A decade of energy humanities

Call for Provocations

Yellow, red, orange, and blue paper collage


Does the anthropocene feel like a lifetime ago? Do you find yourself looking through Enron office swag collectables on Ebay? Have you acquired a habit of procuring playlists of songs for times of emergency? Do you wonder, that if the heroic status of a certain bayou city’s weather forecasters might be normatively true, their ascendence may be a clue that we are still heading full steam into the undesirable future? What stories must people tell, now, if there's far fewer stories than we are led to believe? Do you understand the conditions of my hope (after the recent catastrophic failure of our own “reliable” Texas “grid”) in response to the silence of the classroom, when the professor tells the undergraduates that the future energy utopia might be that which can harness the desire to not turn on the lights? Is this the same as desire to keep the lights off, in view of the cost?

I remember hope, I remember urgency, I remember having far too many things to do and places to go. Over the past decade or so I’ve trained to become a cultural anthropologist interested in observing (and occasionally participating in) the Energy Humanities’ intellectual trajectory. To help provoke further conversation, my own partial, reflexive account of the field begins with identifying the rise of (at least) three “vectors” (Gatt 2013, also see Faubion 2009) of signification in the Energy Humanities.

These critical vectors of research in the energy humanities include:

1) Electricity (Digital mediation and the thematic and theories of infrastructure).

2) A climate-centered sphere of environmentalist cultural production, in its practice and policy.

3) “Speculative” affects, epistemologies, and ontologies.

We distinguish any vector as provisional, because they may evoke the intersections of a multitude of social transformations. As provisional, vectors conceptualize some of the imposing conditions that subjectivize Energy Humanities scholarship; they might illustrate its plausible conceptual matrices in locally commensurate institutional discourses, as well as guide an understanding of the value economies which may populate the recent history of Energy Humanities’ participation in larger arenas of cultural production.

Perhaps the underlying provocation that this channel’s forthcoming series of vectorial accounts invites, is that--practically speaking--the contemporary cultures of energy seem, well, unfortunate for empiricists and phenomenologists: Have our experiences gotten worse, more acutely painful, more unified in desolation? Is Energy Humanities un-sustainable? We had hoped (and hopefully did not bet) that this present would be somehow different.

This channel hopes that an imaginary model may inspire the subjects of Energy Humanities to help contribute to an ongoing conversation on any potential vector of the past, present, and future of  energy. With an ear towards the legitimacy of sustainable “content” we especially invite experimental work that push the limits of and possibilities of “short form” in digital scholarship. To that end, we are inclusive and accommodating of diverse voices, habits, desires, and aspirations of emerging energo-cultural practices. Consider examples such as solar-based field notes, gas station vignettes, fracking lyrics, and peat philippics. Lists, sketches, diagrams, or performance scripts. A carbon account of a painting’s ”diegetic” world? Miniature manifestos? If you are interested in developing such or other new practices, please consider submitting to this channel!