Volume 87, #2

Spring 2014


Energopower and Biopower
in Transition


Introduction by Dominic Boyer

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Volume 87, #2 • Spring 2014



Energopower and Biopower
in Transition


Energopower: An Introduction

Dominic Boyer, Rice University

ABSTRACT — This special collection of Anthropology Quarterly aims to spark new ways of thinking about formations and operations of modern power. Specifically, the articles explore how energic forces and infrastructures interrelate with institutions and ideations of political power. In the hope of fanning sparks into flames, we juxtapose this process of exploration with the influential paradigm of “biopower” developed by Michel Foucault. All of the essays explore how modalities of “biopower” (the management of life and population) today depend in crucial respects upon modalities of energopower (the harnessing of electricity and fuel) and vice-versa. We emphasize especially the critical importance of exploring the juncture of biopower and energopower in the context of the rising importance of scientific and political discourse on anthropogenic climate change. As human use of energy is increasingly linked to the disruption and destruction of conditions of life (human and otherwise), the tensions between dominant energopolitical systems (like carbon fuel) and biopolitical projects (like sustainability) are increasingly evident, opening new possibilities of anthropological analysis. Both energopower and biopower, we conclude, are entering into a pivotal transitional phase.


From Biopower to Energopolitics in England’s Modern Waste Technology

Catherine Alexander, Durham University
Joshua O. Reno, Binghamton University

ABSTRACT — Two energy-generating technologies in Britain which transform waste into a resource are compared. One is the (in)famous Combined Heat and Power incinerator in Sheffield, the other a forgotten biological digester in Devon utilizing anaerobic microbes. Both sites are early exemplars of experimental and biopolitical waste disposal technologies—incineration and anaerobic digestion—now regarded as leading alternatives for reducing the United Kingdom’s dependence on landfill and fossil fuel; both sites also inspired public resistance at critical moments in their development. The analysis here relates how activists and technicians struggle to demonstrate competing truths about alternative energy. Through comparison, it becomes clear that, beyond the validity of specific truth claims, energo-politics mediate the formation of technological legacies. Examining the traces energy facilities leave behind—whether in the landscape or online—we ask what it means that various claims made about some technical operations endure, while others fade into obscurity. [Keywords: Energy, science and technology, waste, Britain, demonstration, memory, legacies]


Ergos: A New Energy Currency

Gökçe Günel, Columbia University

ABSTRACT — In 2006, Abu Dhabi launched an ambitious project to construct world’s first “zero-carbon” city: Masdar City. Soon after, Masdar Institute, a renewable energy and clean technology research center founded in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, opened its doors to an international group of faculty and students. Located at the heart of the Masdar City construction site, the Institute was responsible for experimenting with new energy infrastructures. In this article, I contend with the novel instance of Masdar City trying to invent “ergos,” a new currency based on energy unit expenditure. Bringing together literature on science and technology studies and economic anthropology, I explore the paradoxes that emerge during the project, and map out the stakes of this currency proposal for the actors involved. Consequently, I show how “ergos” provides us with a unique instance of “energopolitics” wherein the disciplinary and biopolitical qualities of power merge together to control both individuals and populations, resulting in a “disciplinary biopolitics” for the eco-city. I suggest that a commitment to fixing the everyday failures of the emergent technological infrastructures (as well as a reverence for an abstract higher good) eventually emerge as the endpoints of the ergos project. In this way, I provide a refreshing look on planned cities, energy infrastructures, and currency debates. [Keywords: Energy, climate change, the Arabian Gulf, technological imaginaries, urban design, eco-city, value, alternative currencies]


Anthropocenic Ecoauthority: The Winds of Oaxaca

Cymene Howe, Rice University

ABSTRACT — This article considers the development of wind parks across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Oaxaca, Mexico) and, in turn, how a politics of resistance and local perceptions of environmental peril have challenged energy transitions. In the fraught debates surrounding the massive Mareña Renovables wind park, dramatic distinctions have emerged between local perceptions of ecological conditions and forms of environmental knowledge calibrated to global climate remediation. These divergences, the article argues, indicate distinct ways of imagining and articulating “anthropocenic ecoauthority”—a series of experiential, scientific, and managerial truth-claims regarding ecological knowledge and future forecasting in an era of global anthropogenic change. Whether enunciated by resident communities, state officials, corporate representatives, or environmental experts, ecoauthority gains its particular traction by asserting ethical claims on behalf of, and in regards to, the anthropogenically altered future of the biosphere, human and nonhuman. The article concludes with a discussion of how biopolitical and ecoauthoritative positions coincide, suggesting that although the original sites of biopolitical intervention have been population and the human species, the energic, atmospheric, aquaspheric, and lithospheric shifts that have been dubbed the Anthropocene demand that we account for life in its local dimensions as well as on the scale of the greater planetary bios. [Keywords: Ecoauthority, renewable energy, climate change, social movements, Mexico]


Footprints in the City: Models, Materiality, and the Cultural Politics
of Climate Change

Hannah Knox, University of Manchester, ESRC Centre for Research
on Socio-Cultural Change

ABSTRACT — This article traces the ways in which climate change, conceived as a socio-material process, works to produce new objects and subjects of political intervention. Building on the idea that climate change has become constructed as a particular kind of population-induced energy crisis, the article explores how the social problematic provoked by anthropogenic climate change relates to “biopolitical” understandings of the relationship between the state and the individual. In doing so, it aims to make a contribution to the broader discussions within this special collection regarding the transformative politics indexed by the term “energopower” and its co-articulation with the more familiar concept of “biopower.” [Keywords: Energy, climate change, population, biopolitics, governance, numbers, models]


Energopolitical Russia: Corporation, State, and the Rise of Social
and Cultural Projects

Douglas Rogers, Yale University

ABSTRACT — In the Perm Region of the Russian Urals, the oil company Lukoil-Perm has worked with regional state agencies to design and administer hundreds of grants for “social and cultural projects” and embarked on other development initiatives over the last 15 years. This article argues that the resulting field of state and corporate power is productively understood as an “energopolitical regime” and suggests ways in which this analytical perspective adds new dimensions to the study of post-Soviet transformations and to the social science of energy and politics more broadly. [Keywords: Energy, oil, state formation, corporate social responsibility, postsocialisms, Russia]


Conclusion: On Energopolitics

Imre Szeman, University of Albert