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Week 10: Energy

Tutor: Dr Katayoun Shafiee

The transition from renewable sources of energy to non-renewable fossil fuels are now seen as critical factors in debates about the rise of capitalism. Animal, human, water, wood, and other essentially solar-produced forms of energy to subterranean carbon deposits – first coal, then oil – now appear as critical factors in thinking about the change from ways of living based upon practically exhaustible sources of power to forms of social and technical life based upon energy that was almost limitless in the short term but unsustainable. This seminar examines the politics of global energy shifts and the consequences for thinking about empire, society, and politics. The seminar suggests that we cannot understand the construction and history of different forms of energy system without taking seriously their technical dimensions and the technical world of energy can be understood properly only in terms of the historical and political forces through which that world has been shaped.

Seminar Questions

  • What is the relationship between energy and society?
  • Is it possible to think of empire as a byproduct of global energy shifts?
  • In what ways do energy systems shape political possibilities in terms of state formation, community and nation, questions of territory, expertise, and democracy?

Essential Readings

Bruce Podobnik, Global Energy Shifts: Fostering Sustainability in a Turbulent Age (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006): pp. 1-17.

Andreas Malm, “Puzzles of the Transition,” in Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (New York: Verso, 2016): Chapter 5, pp. 64-77.

Alain Mikhail, ‘Unleashing the Beast: Animals, Energy, and the Economy of Labor in Ottoman Egypt,” American Historical Review 118 (2), 2013: 317-348.

Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy (New York: Verso, 2012), Chapter 1 'Machines of Democracy' (pp.18-41)

Further Readings

Kolya Abramsky, Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World (Baltimore, MA: AK Press, 2010).

On Barak, “Outsourcing: Energy and Empire in the Age of Coal, 1820 – 1911,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 47 (2015): 425 – 445.

Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Climate and Capital: On Conjoined Histories,” Critical Inquiry 41 (Autumn 2014): 1 – 23.

William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis (W.W. Norton & Co., 1992).

Gabriell Hecht, Radiance of France (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998).

Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, “Aeolian Extractivism and Community Wind in Southern Mexico,” Public Culture, 28 (2 79), 2016: 215 – 235.

Christopher F. Jones, “Coal’s Liquid Pathways,” in Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2014): 23 – 59.

Bruno Latour, Facing Gaia (Polity Press, 2017).

Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital (London: Verso, 2016).

Fredrik Meiton, “Electrifying Jaffa: Boundary-Work and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” Past and Present, 231 (1), 2016: 201 – 236.

Sarah B. Pritchard, “From Hydroimperialism to Hydrocapitalism: ‘French’ Hydraulics in France, North Africa, and Beyond,” Social Studies of Science 42 (August 2012): 591 – 615.

Crosbie Smith, The Science of Energy: A Cultural History of Energy Physics in Victorian Britain (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998): pp. 1-14.