discuss the multiperspectival camera work that is one of her signatures and move from there to Forest Law (2014) which contrasts the logics of oil extraction in the Ecuadorian Amazon with indigenous cosmology of the living forest (https://www.geobodies.org/art-and-videos/forest-law). We talk about forests as future proliferating ecologies, how film can make visible connections between processes and places across the world, and why she likes to think of her films as doing work opposite to abstraction. We move then to Deep Weather (2013), a short film that connects the tar sands of northern Canada to the “hydro-geography” of an increasingly flood-threatened Bangladesh (https://www.geobodies.org/art-and-videos/deep-weather). In closing, Ursula explains to us her next project: founding a university in Ecuador to help bridge indigenous and western forms of environmental knowledge. Listen and enjoy!  Ps Wishing Ms. Brijzha Boyer a very happy birthday!

Mar 21, 2019

Cymene and Dominic talk corporate irresponsibility—looking at you ITC and Boeing—on this week’s podcast. Then (13:44) we welcome the legendary Tim Ingold to the conversation. We start by talking about his new book, Anthropology: Why it Matters (Polity Press, 2018) and Tim explains why he thinks the practice of science should be grounded in art. We move from there to the importance of amateurism, how much impact phenomenology has had upon Tim’s thinking about biosocial being, and why he wanted to write a manifesto about anthropology’s relevance today. We engage his arguments that anthropology’s attention to different ways of thinking and being in the world are crucial speculative resources and how overcoming the conventional concept of inheritance might be the key to overcoming the opposition between the biological and the social. We turn from there to understanding life as a constant flow of re/productive activity and the temporal and performative basis of shared imagination. That leads us to his second recent book, Anthropology and/as Education (Routledge, 2018) in which Tim pushes back against the idea that education is about the transmission of information. From there we talk about what fascinates him about architecture, how to think about creation beyond the imposition of form on to matter, process ontology and why clouds are not furniture of the sky. We close on the Anthropocene and how Tim views the goal of sustainability not as solving all problems for all time but of giving each generation the possibility of starting afresh.

Mar 14, 2019

Cymene discovers the joy of Bob Ross on this week’s edition of the podcast and your co-hosts take a moment to discuss the scandal that is pay to play higher education. Then (18:09) we welcome to the pod the dynamite duo of Lauren Berlant and Katie Stewart to talk about their marvelous new book, The Hundreds(https://www.dukeupress.edu/the-hundreds?viewby=subject&categoryid=80&sort=author in which the contributions are all written in multiples of a hundred words. We hear the origin story of the project and its aim to explore ways of documenting ordinariness in which one could develop concepts based on descriptions.  We turn from there to Katie and Lauren’s different writing styles, affectography vs. ethnography, and the magic of shortness.  Our guests discuss whether there is a new critical and collaborative ethics afoot in the human sciences today and muse on the intimacy of misrecognition. We talk about their new series at Duke UP, “Writing Matters”, and how they came to the idea for the unusual index and reference sections of the book. Finally, we close with their advice to scholars just starting out on fostering collaborations and talk about importance of building trust and why there’s nothing better than good brainstorming.

Mar 7, 2019

Cymene’s sushi confessions on this week’s podcast lead us to the idea that supporting daydrinking and carb-heavy lunches in the oil industry might be an effective way to slow down the advance of petroculture (Behold, the Napocalypse!) Then (14:25) we welcome to the podcast the fantastic Lucas Bessire (University of Oklahoma). We talk with Lucas about his award-winning book Behold the Black Caiman (U of Chicago Press, 2014) and how it synthesized years of fieldwork in the Chaco region of Paraguay on indigenous Ayoreo reactions to environmental transformation and devastation. We talk about myths of “first contact” with isolated peoples as a kind of governmental fiction and turn from there to topics such as: Ayoreo irreverence to stable form, anthropology as a bedeviling practice, surviving contact, indigenous radio and poetic realignment, and the need to talk about rebecoming as a value that coexists with loss. We then move to Lucas’s work on the Ayoreo video project https://lucasbessire.net/yocoredie-the-ayoreo-video-project/) and the resource frontier resonances between the Chaco and his native Kansas in the era of fracking. We close talking about his current research ventures including “After the Aquifer”—which grapples with groundwater depletion and responsibility in the American Great Plains—and the Arctic Futures Working Group.

Feb 28, 2019

Cymene and Dominic talk about restaurants failed by their bathrooms and “Human Uber” on this week’s podcast. We are then (14:20) delighted to welcome Kyle Powys Whyte—Tinnick Chair in the Humanities at Michigan State, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a philosopher whose work brings Indigenous (Neshnabé) philosophy to bear on environmental issues—to the podcast (https://kylewhyte.cal.msu.edu). We start with the need to decolonize the Anthropocene concept because of how it smuggles in traditional prejudices about Indigenous peoples and often serves as a vehicle for settler privilege and what Kyle terms “settler apocalypticism.” We turn from there to settler colonialism as a mode of ecological domination and Neshnabé conceptions of time, responsibility and morality, and climate injustice as a breakdown in consent relationships. Kyle shares his thoughts about climate change as an insidious loop but also his concern that climate talk too often avoids addressing enduring structures of violence and oppression. Kyle argues for not allowing the politics of urgency to dictate the pace of rebuilding kinship between humans and nonhumans. We close with his thinking about the importance of activism, Indigenous futurism, and the need to get past the idea of protecting this world instead of making a better one.

Feb 22, 2019

Is coughing an identity? Well, if it’s your identity your cohosts have the scoop on a reputed new coughing cure on this week’s podcast. We are then (15:26) joined by a dynamic duo—Amanda Lynch (Director of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society) and Siri Veland (Senior Researcher at the Nordland Research Institute in Bodø, Norway). We talk to them about how their collaboration on climate change adaptation led to a new book, Urgency in the Anthropocene (MIT Press, 2018) which takes a distinctively positivist-meets-constructivist approach to its problem. We talk about the challenges and joys of talking about the Anthropocene across the earth sciences and social sciences.  We discuss the urgency of thinking with greater imagination but also of being careful what kinds of imagination we embrace. From there we turn to the Anthropocene as a kind of myth that enables but also constrains government and policy responses. We talk modes of coexistence and the recognition of dignity as a starting point for listening. And we close by discussing their latest collaboration, the ArcticChallenge Project and its focus on oil ontologies.

Feb 14, 2019

What’s worse than listening to lovebirds on Valentine’s Day? Surely it is listening to them wondering whether the rideshare model can be applied to socks. So feel free to skip past all that nonsense (15:19) to our special holiday conversation with anthropologist and philosopher Eduardo Kohn. We begin with his influential book, How Forests Think, and how Eduardo’s fieldwork in Amazonia and the semiology of Charles Saunders Peirce helped him break down the nature-culture dualities of much western theory. Eduardo walks us through icons and indexes as ways of knowing and being in the world and discusses how the modern (human) investment in symbols and symbolic abstraction has contributed to the Anthropocene trajectory. We talk about academic resistance to engaging the semiosis of life in its broadest sense, why ethnographic method should be celebrated as a form of (iconic) mindful attention to the world, what’s similar about art and science as modes of knowing, and how sylvan thinking can be an ethical practice in the Anthropocene. We turn from there to Eduardo’s current scholarly and creative collaborations that cross legal, scientific and shamanic registers in the interest of “cosmic diplomacy.” We close by talking about the ethical importance of aesthetic experiments and accepting life as a wild guess.

Feb 8, 2019

Dominic and Cymene review the Green New Deal and the erotic life of Adam Smith on this week’s episode of the podcast. Then (18:52) Daromir Rudnyckyj joins us to talk about his new book, Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance, (U Chicago Press, 2018), which takes us deep into the rapidly evolving world of Islamic finance. Daromir explains to us the spirit and letter of Islamic finance, how its investment and risk-sharing norms depart from those the debt-based model of western finance, and what the implications would be for capitalism were Islamic finance to become the dominant global investment model. We ask him whether a bigger role for Islamic finance would do anything to reign in the growth obsession of contemporary economic thought and practice. Daromir explains how Islamic moral philosophy limits speculative investment and seeks to imagine a form of capitalism beyond debt. We discuss whether the debt jubilee model really breaks with the logic of western capitalism and whether it would be possible to expand the presence of Islamic finance in the global North without inflaming Islamophobic hysteria. We discuss what “halal finance” might be and whether it could better acquaint investors with the real local impacts of their capital investments. We close talking about Daromir’s latest work on local alternative currencies.

Jan 31, 2019

Cymene and Dominic discuss frostquakes and fyre festivals on this week’s edition of the podcast. Then (15:49) we are joined by a most esteemed guest, Kim Fortun from UC Irvine, author of Advocacy after Bhopal (U Chicago Press, 2001) and President of the 4S association. We start with Kim’s thoughts on late industrialism and why it became such an important concept for her research. We dig into the doubleness of “hyperexpertise” associated with our late industrial contemporary, and ask what is robust and what is ruined. Kim explains why she favors ethnography as a mode of disrupting ossified forms of expertise. And we turn from there to her ongoing work on environmental health issues and how the challenges of collaborative research spurred her interest in developing better datasharing infrastructures and virtual research platforms like PECE (http://worldpece.org) and the The Asthma Files (http://theasthmafiles.org). We talk about the politics of scholarly communication and Kim tells us what she thinks the obstacles are to the Open Access and Open Data movements gaining traction. We close on her thoughts on where STS is today as a community and field of knowledge and what excites her about its future.

Jan 24, 2019

Your co-hosts celebrate MLK day, muse over whether Gattaca invented Tinder, toy with the idea of kale eugenics, and if that weren’t enough, Cymene Howe predicts Ragnarok on this week’s edition of the Cultures of Energy podcast. Valhalla will have to wait though because first (16:51) we catch up with the ever dynamic Eben Kirksey, live and direct from the Hart Senate Office Building in DC. We talk about the climate action impasse in the US capital and contrast that with direct action mobilizations to make New York carbon neutral and to protest BP’s LNG project in West Papua. Eben tells us about his current work on CRISPR gene editing and connects it to his earlier and ongoing interest in multispecies relations. He explains why narratives of apocalypse and salvation surrounding gene editing miss the point even as these technologies do point toward new potentialities of life within biocapitalist regimes of inequality and exclusion. We touch on the ethics of bioengineering and geoengineering and Eben suggests that it may fall to the human sciences (and biohackers) to imagine and enact other modes of care. We close with how he became interested in chemicals and chemoethnography and his next project on multispecies justice in West Papua. Kale Gattaca!

Jan 17, 2019

Cymene and Dominic talk democratic do-overs, vegan falcons, Hegel’s bagels, and the 1980s arcade game Dig Dug on this week’s edition of the podcast. Then (19:51) we have a chance to catch up with Matt Huber from Syracuse, author of Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom, and the Forces of Capital (U Minnesota Press, 2013), about what he’s been up to lately. We start with his thinking about what a truly socialist climate politics would look like and how it would be oriented to the problems of the new working class, what Matt terms “the 63%.” Then Matt explains why he thinks taxing the rich and corporations makes more sense than taxing molecules. We talk about what lessons a Green New Deal could take from the original New Deal, the U.S. as a “rogue state” on climate, who should be striking to pressure elites to take climate change seriously, the pernicious individualization of carbon footprints, and what should be grown and de-grown in a climate woke economy. In closing, Matthew makes a strong case for a total expropriation of the fossil fuel industry so that we can focus developing energy that is not the ruin of the planet. Enjoy! PS and please do send us your takes on the most profound video games of the 1980s :)

 

Jan 9, 2019

Cymene and Dominic are back and borderline alert for 2019. They recently watched the first half of Netflix’s Bird Box and speculate as to whether the alleged “Bird Box challenge” is further evidence of the doom of our species. Then (16:00) we welcome Icelandic anthropological legend Gísli Palsson to the podcast to talk about his latest book project, Down to Earth: A Memoir, a wonderful discussion of human beings and their relationship with earthquakes, stones and lava. We begin with the 1973 volcanic eruption that indelibly impacted Gísli's life as it destroyed his childhood home and buried his town in ash like an Icelandic Pompeii. We talk about homes and habitats both specific and global, the need for a new geosocial contract, the vitality of rocks, life as geolubricant, and the return to premodernist thinking as we confront that volcano in our living room, the Anthropocene. Gísli tells us about some of the amazing volcano projects artists like Nelly Ben Hayoun are undertaking these days. And we close on geological intimacy, necessary optimism and whether we humans are becoming petrified, even fossilized.

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