Teaching the Social Lives of Clean Energy

Project Team

  • Laura Ogden, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Project Lead
  • Sarah Kelly, Postdoctoral Fellow, Anthropology      
  • Maron Greenleaf,  Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer, Anthropology       

Project Description

Our project seeks to expand the course offerings on energy and society through creating a new course in anthropology titled: "The Social Lives of Clean Energy: Energy Systems and their Social Contexts." In this course, we will focus on alternative energy technologies that are being promoted as part of a low carbon future.  The social life of an energy system includes how it is debated and opposed before being built, the laws and economics driving its implementation and operation, how the electricity and infrastructure created become part of the daily life of people among others, and the impacts it generates for landscapes, non-humans and humans.  One driving theme in the class will be energy conflicts, particularly those involving Indigenous peoples. Development of energy can be highly contentious. Conflicts teach us about the different ways of knowing and being in the world that are at stake in defining energy futures. In light of there being no silver bullet solution, we will take a global case study approach with an emphasis on ethnographic study to understanding the socio-cultural, political, economic, historical and technical dimensions of energy systems. We will debate and creatively explore how energy technologies hold significant influence over different realms of our lives, such as our relationships to climate change and how we make decisions about land and nature. Our possibilities of imagining and inhabiting alternative worlds is intricately tied to energy systems. In addition to developing the course, we will work with students to create multimedia content for the Irving Institute and reflect on the course in a future book chapter.