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Carbon democracy: political power in the age of oil

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Abstract

Oil is a curse, it is often said, that condemns the countries producing it to an existence defined by war, corruption and enormous inequality. Carbon Democracy tells a more complex story, arguing that no nation escapes the political consequences of our collective dependence on oil. It shapes the body politic both in regions such as the Middle East, which rely upon revenues from oil production, and in the places that have the greatest demand for energy. Timothy Mitchell begins with the history of coal power to tell a radical new story about the rise of democracy. Coal was a source of energy so open to disruption that oligarchies in the West became vulnerable for the first time to mass demands for democracy. In the mid-twentieth century, however, the development of cheap and abundant energy from oil, most notably from the Middle East, offered a means to reduce this vulnerability to democratic pressures. The abundance of oil made it possible for the first time in history to reorganize political life around the management of something now called "the economy" and the promise of its infinite growth. The politics of the West became dependent on an undemocratic Middle East. In the twenty-first century, the oil-based forms of modern democratic politics have become unsustainable. Foreign intervention and military rule are faltering in the Middle East, while governments everywhere appear incapable of addressing the crises that threaten to end the age of carbon democracy-- the disappearance of cheap energy and the carbon-fuelled collapse of the ecological order. -- Book jacket.
... There is no reason that international relations, as a field dedicated to the study of relations and interactions across state boundaries, should be immune from this post-humanist critique (see, e.g., Cudworth and Hobden 2021). Elsewhere in the social sciences, admitting the 'material' into accounts of oil's political economies is already acting like the grit in the oyster: a generative friction, creating new ideas and understandings about agency and scale that raise new research questions and transform what it means to study the 'geopolitics' of hydrocarbons (Mitchell 2011;Barry 2013;Appel et al. 2015;Valdivia 2015;Kama and Kuchler 2019;Cederlöf and Kingsbury 2019). Thinking with the materialities of oil, then, can be simultaneously an evolutionary and a revolutionary project for IR: it can productively deepen and extend existing accounts (often by showing how apparently placeless and universal phenomena -a 'global oil market', for example -hinge on specific infrastructures or techniques); and, more fundamentally, it has the potential to re-order understandings of the 'politics' of oil. ...
... Second, in many cases reservoir pressure performs the work of mobilising oil to the surface and, unlike coal, no subsurface workforce is required (Mitchell 2011). The capacity of oil to flow unaided has allowed upstream infrastructures that rely on automated flow rather than manual handling. ...
... The capacity of oil to flow unaided has allowed upstream infrastructures that rely on automated flow rather than manual handling. Mitchell (2011) argues that oil's capacity for automatic flow has significantly shaped opportunities for working-class politics relative to coal and, as a consequence, influenced the class structure and social democratic basis of national political systems. ...
... Una vez más, el gran cierre (FMI, 2020) llevado a cabo para mitigar los efectos de la covid-19 ha demostrado la profunda relación existente entre nuestro sistema socioeconómico y el modelo energético subyacente (IEA, 2020;Di Muzio, 2015;Mitchell, 2011;Smil, 2008;Bono, 2008). Según el Consejo Europeo de Reguladores Energéticos (2021), en la primera mitad de 2020 la demanda de electricidad en Europa se redujo en un histórico 7% en comparación al mismo periodo de 2019; en los meses de abril y mayo del mismo año esta disminución llegó a alcanzar el 18% y el 13% en España. ...
... Los retos de los comunes actuales incluyen el cambio climático, la gestión de residuos, la gobernanza del agua, los problemas de congestión en las infraestructuras reales y virtuales, la planificación y organización del entorno, y muchos otros temas que representan un área creciente de debate público y formulación de políticas. Entre estos retos se encuentra el modelo energético (Di Muzio, 2015;Mitchell, 2011;Smil, 2008). Tal y como se detalla en los siguientes apartados, las Comunidades Energéticas Europeas no son sino una apuesta de la Unión Europea por lo Común, que, como analizaremos, puede encontrar en la Economía Social una forma adecuada para su conformación. ...
... Europeas como parte de la constelación de los comunes La energía es, sin duda, un bien social absolutamente necesario para la construcción y conformación de nuestra sociedades y economías (Di Muzio, 2015;Mitchell, 2011;Smil, 2008). Por ello, la Estrategia de la Unión de la Energía en su objetivo de garantizar una energía asequible, segura y sostenible para Europa y su ciudadanía, define como una de las principales líneas de acción la conformación de las denominadas Comunidades ciudadanas de energía renovable a lo largo y ancho de todo el territorio. ...
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Una vez más, el gran cierre llevado a cabo para mitigar los efectos del impacto de la covid-19 ha demostrado la profunda relación existente entre nuestro sistema socioeconómico y el modelo energético. El impacto que la pandemia ha creado en el ámbito energético parece haber reforzado la necesidad de transitar hacia un modelo más justo e inclusivo. En este contexto (Marzo de 2019, pre-covid), la Comisión Europea impulsa una transición energética en la que la ciudadanía está llamada a jugar un rol central para conseguir un sistema energético asequible, fiable y sostenible mediante el desarrollo de comunidades locales de energía. Estas iniciativas comunitarias destacan por sus modos de gobierno basados en la promoción del bien común y su pertenencia formal a la Economía Social. Tienen el potencial de conformar un modelo energético más resiliente a través de la relocalización de la generación de la energía, la reducción de su consumo o la ubicación de la ciudadanía en el centro a través de la socialización de los medios de producción. Utilizando una extensa revisión bibliográfica y el análisis de fuentes secundarias, el objetivo de esta investigación es proponer un marco conceptual convergente entre la Economía Social y el paradigma de lo Común, y aplicarlo a las Comunidades de Energía impulsadas por la Comisión Europea. Mediante el diálogo entre los principios normativos y aplicados del paradigma de lo Común y los de la Economía Social, se desarrollará un mapa de las esferas de lo Público, lo Privado, lo Social y lo Común que, a su vez, justificará posicionar a la Economía Social como la forma idónea de organizar iniciativas como las Comunidades de Energía Europeas.
... This chapter is divided into three sections. In the fi rst one, I discuss the connection between labor and energy transitions at a theoretical historical level, drawing primarily on the works of Malm (2016) and Mitchell (2011) . In the second section I describe the arrival of nuclear power to Southern Catalonia, focusing on how the local population engaged with the political challenge it represented and the labor opportunities it provided. ...
... Taken together, Andreas Malm's Fossil Capital ( Malm 2016 ) and Timothy Mitchell's Carbon Democracy ( Mitchell 2011 ) constitute a path-breaking diptych examining the relationship between work and energy in the fossil fuel-based modernity of the last two centuries. Both off er theoretically rich and historically grounded inquiries into the intricate relationship between power over nature -power as energy capacity, a measure of work -and power over peoplepower in its political sense, what Eric Wolf called "structural power" ( Wolf 1990 ). ...
... Widespread popular opposition, technical challenges (for instance, nuclear waste handling) and commercial uncertainty (in part linked to the heavy reliance on state funding) all combined to put a halt to the massive expansion of nuclear power that was slated for development. More importantly, the neoliberal revolution led by Reagan and Thatcher was able to regain partial control over the oil system (and its attendant class struggle) through a combination of military interventionism, fi nancial maneuvering, and the diversifi cation of oil and gas sources ( Harvey 2005 ;Mitchell 2011 ). Hydrocarbons, thus, continued to reign supreme, and the shift to a more diversifi ed and sustainable energy system stalled, at least until the new millennium, when renewables began their remarkable and sustained growth, holding out the promise of a low-carbon energy transition. ...
Chapter
This chapter focuses on the role of labor in the upcoming and ongoing low-carbon energy transition. After a first section discussing the connection between labor and energy transitions at a theoretical historical level, the chapter moves to the particular case study of Southern Catalonia. My description, which is based on long-term historical ethnographic research, explores the arrival to this peripheralized, poor rural region of nuclear and wind energy, analyzing their deep yet contrasting effects upon the livelihood practices and political strategies of the inhabitants of Southern Catalonia. This divergence, I argue, is largely explained by the different organizational characteristics and labor requirements of these two forms of electricity generation: whereas the availability of cheap labor was a key factor motivating the location of nuclear plants in the area, wind developers primarily seek spaces that can be cheapened, that is to say, treated as lacking in economic value and moral worth. To close the chapter, I connect empirical material and theoretical insights and suggest some general conclusions about the role of labor and peripheral regions in the ongoing green transition.
... Timothy Mitchell (2013), for example, demonstrates how physical-material flows (in his case energy, and more concretely, fossil fuels) make possible particular political forms, as well as their modes of resistance(Mitchell 2013). 2 This not only holds true for digital platforms. Mark Beeson, for example, speaks of the challenges that environmental changes and the threat of environmental destruction poses to centralized governments. ...
... Timothy Mitchell (2013), for example, demonstrates how physical-material flows (in his case energy, and more concretely, fossil fuels) make possible particular political forms, as well as their modes of resistance(Mitchell 2013). 2 This not only holds true for digital platforms. ...
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Climate change and fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies are massively shifting the material and social conditions of existence on Earth and contribute to a state of indeterminacy and increased political experimentation. While various models for what might become the ‘next iteration of governance’ are currently emerging, this essay turns to specific contemporary political experiments which claim to democratize power, distribute and/or share sovereignty, function as peer-to-peer or actor-to-actor, and move beyond criticism—be it to the moon or to soil. More precisely, I look at extropist experiments in competitive crypto-governance and at (post)critical laboratories closer to the conceptual frame of international law, which both, in different ways, rely on a specific practice of determination characterized by binary relations and existential negation. In favor of an alternative approach, I argue for an ethics of legal thought capable of attending to indeterminacy and the relationalities it enables differently.
... The lens of markets as socio-technical agencements has already been applied to inquire into markets in an energy (transition) context (Labussieère and Nadaï, 2018;Mitchell, 2011;Silvast, 2017), including wind power (e.g., Pallesen 2013; Kirkegaard et al. 2019;Kirkegaard 2015;Kirkegaard and Çalışkan 2018;Jenle, 2015). These studies have helped shed light on how the successes (or failures) of market agencements are critical components in the history of all energy technologies, including fossil fuels (Mitchell, 2011), nuclear power (Hecht, 2009), solar power (Coïnte, 2017), and energy security (Jenle and Pallesen, 2017;Pallesen and Jacobsen, 2021). ...
... The lens of markets as socio-technical agencements has already been applied to inquire into markets in an energy (transition) context (Labussieère and Nadaï, 2018;Mitchell, 2011;Silvast, 2017), including wind power (e.g., Pallesen 2013; Kirkegaard et al. 2019;Kirkegaard 2015;Kirkegaard and Çalışkan 2018;Jenle, 2015). These studies have helped shed light on how the successes (or failures) of market agencements are critical components in the history of all energy technologies, including fossil fuels (Mitchell, 2011), nuclear power (Hecht, 2009), solar power (Coïnte, 2017), and energy security (Jenle and Pallesen, 2017;Pallesen and Jacobsen, 2021). ...
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This paper contributes to a renewed understanding of markets in transition studies by focusing on how unknown things must be ‘framed’ and pacified in order to be attributed some ‘value’ that makes them ‘matter’. We empirically analyze the making of a market agencement for wind power deployment in Denmark. Using an analytical framework of framing and pacifying, we trace three entangled ‘domains of action’ associated with the employment of (a) sociopolitical devices to enable the discursive valuation of wind power, (b) economic devices to develop price-setting models for investors, and (c) technical devices to facilitate grid integration, thereby framing wind power as socio-politically, economically, and techno-scientifically ‘valuable’, respectively. This market agencement has consistently produced concerns (i.e., overflows) requiring constant re-framing. We discuss how the lens of markets-in-the-making can contribute to transition studies. By showing how the domains of action entangle and ‘overflow’ onto each other, this study demonstrates that the relational lens of socio-technical agencements can help shed additional light on the dynamics and agency of markets in transition.
... The readiness of its availability was a necessary substratum for unprecedented waves of commercial, industrial, military and agricultural expansion, from the so-called industrial revolution (Barca 2011) through late nineteenth century imperialism (Luxemburg 1913;Malm 2018) to the "Great Acceleration" of the twentieth century's latter half (Steffen et al. 2015) and the "Green Revolution" (Cleaver 1972) that powered it. Throughout the fossil age of expansion, coal, oil and gas have helped make the physical (Elhacham et al. 2020;Krausmann et al. 2017), political-institutional (Mitchell 2011) and mental (Welzer 2011) makeup of the contemporary world amenable to a degree of control through abstract societal logics that was unthinkable to earlier eras and remains unexplored in many of its dimensions. ...
... This itself is telling: in a phase of rapid expansion, the steadily increasing availability of abstract fossil energy had made society's dependence on nature practically invisible, so much so that even a sociological observer deploying an anthropological optic sharpened in detailed analysis of a traditional socionatural order did not feel the need to reflect it in his guiding assumptions. As a result, Bourdieu's sociology of distinction, cultural taste and field-specific power struggles itself operated within the epistemological confines of a carbon-based industrial society (Mitchell 2011) during the phase of naturalized intensified expansion now termed the "Great Acceleration" (Steffen et al. 2015). Focusing on the internal dynamics of what has been termed "externalization societies" (Lessenich 2019), it left aside the accelerating exploitation of nature and the globally unequal social relations that formed the basis of their functioning. ...
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This primarily conceptual contribution introduces a sociological framework for tracing the effects and the sources of stability or instability of societal nature relations to the thoughts, feelings and doings of actually existing people. Drawing on critical debates on societal nature relations, we argue that modern capitalist societalization is inherently expansionary, that the rapid expansion of human economic activity over the past two centuries was only possible based on fossil resources, and that therefore, moving to a post-fossil world will require reinventing the very essence of what “society” is. To investigate the implications of such a fundamental overhaul at the level of how socialized people relate to socialized nature, we build on the relational sociology of Pierre Bourdieu to suggest the framework of a space of social relationships with nature. We describe the iterative process in which we arrived at this conception, moving back and forth between theoretical considerations and hermeneutic analysis of qualitative material from case studies of bio-based economic activities in four European regions. From the iterative process, we synthesize four elementary forms of social relationship with nature (“natural capital”, “nature as partner”, “natural heritage” and nature as “the environment”) and provide an illustrative corner case for each. From the systematic differences that emerge, we then draw out two principal axes of a spatial representation partly homologous with Bourdieu’s social space: a vertical axis indicating the degree of active involvement in and access to the means of abstract-expansionary societalization, and a horizontal representing the form of that involvement, along a continuum from dualist, instrumental and appropriative to holist, mutual or caring relationships with nature. In conclusion, we propose further research to apply and develop this relational framework across local or national contexts and scales as a means to analyze tensions and conflicts around transformations of the societal nature relations.
... Our understanding of democracy therefore endorses the concept of a "double materiality of democracy" (Pichler, Brand, and G€ org 2020); this comprises its social dimension (i.e., its articulation with social conditions), on one hand, and the social appropriation of nature on the other (Mitchell 2011). Consequently, democracy is understood as a contested process whose core comprises the control and power of disposal over the shaping of societynature relations: "Apart from the introduction of democratic instruments and procedures (e.g., participation and dialogue), democratization therefore also means the politicization and control of the material conditions of (re-)production that include nature, natural resources and the international division of labor" (Pichler, Brand, and G€ org 2020, 201). ...
... More specifically, the fossil industries (e.g., Germany's strong car-manufacturing sector) have had a democratizing effect through strong labor representation and the associated achievements, as well as through new forms of social participation (for example through membership in the people's parties or in the growing trade unions), which were linked to the rapid expansion of the use of fossil-energy sources. These aspects of "carbon democracy" (Mitchell 2011) can also be observed with regard to the German model of capitalism. Coal played a prominent role in the German labor movement and is closely linked to the corporatist relationship between industry, labor, and the state in the Modell Deutschland (Raphael 2019). ...
... The increasing distributions and automations of transport entangled human action with goods, resources, plants, and animals. The transportation of coal created multiple choke points, for instance where unionized labour exerted pressure on corporations and the state (Mitchell 2011). This is not the case with oil, currently still the preferred fossil fuel, which flows through pipelines that can bypass concentrations of (manual) labour. ...
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This reflexive article combines recent as well as established insights from various anthropological subfields and beyond to address a world that is increasingly on the move, and this in ways that we do not fully understand, let alone manage or control. As such, the text involves a critical thinking exercise that focuses on the importance of processes of motion and communication, ranging from planetary and even cosmic mobilities to micro-movements and exchanges at the cellular and atomic levels. Taking this broader context of mobility and change into account in the Anthropocene Epoch automatically leads to a serious overhaul of how "the human" has traditionally been understood and the vital role of what we have come to term "the environment". This radical rethinking has obvious consequences for a human-centered scientific discipline like anthropology in terms of ontologies and epistemologies, theories and methodologies. I end the article by offering some concrete suggestions on how anthropology, as a holistic discipline without clear-cut boundaries, can position itself in a world that is currently undergoing very rapid changes.
... In tal senso, livelli differenti dei flussi di petrolio a livello territoriale, culturale, e della memoria sociale, così come fisicamente rappresentati, e le pratiche quotidiane, si combinano nel futuro transnazionale degli ambiti petroliferi. Dall'analisi delle interrelazioni tra le politiche petrolifere e globali nel diciannovesimo e all'inizio del ventesimo secolo, Timothy Mitchell, nel suo libro -Carbon democracy analizza la crescita di una determinata tipologia di politiche democratiche di massa e lo sviluppo storico dell'energia dai combustibili fossili [3]. Michael Watt, pone innanzi il termine 'complesso petrolifero' (o 'assemblaggio petrolifero') come la peculiare territorializzazione del complesso petrolifero e dell'area tecnologica, che è al centro del decorso economico, politico e scientifico [4]. ...
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The oil industry has played a significant role in the economy of modern Iran and Malaysia, especially as a source of transnational exchange and as a substantial factor in industrial and urban development. During the previous century, the arrival of oil companies in the Persian Gulf brought many changes to the physical built environment and accelerated the urbanization process in the port cities. Similarly, the development of the national oil industry had a considerable impact on post-independence Malaysia, affecting balance sheets, the environment, and society. Oil significantly changed Malaysia’s position in the global economy and transformed a predominantly agricultural country into a significant producer of petroleum and natural gas. This paper implements the analytical, historical, and comparative perspectives. Specifically, it focuses on the legacy of oil cities in the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea as the birthplaces of the oil industry in two regions. In both countries, geopolitical importance and oil’s cultural, social, and historical narratives have the potential to represent national unity, political memory, and collective identity. In proposing this grounding, the paper seeks to approach the oil heritage as a particular form of industrial heritage. This research analyses the future of energy heritage, existing Covid-related challenges, and political tensions and examines the various impacts, transitions, and capacities associated with the current international relations, post-pandemic urban developments, and the post-oil future to pave the way for these developing areas of industrial heritage and oil heritage in Iran and Malaysia.
... According to Dewey (2016Dewey ( [1927: 172), democracy was an 'outcome primarily of technological discoveries and inventions working a change in the customs by which men [sic] had been bound together. It was not due to the doctrines of doctrinaires' (see also Mitchell, 2011). This has profound implications for how politics is conceived and practiced, and similarly, how social research and experiment are conducted. ...
Article
The UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration commenced in June 2021, with the expectation that ecological restoration will be vastly scaled-up internationally. Millions of hectares of the earth’s surface is projected to be restored, from forests and peatland to rivers, reefs and grasslands. This will transform restoration from a predominantly localized, community-driven field to a highly capitalized, professional activity. As the renowned biologist E. O. Wilson proposed, the twenty-first century certainly does look likely to be characterized by restoration. And yet, thus far, the still emerging field of ecological restoration has been dominated by the natural sciences, in both theory and practice, neglecting broader questions of how to live in and with restored landscapes. This paper contends that if restoration is to be significantly expanded over the next decade, the social sciences and humanities must be involved to ensure its purpose is given adequate scrutiny, by engaging wider publics of interest in scheme planning, design and implementation. This is crucial given the dominance of natural capital accounting in restoration, which privileges economic reasoning over alternative, more radical forms. Pragmatism, which has a substantive philosophical interest in the relationship between humans and their environment, can offer a distinctive orientation to inquiry conducive to collaboration between the natural and social disciplines. Focusing on waterway restoration in the United Kingdom, and drawing on social and natural science literature, this paper outlines a pragmatist research agenda that recognizes multiplicity in nature, advocates experimentation in human-environment relations, and foregrounds community in democratic renewal. The paper considers not only ways that pragmatism can inform restoration but how restoration can advance a pragmatist agenda for invigorating public life. This encourages scholars to think with not only against restoration, attending to composition as well as critique, as part of a political urban ecology.
... Comme nous le développons dans le chapitre 1, la littérature sur l'économie politique des ressources et sur le gouvernement des territoires extractifs (Bebbington et al., 2018 ;Bebbington & Bury, 2013 ;Galeano, 1981 ;Gudynas, 2015 ;Kirsch, 2014 ;Mitchell, 2013) met en exergue la pluralité des visions des projets miniers, qu'il s'agisse de leurs effets attendus et de leur répartition au sein des groupes sociaux, des espaces de débat où ces projets dont discutés et décidés, et incidemment des acteurs conviés à participer aux processus décisionnels. L'ambition de cet ouvrage est de contribuer à illustrer ces dynamiques dans le cadre français, lequel n'a pas fait l'objet jusqu'alors d'une analyse détaillée en sciences sociales. ...
... Andrew Barry (2006) suggests the phrase 'technological zone' to refer to the ensemble of regulations, infrastructures, technical procedures and calculative arrangements that make oil governable both as object and flow. Indeed, beyond the oil rigs, the making of oil into the quintessential natural resource and global commodity of the American century required the construction of a massive infrastructure of transportation made of tankers, pipelines (Hindery 2013) and refineries (Shever 2012), but also new institutions of governance (Watts 2004) and apparatuses of calculation, exemplified by the creation of the new field of resource economics after the 1973 oil shock (Mitchell 2011). ...
Chapter
In recent decades, as the frontiers of extraction have expanded to an unprecedented scale, natural resources have become a key area of anthropological interest. This chapter reviews some of the main contributions of this work and engages in a conceptual discussion around the notion of natural resources, defining them as the cultural form through which capital and the state relate to nature as manageable matter ready to enter production. Arguing both against the view of natural resources as fixed and given and against constructivist understandings that underplay the workings of nature, I propose a political ecological approach, attentive to both mental and material processes, that places emphasis in the analysis of history and power. This approach is illustrated through the presentation of a series of case studies, which help reveal the distinctive temporalities, spatial configurations, value relations and affects linked to natural resource extraction.
... These novel configurations may have shattering effects on the assumptions of an autonomous sphere of the social just as they shatter indigenous societies caught in various practical binds unable to deal with violent impositions and disruptions inherent in the colonizing impetus of contemporary economics. In Tim Mitchell's (2011) terms this reductive discourse preoccupied with the "science of moving money", while assuming a stable material context for its operations, needs to confront the dynamic world it is now changing on a vast scale. ...
... The following section provides an account of the context in Lebanon and the theoretical underpinnings of the concepts of energy justice, energy democracy and mini-publics as genealogical thinking around why we embarked on organising a citizens' assembly on energy justice. The paper contributes to a growing field of research on energy and politics in the Middle East (Hoffmann, 2018;Mitchell, 2011) and Lebanon specifically (Abi Ghanem, 2018;Abu-Rish, 2015;Nucho, 2017;Verdeil, 2019Verdeil, , 2018Verdeil, , 2016. The focus of this literature has been on the history, institutional developments and politics, with little on the popular participation in the shaping of energy systems and futures. ...
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Energy injustice is driven by structural inequalities that are evident in differential electricity access and affordability that harm different groups in different ways. When an uprising began in Lebanon in 2019, the issue of energy justice emerged as a prominent grievance. We experimented with a combined democractic-justice approach to energy future-making via organising a pilot CA on energy justice. We emerge with four imaginaries based on the discourses and narratives expounded on during the deliberation sessions of the CA. The citizens’ dystopic imaginary sits alongside a state-centric petro-masculine imaginary. The empirical findings from the CA demonstrate that to move society towards a just transition, sustainability may not be a priority if more urgent pressures like access and affordability are affecting them more. In place of protracted energy shortage and political turmoil, trust in government affects people’s trust in the energy outlook and the promises of renewable energy. The CA experiment demonstrates how critical political moments can make say for more radical visions of sustainable energy future but how competing imaginaries can complicate questions of sustainability when a justice approach is used.
... The dynamics shaping the oil assemblage are thoroughly capitalist in form and thrust, characterised by the relentless chase for super-profits by transnational oil companies and other cognate profit-seeking elements of the assemblage. Both this imperative and the actors and processes constituting the oil assemblage are intrinsically exploitative and dispossessive, environmentally and socially deleterious, and prone to political corruption and malfeasance (Watts 2012: see also Mitchell 2009Mitchell , 2011Gillies 2019Gillies , 2020. ...
Chapter
All over the world, the dynamics shaping oil and gas industries are thoroughly capitalist in form and thrust, characterised by the relentless chase for super-profits by transnational oil companies and other cognate profit-seeking elements—what Michael Watts conceptualises as the ‘oil assemblage’. The imperatives, actors and processes of the oil assemblage are intrinsically exploitative and dispossessive and are often characterised by social injustices and inequities. Being part of the global oil assemblage, the Ghanaian oil and gas industry is shaped by these characteristics, hence, emerging as an unjust and inequitable development industry. Against this dystopian backdrop, this chapter formulates a radical perspective of social justice and equity, upon which it documents and elaborates the injustices and inequities within the Ghanaian oil and gas industry at two interrelated levels: global (international) and national (local). It explores the critical political-economic literature on extractive industries, zeroing into an analysis of both secondary quantitative and qualitative data on the inequities and injustices that pervade Ghana’s oil and gas industry. The chapter aims to contribute to the literature on the development prospects and challenges of the Ghanaian oil and gas industry in a fresh way: namely, by transcending the dominant resource curse framing of these issues in order to bring into the conversation issues of social justice and equity, which are so often given fleeting mention, if at all, in the extant literature on the industry. This chapter concludes by musing on a number of radical interventions to address these inequities and injustices at both the global and national levels.
... Theoretical perspectives drawing towards ecological democracy instead tend to set out a more fundamental critique of all liberal-democratic environmentalism and often advocate agendas that are considerably more transformative, participatory, cosmopolitan, and ecocentric (Agyeman et al., 2016;Biermann and Gupta, 2011;Kramarz and Park, 2016;Pickering et al., 2020). In this more recent normative literature, we also find suggestions for issuespecific forms of democracy, such as carbon democracy where it is argued that the rise of modern democracies is entwined with the development of fossil fuel industries, making it difficult to decarbonize existing democracies (Mitchell, 2011) and energy democracy concerned with discovering pathways to the normative goal of democratizing energy production and consumption (Szulecki, 2018). ...
Article
Since a more substantial recognition of environmental degradation in the 1960s, the scholarly community has looked at democracy with mixed feelings. Some assert that democracy is devastating for the environmental performance, some claim the opposite, while others suggest that certain democratic models are more successful than others in paving the way for sustainability. Both political theorists and empirical scholars add fuel to this debate, and neither has settled the argument yet. In this paper we make use of recently collected data from the Varieties of Democracy project on different conceptions of democracy and address both these literatures. We empirically test whether different features of democracies, i.e., liberal in its thinner understanding, social-liberal, and deliberative, are more or less beneficial for environmental commitments. We investigate which of these features make democracies more prone to produce environmental policy outputs – adopt climate laws, deliver on them, develop stringent environmental policies, and incorporate sustainability into economic policies. We find that democracies with stronger deliberative features adopt more, but not necessarily stricter or more effective, environmental policies. Instead, democracies with stronger social-liberal features adopt both stricter and more effective policies.
... These new developments therefore fuel discontent and are reminiscent of the kind of disembodied, resentful societies that are left in the wake of carbon explorations here and in other parts of the world (cf. Kikon, 2019;Mitchell, 2011). ...
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Two large-scale environmental disasters in Assam's easternmost district Tinsukia, raised great passion and held much traction in local print, electronic and social media platforms in 2020. The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) granted post-facto approval for opencast mining in Saleki Proposed Reserved Forest (PRF) under Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve in Assam. Later, the public sector company, Oil India Limited (OIL) reported a gas leak in Baghjan that resulted in a major blowout resulting in deaths and displacement in the area. In this article, we argue that these events constitute a tragic outcome of decades of appropriation of natural resources by the oil, tea and coal industry all of which depend on obsolete technologies of extraction. We focus on how this is happening in a place that has several disaffected, marginalised people who once relied on agriculture for their livelihoods. We argue that these two events are not aberrations in the global narrative of inter-governmental concerns for climate change. Instead, we believe that they are part of a global template of re-colonisation that continued long after the formal transfers of power that occurred in Africa and Asia in the 20th century.
... Ainsi, le charbon, non seulement n'a pas disparu du mix énergétique, mais continue de croître en valeur absolue. Aussi, à chaque fois, une nouvelle source d'énergie devient dominante, non pas en vertu d'une qualité intrinsèque supérieure ou d'un coût inférieur, mais parce qu'elle favorise un bloc social particulier, un système socioéconomique ou une configuration géopolitique (Mitchell, 2011 ;Malm, 2016). À l'échelle locale, des transitions ont eu lieu, mais davantage subies que planifiées 22 . ...
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Dans ce travail, nous montrons que, par-delà leurs divergences (sur les montants et les outils à mettre en œuvre), un très large consensus existe chez les économistes pour présenter les investissements verts comme une condition nécessaire et première pour résoudre la crise écologique. Nous expliquons d’abord ce qui rend ce « paradigme des investissements verts » (PIV) si puissant. Nous mettons ensuite en évidence différents écueils : la vision réductionniste, normative, anhistorique et dépolitisante qui l’accompagne, laquelle est la conséquence d’un cadrage de type problem-solving qui est indifférent aux enseignements de l’histoire et des sciences sociales. Nous évoquons, enfin, ce qui est hors-cadre du PIV et concluons sur quelques débats à investir pour penser les crises écologiques.
... From the social meaning of electric infrastructure a century ago in the USA (Nye, 1992) to the regional political economies of current electrification in India (Kale, 2014), the social sciences have come to recognize that energy sources and infrastructures are deeply intertwined with socio-political forms of organization (Mitchell, 2011). Specifically, energy geographers demand attentiveness to 'location, landscape, territoriality, spatial differentiation, scaling, and spatial embeddedness' (Bridge et al., 2013, p. 331), and anthropologists highlight the recursive agency of links between energy and culture (Boyer, 2015). ...
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... According to this, mismatches and conflicting relations between the three dimensions of social acceleration may lead to certain forms of deceleration and even social instability. For example, in "Rentier states" capitalist competition, technological innovation-as underlying preconditions for technological acceleration-may be replaced by the processes of the economization and commer-cialization of natural resources (Mahdavi, 1970;Skocpol, 1982;Mitchell, 2013). Economically, such conditions may lead to the emergence of a high-technological industrial sector as well. ...
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... Moreover, the main source of power would, in time, change from water to coal ( S. Morgan, 2008). This meant that steam, rather than water, became the main source of energy, and that brick and cast iron would become the main types of construction materials, which would, in turn, later evolve into steel ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2006;Mitchell, 2011). ...
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energy sector: This essay introduces critical topics for understanding current energy transitions by blending social studies of markets with energy studies. The socio-technical energy system in transition can be viewed as an integral part of the financial system; on the other hand, the case of energy complements the social studies of markets and economics by emphasizing the interdependence between economics, engineering problems, existing infrastructures, and political tensions when market-based energy is at stake. Abstract many energy market design solutions have been proposed for many years. These include boosting international trade, reducing emissions, securing future electricity capacity, and increasing flexibility amid a growing number of intermittent renewable energy sources. Notional and methodological inventions in sociology are motivated by the emerging economic understandings of the energy infrastructure. The first part discusses how economic theories, instruments, and other methods are used to make market economic analysis more meaningful. With an emphasis on markets, liberalization, and sustainability, the second portion focuses on emerging studies that use these approaches. This essay introduces critical topics for understanding current energy transitions by blending social studies of markets with energy studies. The socio-technical energy system in transition can be viewed as an integral part of the financial system; on the other hand, the case of energy complements the social studies of markets and economics by emphasizing the interdependence between economics, engineering problems, existing infrastructures, and political tensions when market-based energy is at stake.
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Dua, Jatin. 2019. Captured at sea: Piracy and protection in the Indian Ocean . Oakland, CA: University of California Press. Appel, Hannah. 2019. The licit life of capitalism . Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Sopranzetti, Claudio. 2018. Owners of the map: Motorcycle taxi drivers, mobility, and politics in Bangkok . Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
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A key scientific publication (Bennett et al 2018) demonstrates that the bio‐physical composition of the broiler chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) represents a signal of the Anthropocene. This finding contributes to a wider body of evidence that locates the beginning of the Anthropocene in the mid‐20th Century (Steffen et al 2015; Zalasiewicz et al 2019), and is part of a broader intellectual project that seeks to establish and demarcate the Anthropocene as a new geological era. This paper takes a different tack. Treating Gallus gallus as an objective corollary for the Anthropocene, it positions the broiler chicken, and the Anthropocene an ontologically emergent nexus comprised of social‐spatial relations, materialities and practices. The paper then adopts critical nexus thinking (Walker and Coles 2021) to trace out the key relations and materialities, and their points of convergence, and underpinning extractivist ontologies that assemble into chicken’s body. Relations of particular concern include the processes that embody surplus value into the corporality of the chicken; the rationalisation and transformation of territories and landscapes into productive units of space, and the tightly coupled, interconnected flows of relations, materials and coordinating technologies that comprise the ‘supply‐chain’. It argues that by using critical nexus thinking to identify and articulate these relations that assemble into Gallus gallus, it renders the Anthropocene legible. Such legibility in turn fosters geographical awareness and responsibility that might lead to the changes necessary to address the large‐scale spatial inequalities from which the era stems, and redress the consequences that the era might otherwise engender.
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The global demand for energy is booming day by day and yet the energy is required to be clean due to the strict environmental regulations. The current carbon-based economy primarily relies on energy extracted from fossil fuels. However, burning fossil fuels results in the emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that are deadly to the environment. The hydrogen economy is proposed as an alternative to fossil fuels, considering the high energy density by weight of hydrogen as well as its environmentally friendly nature. This modern economy depends on green hydrogen as commercial fuel and it is considered the vital energy conversion and storage strategy to fully exploit the benefits of renewable and sustainable energy resources, for example, solar and wind energies. Hydrogen energy-related technologies (production, storage, conversion, etc.) present new research frontiers. Moreover, hydrogen combined with fuel cells provides essential energy solutions for the 21st century. Fuel cells utilize hydrogen gaseous fuel to generate electricity via an electrochemical process that provides much higher efficiencies and zero pollutant output than the conventional energy conversion technologies, for example, an internal combustion engine. In addition, the reversible fuel cells utilizing renewable energies provide the most efficient water electrolysis and they are being rapidly developed for green hydrogen production. Thus, hydrogen and fuel cells present promising potential for replacing conventional energy conversion systems with clean energy systems. This chapter briefly reviews the current research status of the hydrogen and fuel cell technologies for a viable supply and storage of clean and economical energy. The various challenges hampering the massive commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are also identified and discussed. In addition, the market and policy trends regarding hydrogen and fuel cells are discussed.
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This article takes recent work on energy into an historical analysis of Nepal-India border relations to reveal the consequences of unequal geopolitical positions between Nepal and India. This helps explain the recurrent tensions between the countries, despite their cultural and historical closeness. The article makes two independent but mutually supporting arguments. First, the concept ‘energopower’ would be productively expanded by more clearly encompassing labour as a form of energy supply. Second, bringing this perspective to bear in historical analyses of energy exchange and labour migration makes a timely contribution to historical anthropology. I suggest that this framing be called ‘energohistory’. This is put into practice through historical analyses of Indian trade ‘blockades’ on Nepal and through two case studies on the exchange of energy commodities and labour between the countries. ‘Energohistory’ reveals how energopower melds with biopower, from the past through to the present, flowing through high state politics to the level of everyday discourse.
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Today, wind powers and solar powers have become the main stream of energies. Everyone, from major electric power utilities to mega capital investors, has entered the renewable energy sector, increasingly and rapidly expanding the mass capital investment projects in the world. It is not rare to find cases of such mega projects developing confrontations with local communities. Since 1990s, the privatization of energy sector has been significant, with Nordic countries and Germany seeing the advancement of privatizations among community-operated energy utilities. Recently, however, there has been the movement to re-review such trend “to revive public utilities”. The recent reversal of privatization trend means that the conventional way of decision-making participated by local governments and handful corporations is no longer appropriate, and there is a rise of common understanding that the decision-making and governance method of local communities must be open and distributed horizontally. The rapid progress of ICT in recent years has raised awareness of risks in the governance system dominated by private companies, while raising technical capabilities to realize new and open decision-making and governance in local communities.
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Coethnics often work in the same industries. How does this ethnic clustering affect individuals’ political loyalties amid industrial growth and decline? Focusing on migrant groups, the author contends that ethnic groups’ distribution across industries alters the political allegiances of their members. When a group is concentrated in a growing industry, economic optimism and resources flow between coethnics, bolstering migrants’ confidence in their economic security and dissuading investments in local political incorporation. When a group is concentrated in a declining industry, these gains dissipate, leading migrants to integrate into out-groups with greater access to political rents. Analyses of immigrants near US coal mines in the early twentieth century support this theory. The article shows how ethnic groups’ distribution across industries shapes the evolution of group cleavages and illuminates how decarbonizing transitions away from fossil fuels may reshape identity conflicts.
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The article examines the first Chinese green bond issued in Europe to explore how a green bond is created and how it can be issued across boundaries. Raising questions of "green" valuation at multiple scales, it follows the way the bond's proceeds hit the ground in Portugal, refinancing wind farms previously built under a Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) regime. It shows how if on the one hand green bonds are designed as abstract and fungible instruments, then on the other they are spatially situated and predicated upon the larger dynamic of global financial accumulation with its recurrent and contingent crises. In this context, the rush over renewables intersects with expansive Chinese financial monetary policy and the EU austerity process.
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The special issue uses the notion of a postcolonial Anthropocene to guide the research papers towards investigating (a) the situated emergence and shaping of site-specific constellations of science, technology and socio-ecological change, and (b) how inequitable transnational and postcolonial relations mattered to those situated histories.
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How does a monumental building – the former headquarters of the Halifax Building Society – in a northern English town embody a material expression of the mutualised mortgage industry dominant in the UK at the time of its conception and construction? How does this building correspond to a specific dispositif of mutuality? I consider questions such as these through documentary research, an interview, and correspondence with an architect who worked on the project (1968–1974). The building’s current use as a global banking group’s ‘head office’ is significantly different from that which supported mutuality in the 1970s, and I consider the building’s architectural and technological forms to understand how it organised a material cultural expression of the mutual building society’s power, and of its members’ money–power, through the mechanisation of an intensifying mortgage-handling business and the bunkering of a gradually increasing stock of mortgage paper.
Chapter
While the origins of Africa's mixed record of oil-led transformation continue to attract attention from disciplines ranging from geography to international relations, there is surprisingly less enthusiasm in their linkages with the colonial experience. This chapter offers an account of how the colonial encounter shaped the trajectory of oil and development in Africa. The overriding observations posit that while the colonial period did not yield many accomplishments by way of oil production, the extractive logic and the institutional norms of the era continue to shape up the materiality of oil across the region.
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Climate change and broader Anthropogenic environmental risks pose existential threats to humanity. Human-driven environmental change has come to be understood through the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’. Anthropocene risks demonstrate that existing fossil-fuel intensive and growth-oriented capitalist development are unsustainable. The urgent need to transition towards greener forms of development is widely recognised. Comparative Political Economy (CPE) should be well placed to guide and evaluate green transition, yet it typifies a wider disconnect between political economy and environment. This article seeks to understand and transcend that disconnect. Developing a critical genealogy of CPE's post-war emergence, the article examines CPE's paradigmatic evolution and fitness for grappling with the Anthropocene. It argues that dominant theoretical paradigms (Varieties of Capitalism and Growth Models approaches) are grounded in a ‘nature/society’ dualism that treats national economic models as environmentally disembedded and causally independent from the Earth System. Economic growth is uncritically elevated as a dominant comparative metric, normative aspiration, and policy objective for capitalist development. These characteristics limit the capacity to engage with green transition. Embedding CPE within ecological considerations, the article selectively repurposes the field's existing conceptual insights to develop hypotheses concerning comparative capitalisms and green transition in the Anthropocene.
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Self-determination is a central concept for political philosophers. For example, many have appealed to this concept to defend a right of states to restrict immigration. Because it is deeply embedded in our political structures, the principle possesses a kind of default authority and does not usually call for an elaborate defense. In this paper, I will argue that genealogical studies by Adom Getachew, Radhika Mongia, Nandita Sharma, and others help to challenge this default authority. Their counter-histories show that the principle was used to justify, strengthen, and adapt imperial rule in the twentieth century. In particular, the idea that controlling a population's composition through regulating immigration is an essential aspect of self-determination emerged as a response to White anxieties about the migration of negatively racialized groups. Genealogies have not been adequately appreciated as a critical tool within the mainstream of political philosophy. I show that these genealogies have a critical role to play because they unsettle our uncritical attachment to the structures of the nation-state system and raise serious questions about the meaning and emancipatory force of the principle of self-determination.
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How is capital accumulation sustained in the Anthropocene, even as it threatens to overwhelm everyone—capitalists included—in ever‐growing quantities of waste? This paper examines this question at the metropolitan scale, focusing on the growth of Greater Mexico City. In a bid to spur capital accumulation, governments across the megacity increasingly push for new urban developments that encroach on the already‐strained drainage system, limiting its capacity to prevent floods. To protect these developments, state engineers now regularly divert wastewater through the homes and streets of marginalised areas of the metropolis. Even as these diversions turn marginal neighbourhoods into ephemeral waste conduits, the transience of wastewaters and the complexity of engineers’ operations limit the possibilities for collective resistance. This calculative management of the flows of waste—here termed the logistics of waste—is a critical yet understudied way engineering sustains the accumulation of capital and limits popular resistance to elite‐led projects of endless growth. ¿Cómo se sostiene la acumulación de capital en el Antropoceno, aun cuando esta amenaza con inundar a todos—los capitalistas incluidos—con cantidades de desechos cada vez mayores? Este artículo examina esta cuestión a escala metropolitana, con un enfoque en el crecimiento de la Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México. Con el objetivo de estimular la acumulación de capital, los gobiernos de la megaciudad con más frecuencia impulsan nuevos desarrollos urbanos que invaden las infraestructuras ya sobrepasadas del sistema de drenaje metropolitano, lo cual limita su capacidad para prevenir inundaciones. Para proteger estos desarrollos, ingenieros estatales desvían las aguas negras por las casas y calles de zonas marginadas de la metrópoli. A pesar de que estas desviaciones convierten colonias marginadas en conductos efímeros de desechos, la transitoriedad de las aguas negras y la complejidad de las operaciones de los ingenieros limitan las posibilidades de resistencia colectiva. Este manejo calculado de los flujos de desechos—aquí llamado la logística de los desechos—es una manera crítica pero poco estudiado por medio de la cual la ingeniería sostiene la acumulación de capital y limita la resistencia popular a proyectos de crecimiento interminables dirigidos por elites.
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The article examines the role of automobility in US‐based anti‐racism demonstrations and counter‐demonstrations. We contrast the spatial strategies of highway occupations by racial justice activists, with so‐called “weaponised car” attacks by the American far right. Analysing online memes and anti‐protest legislation, the article explores under‐acknowledged links between “automobile supremacy”—the structure of motorists' privilege as embedded in law, the built environment and the popular imaginary—and the patterns of racial stratification often termed “white supremacy”. We document three ways in which automobility has been enlisted as means of violence against protestors and against wider Black communities in the US: through the use of vehicles, right‐of‐way conventions, and roadways as weapons. The article demonstrates how the imperative to make way for the motorist has long provided cover for racial injustice.
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