Cymene Howe to teach a spring course on “The Social Life of Clean Energy”

Posted by on Nov 21, 2013
Cymene Howe to teach a spring course on “The Social Life of Clean Energy”

The Social Life of Clean Energy

Professor Cymene Howe

Spring 2014

ANTH 332/532 & ENST 332/532

In May 2013 the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the atmosphere’s average daily level of carbon dioxide had exceeded 400 parts per million; this represents a density of heat-trapping gases that has not existed for at least three million years, long before human beings evolved. Increased global energy consumption and its climatological impact has meant that individual practices of energy use and the ways in which energy is produced can no longer be easily compartmentalized as individual choices or local issues; rather energy has become a universal concern that exists within every dimension of our lives. Public and political awareness regarding energy and climatological consequences have increased immensely and energy policy, energy security and energy technology continue to be topics of fervent debate across the world. “Clean,” “renewable” and “green” forms of energy have, in turn, been important sites of scientific research, political contention, corporate investment and social institutionalization as states, corporations, NGOs and social movements all seek, or at least claim to seek, what is often described as a transition to a “sustainable” energy future.

This course analyzes renewable energy not as a technical problem, but as a suite of achievements, challenges and equivocations that are social, cultural and political in nature.

Using case studies–from both the global North and the global South–and a variety of interdisciplinary readings, our topics will include:

  • the contingencies of climate change, global warming skepticism and the politics of adaptation
  • the historical and contemporary importance of electricity for western modernity and the significance of intensive electricity usage as an index of social and political “development”
  • the rise of discourses, markets and a politics of “clean energy” across the world
  • the impact of governmental intervention upon energy resources, economies, technologies and institutions

Students will do a series of mini fieldwork projects throughout the semester and will complete an original research paper. If you have further questions, please contact Professor Howe: cymene@rice.edu