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Energy in the Humanities

Energy in the Humanities

This working group will draw together Toronto-area Humanities scholars for a multidisciplinary conversation about energy. In all its forms, energy flows through our modern life, from fueling our cars through charging our Smart Phones to heating our meals. To know the modern world, then, is to know about energy. But what exactly should we know and how should we know it? Energy discussions are so often cast in the “objective” language of systems, technology, and planning. Yet energy is a social, cultural, and political – in a word, human – creation. To build an energy system, governments make decisions, planners imagine futures, workers deploy knowledge and tools, and consumers act on their assumptions about the good life. Ideas make energy. It is a subject for the Humanities. The Energy in the Humanities Working Group will bring important qualitative tools to the energy conversation. We will analyze the political, social, cultural, historical, spatial, discursive, and representational aspects of energy. We will trace connections between ideas and material development. We will, most importantly, explore the dual meaning of power as material/physical and social/political.

Participants in the Working Group deploy different methodologies and scholarly traditions, and focus their research on different historical moments and varied energy forms, but we all share a sense that energy is an intensely human creation. Most of us work on the Americas, but the Group will place energy questions in a rigorously global context. After all, even a Toronto driver is connected, through her energy choices, to global energy regimes and international commodity chains. The core activity for the group will be monthly workshops that generate innovative research and build interdisciplinary tools. Discussions will focus on both work-in-progress generated by group members (with a strong emphasis on developing the work of graduate students) and cutting edge international scholarship drawn from a shared, interdisciplinary list. Sessions will include topics like “Global Energy Inequality”, “Power and Indigeneity” (energy development as the 21st century face of colonialism), “The Tar Sands in the Public Sphere”, “Contested Regimes of Risk” and “Imagining Energy Futures”.

Most of these sessions will be held at the Jackman Humanities Institute, but we plan to hold one workshop at each of the suburban campuses. At UTSC, we will hold a seminar on “Energy, Mobility, and Unbuilt Landscapes”, which will include original research and a walking exploration of the nearby Scarborough Transportation Corridor, a strip of land once designated for the (unbuilt) Scarborough Expressway (scrapped in 1974) and now a combination of new developments and open green space. “Everyday Nuclearity” will be held at UTM, built around the interdisciplinary work of guest speaker Laurel MacDowall (Professor, Historical Studies, UTM), who has been coordinating a research group on occupational safety in the nuclear industry. Our current plan is to hold a concluding session and public talk with an invited speaker, Imre Szeman, Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta.  Dr. Szeman is Co-Director of the Petrocultures, a research cluster engaged in a parallel examination of ideas and representations of energy, though focused more on literature, art, and culture.

Steve Penfold, History

Ruth Sandwell, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Janis Langins, History & Philosophy of Science & Technology
Michelle Murphy, Women & Gender Studies
Lucho van Isschot, Instructor, History
Sean Kheraj, History, York University
Andrew Watson, Researcher, Trading Consequences Project

Ryan Buchanan, History
Chris Conway, History & Philosophy of Science & Technology
Jason Cooke, Geography
Joel Krupa, Geography
Jonathan McQuarrie, History
Jennifer Taylor, Geography
Caleb Wellum, History
Ben Bradley, History

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