Transforming Power: social science and the politics of energy choices
This paper addresses some key implications in momentous current global energy choices – both for social science and for society itself. Energy can be over-used as a lens for viewing social processes. But it is nonetheless of profound importance. Understanding possible ‘sustainable energy’ transformations requires attention to many tricky issues in social theory: around agency and structure and the interplay of power, contingency and practice. These factors are as much shaping of the knowledges and normativities supposedly driving transformation, as they are shaped by them. So, ideas and hopes about possible pathways for change – as well as notions of ‘the transition’ itself – can be deeply constituted by incumbent interests. The paper addresses these dynamics by considering contending forms of transformation centring on renewable energy, nuclear power and climate geoengineering. A series of challenges are identified for social science. These apply especially where there are aims to help enable more democratic exercise of social agency. They enjoin responsibilities to ‘open up’ (rather than ‘close down’), active political spaces for critical contention over alternative pathways. If due attention is to be given to marginalised interests, then a reflexive view needs to be taken of transformation. The paper ends with a series of concrete political lessons.
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