Distraction Free Reading

A Message From the Co-chair: Greetings and Introduction

At the 112th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association last November, I was pleased to take the reins as co-chair of CASTAC alongside returning co-chair Jennifer Cool.  I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my predecessor Rachel Prentice for all of her hard work in building our organization up to its current strength and numbers. In what follows, I’ll introduce myself and share some thoughts about CASTAC and its future. 

I come to CASTAC and, more broadly, to science and technology studies via the study of sustainable development in non-urban spaces. My current project explores the intersection between renewable energy projects and ordinary life in a northern German village on the path to zero-sum living. Germany’s current “energy turn,” its transition from nuclear power to alternative energy sources, is transforming rural communities into sites of lucrative speculation, where capital investment and environmental politics take form around the technoscientific promise of renewables.  In the two decades since the transition was coded into federal law, the village where I work has been terraformed by the installation of wind turbines, solar arrays and now biofuel processing technology.  Practices that were already commonplace in the village (such as the harnessing of wind for land reclamation, the use of sun for heat or the use of biomass for fertilization) have been mutated and scaled up into engines of ecocapital (as wind turbines, solar panels, and biogas processing plants) at the same time that villagers have been recast as energy citizens who take part in the transition by recycling, installing solar panels or investing in wind parks or biofuel ventures.

In the midst of these events, my present work takes up one aspect of this process, namely the fluid technologies that congeal around technoscientific materials in ordinary life, and the repercussions these have for the public participation and social mobility amongst villagers.  I theorize how energy comes to be known and re-membered in this space, both as a commodity and as a sense of animacy or vitality in everyday life, with an eye to the ways in which these understandings map onto class formations. As an ethnographer, I am particularly committed to articulating mundane sensory experience of renewable energy technologies,  the feelingful registers through which energy takes form in everyday collisions of matter, and the ways in which energies teem and surge, becoming unruly in some contexts and “ruly” in others.  This work continually challenges me to consider the implications of sensory ethnography and public culture studies for STS, and vice versa.

As I pursue my own research, I am reinvigorated by CASTAC members’ shared commitment to the ethnography of technoscientific worlds across human and nonhuman things.  CASTAC was part of anthropology’s early forays into cultures of computing and digital technology. Today, we are experiencing a resurgence as emerging technologies bring new and unexpected ethnographic objects under the purview of STS. The CASTAC Blog is one valuable resource that has spun out of that resurgence, allowing anthropologists of STS to build bridges with diverse publics, including with STS scholars in other fields.  CASTAC opens a space for dialogue with non-anthropologists as well as with anthropologists whose work speaks to our own, whether in political anthropology, environmental anthropology, feminist anthropology,  queer anthropology, or other subfields. These connections are invaluable at a time when pressing social issues from income inequality to global warming compel novel  approaches to technopolitical concerns. Additionally, university systems are in a state of transformation, where previously commonsense boundaries between academic and popular culture seem to be in flux, alternatively rigid and shifting, porous and impermeable. Situations such as these call for experimental approaches to making and sharing knowledge in a variety of settings, whether via methodological innovation, new ethnographic writing, and/or dialogue through multiple media. As the posts on this blog demonstrate, CASTAC members are committed to discussing their research in new and diverse venues, in hopes of collaboratively mapping new paths for action in an unsettled world.  As a co-chair of CASTAC, I am pleased to help facilitate this important work, and welcome any questions or comments you may have regarding CASTAC and its projects in the days ahead.

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