The CENHS research cluster on “Social Analytics” seeks to improve our understanding of the social, cultural, political, technological and infrastructural aspects of today’s energy and environmental nexus in different settings across the world. Although the “natural world” and human society have never been separate, in the Anthropocene we see that the habits, decisions and institutions of humanity have the potential to impact the planetary ecology as never before. If we wish to find our way to a sustainable future, it is crucial to understand in more detail how (and why) humans relate to their environments and energic resources in the ways they do, how worldviews and cultural values inform senses of energy demand and environmental accountability, how scientific expertise, social knowledge and cultural imagination shape understandings of possible energy/environmental futures, and how infrastructure, materials and technologies also set conditions of possibility for political debates and decisions regarding energy transition and environmental remediation.

The Social Analytics group draws upon a wide range of methodological and theoretical expertise from the fields of Science and Technology Studies, Anthropology, History and Sociology. As a cross-disciplinary research group we intend to build conversations within and among the social sciences and humanities in order to generate improved multimethodological approaches to understanding the social dimension of the energy/environmental nexus, particularly the production of scientific knowledge, the implementation of infrastructural and technological innovations, and community engagement with environmental change and energy resource development. As our work moves forward, we are hoping to partner directly with other persons and groups in our local and regional communities who are developing and implementing strategies of energy transition and environmental remediation/regeneration.

Core Faculty Research Interests:

Andrea Ballestero’s research examines the changing values of nature as expressed through legal and economic tools. Considering that relations between nature and exchange are at the core of how we understand ourselves as humans, what new forms is the valuation and regulation of nature taking in the 21st century? And how do these technical efforts tie into broader political and ethical projects in places such as Costa Rica and Brazil?

Dominic Boyer is studying the contribution of fuel and electricity (or what he terms “energopower”) to the constitution of political power in Latin America, North America and Europe. He is particularly interested in analyzing the conditions under which carbon-based forms of political power can transition to renewable energies, despite massive institutional and political resistance.

James Elliott is conducting research on intersections of urbanization, nature and social inequality in the U.S., with three empirical foci:  social responses to natural hazards; urbanization and carbon emissions; and, relict industrial wastes in cities. Collectively, this work conceptualizes urbanization as an ongoing interaction of social and environmental processes that feedback over time and space to shape prospects of a sustainable future.

Randal Hall, building on his recently published study of extractive industry and environmental change since 1760 in a southern Appalachian river valley, is in the early stages of a project that takes a long-term perspective on U.S. debates about resource scarcity during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Cymene Howe is researching the development of wind power in Oaxaca, Mexico. She is focusing on how ethical claims of global climate change mitigation are tested against local demands to determine energy futures and how these dynamics surface very different gauges of success and sustainability. More broadly, she is interested in how ecologics are constituted and how anthropogenic climate change calls for new ways of imagining our collective biotic futures.

Elizabeth Long is currently studying the development of the anti-fracking movement in upstate New York, focusing on how participants engage science, democracy, and a bio-cultural understanding of place to win legitimacy and political traction for their conception of sustainability and fossil fuel  “abolitionism.”


Each year, Social Analytics will host seminars centered on particular themes. We imagine these topical foci to be dynamic and open to new directions, especially as we build and learn from our cross-disciplinary collaborations. Thematic areas we currently hope to highlight in our upcoming and ongoing conversations are: infrastructure, grids, disruptive science, waste, energy geography, surface/subsurface relations, energopolitics, water, energy ethics and ecologics. Our goal is to sponsor a series of conversations focused on the critical environmental and energy issues of our era. Meanwhile, in addition to our seminars, we will work together with other units in e2i on a consultational basis, helping provide expertise on the social, cultural and political dimensions of energy development and its environmental impacts.


For further information on Social Analytics cluster activities please contact the faculty coordinators: Prof. Cymene Howe (cymene@rice.edu) and Prof. Randal Hall (rh@rice.edu).