3rd Annual Cultures of Energy Spring Symposium

Posted by on Apr 24, 2014
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Date(s) - 04/24/2014 - 04/26/2014
All Day


Third Annual Cultures of Energy Spring Research Symposium

Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences

Rice BioScience Research Collaborative Building, Room 280 // 6500 Main St., Houston TX

CENHS is pleased to announce the schedule for our 3rd annual Cultures of Energy Symposium. This promises to be a rich meeting, with scholars from Germany, Brazil, Canada, the UK and the US. The symposium this year is organized into seven panels: “Infrastructures,” “Glimpses of Humanity” (on the work of photographer Judy Natal), “Affect in the Anthropocene,” “Visions of Energy,” “Calculating and Communicating Climate Futures,” “Space and Materiality,” and “Impasses and Openings.” The symposium will close with a plenary discussion on the future of energy and environment research in the human sciences, moderated by Karen Pinkus. The symposium is open to the public, and we welcome the Rice and Houston community to attend and discuss.

Photo Credit: Judy Natal, “Future Perfect”

All events will take place in the Rice BioScience Research Collaborative Building, Room 280, 6500 Main St., Houston TX

For paper abstracts, please scroll down below the short-form schedule. 


Day One: April 24th, 2014


Welcome & opening remarks, 230-3p

Dominic Boyer (Director, CENHS, Rice U)

Charles McConnell (Executive Director, Energy and Environment Initiative, Rice U)


Panel A (3-445p): Infrastructures

Jacob Darwin Hamblin (Oregon State U) Nukes, Oil, and Energy Strategies in Dangerous Parts of the World

Cyrus Mody (Rice U) Jack Kilby’s Failed Revolution

Rebecca Slayton (Stanford U) Efficient, Secure, Green: Digital Utopianism and the Challenge of Making the Electrical Grid “Smart”

Moderator: Andrea Ballestero (Rice U)


Panel B (5-6p): Glimpses of Humanity: Judy Natal’s Future Perfect and Beyond

Judy Natal (Columbia College)

Commentary by Tim Morton (Rice U)

Moderator: Dominic Boyer (Rice U)


Reception, 6-645p


Day Two: April 25th


Breakfast available 830-9a


Panel C (9-1130p): Affect in the Anthropocene

Sarah Fredericks (U North Texas) Collectively Guilty: Responding to Anthropogenic Climate Change

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson (Rice U) Feeling Energy: Alternative Affective Energy Landscapes of the Anthropocene

Lisa Sideris (Indiana U) Wonder, Ethics, and the Reenchantment of Science

Noah Toly (Wheaton College) The Power of Tragedy, the Tragedy of Power: Energy, Morality, and the Human Condition

Moderator: Gwen Bradford (Rice U)


Lunch & undergraduate research poster presentations, 1130a-1p

Panel D (1-245p): Visions of Energy

Georgiana Banita (U Bamberg) Thermo-Thanatos: Energy, Photography, Thermodynamics

Amanda Boetzkes (U Guelph) The Visualization of Oil as Reaction Formation

Mona Damluji (Wheaton College) The Cinematic World of Big Oil

Moderator: Aynne Kokas (Rice U)


Coffee break, 245-315p


Panel E (315-5p): Calculating and Communicating Climate Futures

Katherine Hayhoe (Texas Tech) Climate Change: Why the Facts are Not Enough

Myanna Lahsen (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais) Communicating Climate Change: Is Brazil the Noble Example?

Wendy Parker (Durham U) Talkin’ about a revolution: the future of climate modeling

Moderator: Jerry Dickens (Rice U)


Day Three: April 26th


Breakfast available, 830-9a


Panel F (9-1030a): Space and Materiality

Marina Peterson (Ohio U) Air’s sonic instantiations: Noise pollution as a category of clean air

Joy Sleeman (UCL) Power Lines: energy materialized in land art in Britain

Moderator: Randal Hall (Rice U)


Panel G (1030-1130a): Impasses and Openings

Imre Szeman (U Alberta) Oil, Aesthetics and Politics: Points of Resistance to Environmental Action?

Dominic Boyer (Rice U) Attack on Titan

Moderator: Cymene Howe (Rice U)


Plenary discussion (1130a-1230p): New Directions for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences

Discussants: Trevor Durbin (Rice U), Elizabeth Long (Rice U), Richard Johnson (Rice U), Tim Morton (Rice U), Kristin Wintersteen (U Houston), Derek Woods (Rice U)

Moderator: Karen Pinkus (Cornell U)


Lunch & presentation of undergraduate awards, 1230-130p


Symposium ends, 130p


Abstracts in Alphabetical Order: 


Georgiana Banita, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg

Thermo-Thanatos: Energy, Photography, Thermodynamics

This is a study of entropic landscapes in the work of American photographers such as Mitch Epstein, Richard Misrach, and Emmet Gowin, some photographic projects by Robert Smithson, along with a juxtaposition of their aesthetic with the serial entropology of the German photo-couple Bernd and Hilla Becher. The argument grounds the thematic interest of these images in energy futures and obsolescence with a theoretical understanding of the camera itself as an entropic machine, registering energy inscription and loss.


Amanda Boetzkes, University of Guelph

The Visualization of Oil as Reaction Formation

This paper will consider the relationship between the plasticity of oil culture and the aestheticization of plastics in contemporary art. Plasticity here, is taken as the process of formulating objective evidence to justify and ratify the oil industry. In this sense the permeation of plastics into artistic practice is an aesthetic extension of the plasticity of oil culture. More than this, though, art can be understood as a ‘reaction formation’, in psychoanalytic terms, an intense expression of precisely the behavior that is being denied. The energetic paradigm of the oil industry is therefore seen through the conflicting forces at play in the feedback loop between the industry’s truth claims, and the defense structure figured in and through contemporary art.


Dominic Boyer, Rice University

Attack on Titan

This presentation explores affective and imaginative paralysis in the Anthropocene. Its muses and media are several: the electricity of the Freudian unconscious, teenage catastrophe and utopia, Icelandic and Oaxacan modes of neo-anarchism and above all the popular Japanese manga/anime Shingeki no Kyojin, (literally, “Giants advance,” better known in English as “Attack on Titan”). This is an experiment in using the concepts, language and performance of energy humanities to generate emotional as well as ideational breakthroughs in our relationship to the Anthropocene. And I advance the argument that what Tim Morton has trenchantly identified as our hypoactive “hyperobjective” condition can only be countered through hyperactive hyposubjectivity.


Mona Damluji, Wheaton College

The Cinematic World of Big Oil

Petroleum companies have a fundamental role in shaping our collective imaginaries of the modern world. From bitumen used to develop the first photographs in 1827, to petrol that sends camera crews to locations around the world, and petrochemicals used to treat celluloid, the history of cinema is a history of oil. At the same time, histories of oil and cinema are embedded in histories of colonial power. In order to understand how the politics of petroleum have shaped cultural imaginaries of postcolonial oil modernity, this paper examines historical linkages between British petroleum companies in the Middle East and the British documentary film movement during the first half of the twentieth century. Driven by the emergence of the public relations industry in Britain, petroleum companies circulated the earliest moving images of modern life in Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait to regional and global mass audiences. Visual evidence of modernity, I argue, worked in this case to legitimate colonial practices of extraction in the context of postcolonial nation-building in the Middle East.


Sarah Fredericks, University of North Texas

Collectively Guilty: Responding to Anthropogenic Climate Change

Survey data and qualitative studies of popular environmental literature indicate that guilt about environmental degradation is a prevalent part of contemporary life.  Psychological research suggests that guilt can inspire or inhibit action.  Yet environmental ethicists typically ignore moral emotions including guilt as they assume that articulating norms, rules, or values will lead to ethical behavior.  To begin to address this lacuna in the literature, this paper explores the role of guilt, particularly collective guilt, in responding to anthropogenic environmental impacts such as climate change from energy use.


Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Oregon State University

Nukes, Oil, and Energy Strategies in Dangerous Parts of the World

Since the 1950s, the United States and other industrialized countries have promoted nuclear technologies all over the world, mainly through the International Atomic Energy Agency.  They have done so in countries with no previous nuclear expertise or relevant economic infrastructure, often as solutions to environmental problems and energy challenges.  This promotional role has evolved in an uneasy fashion along with the nuclear nonproliferation regime, as negotiated in the mid-1960s.  Although nuclear weapons proliferation is often perceived as a security concern, it also must be understood in the context of energy strategy.  Today’s current crisis in Iran, for example, has origins not only in Iran’s 1970s decision to pursue nuclear power generation, but also in American and European plans to gain some leverage over OPEC countries.  In particular, this paper details the attempts to use Iran’s massive investment in nuclear energy infrastructure as a way of making it impossible for the Iranian government to decrease petroleum exports to the West.  The presentation examines this episode to clarify the links among environmental rhetoric, energy strategies, and security concerns in politically volatile regions of the world.


Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University

Climate Change: Why the Facts are Not Enough

Mounting scientific evidence documents the emerging consequences and future risks of climate change for the United States. As the scientific evidence builds, however, public opinion in the U.S. remains sharply divided. Much of the disagreement comes from political and religious conservatives. Why is climate change so polarizing to these communities? What makes it so hard to comprehend and accept? In this presentation I will identify common barriers to accepting the reality of climate change and explore ways to move past these obstacles towards action.


Myanna Lahsen, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais

Communicating Climate Change: Is Brazil the Noble Example?

Skepticism of climate science is often identified as a key obstacle to effective decision making in the U.S. and a number of other countries. In such discussions, Brazil has come to be celebrated as an enlightened counter-example to the United States because climate science is largely uncontested, as reflected in analyses of climate coverage in national newspapers and in a series of international surveys performed by the Pew Center and others. Such surveys consistently place Brazilians among the national populations with the highest level of concern about human-induced climate change and expressed willingness to sacrifice to reduce the threat. Comparison of the national contexts of the U.S. and Brazil indeed reveal important differences in the dynamics of climate-related knowledge politics. This analysis discusses why the science of climate change is less contested in Brazil. It challenges portrayals of Brazil as a nobler example, however, arguing climate knowledge politics play out in different ways in Brazil but are similarly distorted and power-rigged as in the United States. Indeed, the very absence of climate skepticism in Brazilian newspapers reflects how political and economic elites define the terms of the debate at the highest levels, in ways that are difficult to perceive and thus hard to combat, yet consequential. Thus, national-level solutions frame climate change as an energy problem, excluding from public awareness and debate the single most important driver of greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil: the production and consumption of cow meat.


Cyrus Mody, Rice University

Jack Kilby’s Failed Revolution

In the early 1970s, Jack Kilby – co-inventor of the integrated circuit and future Nobel laureate – was a pillar of the US R&D establishment, frequently called upon to advise both the semiconductor industry and its military patrons on the future of microelectronics.  Yet in the months following the 1973 OPEC embargo, Kilby began to develop – and then became obsessed with – a radical idea for solar energy generation combining advanced fuel cells with novel silicon photovoltaic beads.  Over the next decade, Kilby persuaded his former employer, Texas Instruments, to pour millions of dollars into his idea.  He also immersed himself in the burgeoning solar energy community sponsored by the new Energy Research and Development Agency, alongside a collection of other former military-industrial engineers, flim-flam artists, and ambitious strivers.  Kilby’s attempt to revolutionize the US (and world) electrical grid eventually became a victim of the ’80s oil glut and the Reagan administration’s turn away from solar energy: the infrastructure of military-industry R&D which had long fed companies like Texas Instruments could not be adapted to meet the need – as Kilby perceived it – for civilian solar energy.  This paper examines the difficulties in adapting old R&D infrastructure to new missions, even in a context such as the 1970s when even conservative engineers such as Kilby demanded changes in the US scientific enterprise.


Judy Natal, Columbia College

Glimpses of Humanity: Judy Natal’s Future Perfect and Beyond

The “glimpse of humanity” is at the primal core of my art practice. The question “what makes us human?” is a constant nagging question as I’ve imagined the future to illuminate the present and the environmental choices we are creating IN my project Future Perfect. Photographed at three very disparate sites over 7 years – Las Vegas, Biosphere 2, and geothermal sites of Iceland – I weave together a visual science fiction that moves backwards in time from 2040. I would like to examine ideas of apocalypse in art, both mine and others, to reveal this “glimpse of humanity” where the thin veneer of civilization is stripped away and how art finds hope in both awareness, knowledge, and social engagement.


Wendy Parker, Durham University

Talkin’ about a revolution: the future of climate modeling

In recent years, a number of climate scientists have proposed significant changes in the way climate modeling is pursued at a disciplinary level. Some even say that a “revolution” in climate modeling is needed. Most proposals call for changes in how climate models are constructed, but they disagree on what the changes should be. Some also call for changes in where climate models are constructed and by whom. For instance, it has been suggested that global resources, both human and computational, should be pooled to develop a small number of high-resolution probabilistic climate models, housed at a small number of modeling centers around the world. In this talk, I will discuss various recent proposals for changing the practice of climate modeling, as well as the different scientific and policy goals that seem to motivate their calls for change.


Marina Peterson, Ohio University

Air’s sonic instantiations: Noise pollution as a category of clean air

Through an exploration of noise pollution as a category of clean air, I consider how sound serves to instantiate, or materialize, air. Drawing on technological, medical, and legislative efforts in the 1960s and ‘70s U.S., I trace the emergence of the category of noise pollution as an environmental concern. Grounded in urban infrastructures of freeways and airports, its effects reverberate in bodies, communities, and the urban landscape. At the same time, noise pollution is an unstable category; seemingly always slipping out of grasp, it falls into gaps within and between legislative spaces, governmental jurisdictions, registers of knowledge production, spatial formations, and sensation.


Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Rice University

Feeling Energy

Energy and affect have proven two of the most exciting and fruitful areas of research in the environmental humanities in recent years, but the two have rarely been directly linked.  This paper is the first step in a project exploring their current and future intersections.  In Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel The Windup Girl, set in a 23rd century of Thailand of rising oceans and diminishing resources, a character encounters one of the few working computers left in the world. What might it take for us to feel the oceans rising as we power up our laptops, fill up our automobiles, or bite into a juicy steak?  While the ultimate response to global climate change and fossil fuel dependency must lie in policy (if not scarcity and/or catastrophe), I will explore the how human beings might develop enhanced (and more “sustainable”) relationships with energy.  To do so, I draw on imaginative connections between energy and affect in literature, theories of ecodesign, and my previous sociological study on beliefs, emotions and actions of American peak oil believers.


Lisa Sideris, Indiana University

Wonder, Ethics, and the Reenchantment of Science

My talk will focus on an emerging constellation of science-based ecospiritual movements that present scientific narratives of the origins of life and the universe as new sacred myths for our time. These movements are known to many as the Universe Story, the New Story, or the Epic of Evolution. I raise several points of criticism regarding this enterprise, ranging from broad questions about the desirability of presenting science as a revelatory, mythopoeic enterprise, as well as more particular concerns related to the way in which the humanities figure into these movements, which tend to privilege science and favor an implicit hierarchy of the disciplines.


Rebecca Slayton, Stanford University

Efficient, Secure, Green: Digital Utopianism and the Challenge of Making the Electrical Grid “Smart

Electrical grids have long depended upon information infrastructures—systems for exchanging information about electricity generation, transmission, distribution, and use. But only in the last decade has the notion of a “smart grid” has captured the imagination of policymakers, business leaders, and technologists.  Smart grid promoters promise that information technology will simultaneously improve the efficiency, reliability, and security of the grid. This article shows how these goals have come into tension as the grid’s information infrastructure has shaped, and been shaped by, government policies. It advances a three part argument. First, that digital technology and digital utopianism played a significant and underanalyzed role in restructuring the electricity industry during the 1980s and 1990s. Second, industry restructuring encouraged utilities to deploy information technology in ways that sacrificed reliability, security, and even physical efficiency for economic efficiency. Third, aligning the many goals for a smart grid will require heterogeneous engineering—designing socio-political and technological worlds together.


Joy Sleeman, University College London

Power Lines: energy materialized in land art in Britain

Focusing on the work of artists in Britain from the late 1960s through the 1980s, my paper will discuss artistic engagements with sites of energy extraction and generation in the landscape. My examples range from artist placements in industry and government departments (with the National Coal Board and Scottish Office) by John Latham to more directly sensual and bodily encounters with the landscape through walking and cycling in the work of Richard Long. Mediated through words, photography, film and the direct appropriation of industrial sites as art, I will consider how these works materialize a new consciousness about the impact of humans on the environment in an era of changing energy priorities.


Imre Szeman, University of Alberta

Oil, Aesthetics and Politics: Points of Resistance to Environmental Action?

In his critical reaction to Leo Lania’s play Konjunktur (1928), which deals with the effects of an oil strike in Albania, Bertolt Brecht remarked that “petroleum resists the five-act form.” When artists decide to focus on oil — its environmental impact, the nature of the society that it fuels, the folly of depending on a finite energy source — it is because they wish to inform and to unsettle quotidian beliefs and behaviors, thereby activating a response in their readers and viewers with respect to oil. But as Brecht had intuited, the unique position of oil at the heart of contemporary society troubles the always-uneasy relationship between aesthetics and politics. The consequences of petro-societies demand a major—and speedy—collective response to a social problem almost without precedent. Whether this can be accomplished through aesthetic or cultural means, or whether the social significance of oil means that we occupy a novel situation for critical aesthetic practice with respect to society and the environment, is the question that I wish to (speculatively) explore in this paper. If our environmental futures depend on our ability to produce a fuller understanding of the consequences of our petrocultures, what role can or should aesthetic practices play in generating this understanding? Even more to the point: if oil resists aesthetic form, why and how does it do so? And what might our understanding of the relation of oil and energy to aesthetics say about the future form of critical cultural practices?


Noah Toly, Wheaton College

The Power of Tragedy, the Tragedy of Power: Energy, Morality, and the Human Condition

The effects of contemporary energy technologies illustrate the tragic dimension of human experience, highlighting the impossibility of securing all non-trivial goods at once and demonstrating the sense in which human capabilities can be turned to culpabilities. This paper draws upon the work of philosophers and theologians who have taken seriously the challenge of the tragic–including Hans Jonas, Paul Ricoeur, and Edward Farley—in order to address the practical challenge of an energy regime that promises unparalleled power, but also portends planetary destruction.