[2nd CfP] Contested & Erased Energy Knowledges

deadline for submissions: 
July 1, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Dr. Joel White, University of Dundee

Call for Papers

Contested & Erased Energy Knowledges  

A Trans-Disciplinary Conference 

31 Oct – 2 Nov 2024

University of Dundee & University of Edinburgh 

Edinburgh, Scotland 


Today, ‘energy’ is most often associated with the global North’s – and increasingly the global South’s – vital dependence on the combustion of fossil fuels needed for heating, transportation and food production. All are threatened – as we know all too well by now – by anthropogenic climate change. Although there is no shortage of ‘green’ energy innovations, many cause more problems than they solve, as the example of wind farms in Oaxaca, which caused aridification while reinstating colonial relationships, shows (Dunlap 2018). One reason for this is the sheer volume of energy extraction. The other is the conceptual framework that underpins this activity: this is a source-conversion-end-use concept of energy that is embedded in the Greco-monotheistic-scientific tradition. This conception views the world as composed of individual phenomena, separates animate from inanimate existents, privileges solids (substance) over liquids, and privileges teleological developmental trajectories over complexity (Irigaray 2010; Stengers 2018). 

Despite the fact that an unbroken line of inquiry can be traced from Aristotle to Einstein, taking in, for instance, Aristotle’s notion energy as energeia (the ability to do work and set things in motion), entelecheia (the power of a completed action, or the state of ‘being-at-an-end’), and invariance amidst change, the passage from pondering the functioning of pulleys to the discovery of mass-energy equivalence in the 20th century wedded energy irrevocably to technology. Potentiality, which, alongside flux, is one of energy’s main ‘aggregate states’ so to speak, was here reduced to entelecheic end-use. This gave rise to a ‘standing-reserve’ view of energy where the actual is ‘enframed’ within the usable: a forest is a wood-producing resource; a beach an ‘object on call for inspection by a group of tourists ordered there by the vacation industry’ (Heidegger 1977).

If Heidegger’s notion of enframing seems dated, a quick glance at algorithmic platforms of companies such as Amazon shows gig labourers as a standing-reserve, on permanent call (Srnicek 2017). Likewise, synthetic biology, which designs biological entities, shows future entities to be a standing-reserve of function (Schyfter 2021). This ‘use orientation’ has been contested; however it has not been contested by many. Bataille, and to a lesser degree Libbrecht attempted a culturally informed theorisation of energy. Bataille’s argument that energy is not instrumental to satisfying society’s needs but that, on the contrary, the institution of society, with all its forms of production, is the expression of the excess of energy, was based on his study of pre-colonisation Mesoamerican cultures (Bataille 1949). Although Bataille’s theory cannot be applied to the current exhaustion of all energies – natural, cultural, and mental – it shows two things. First, that neither ruthless fossil fuel extraction nor a return to an imaginary pre-industrial frugality is possible; and second, that energy stewardship is inseparable from culture.

Libbrecht’s comparison of the Greek, Indian and Chinese concepts of energy, clarified the difference between the Greco-scientific cause-and-effect logic and culturally different views, such as the Chinese, where permeates everything (Libbrecht 2005). However, it didn’t do much more. The relation between zìrán or nature, understood as ‘thus-ness’ rather than greenery and has remained underexplored (Yao and Zhao 2010). Similarly, Native Science, where energy is a field-force (Little Bear 2012), has been underexplored. In the past two decades, Energy Humanities has produced new epistemologies by theorising ‘scapes’ that direct ‘ontologically flattened mobilities’ through shared flows of matter-energy (Urry 2010). Acknowledging that matter is not inert but vibrant (Bennett 2010), and that, as many quantum experiments have shown, individual things with their own set of determinate properties, do not exist (Barad 2013), EH has argued for the necessity of thinking in terms of intra-action to destabilise the inherited notion of causality (Barad 2010); understanding that environments as trans-corporeal (Alaimo 2017; (Braidotti 2019); and that social events are material-energetic (Latour 2018).

Building on this work, this transdisciplinary conference explores philosophical, scientific, historical, artistic and cultural accounts of contested, suppressed or erased energy knowledges: principles, practices and inventions. We are particularly interested in proposals for standalone papers, panels, artistic and experimental interventions or posters that address one or more of the following relations: 

Entanglement, the phenomenon that occurs when existents share micro or macro proximity in such a way that they can’t be described independently 

Superposition, the co-existence of multiple, discontinuous spatialities and temporalities 

Distributed Agency, the agency that forms and transforms within the action and includes human and nonhuman (organic or machinic) actants. 

Broadly speaking, this tripartite focus aims to address the following questions:  

1. How are manifest and subtle energies nested in practices of dwelling, building, making, marking, and transforming? How do they relate to the flux of climatic events, plant lives, animal and human migrations, and the nested energies of built structures? How do they create and sustain energy fields?

2. How do emergent energetic directionalities and/or networks structure human and nonhuman trajectories, behaviour, and affordances? 

3. How do particular, explicit or tacit, cogitational or practical (knowing that /knowing how), knowledges chart potentialities? 

4. How can the contested, suppressed, minoritised or erased energy principles, practices and technologies be engaged without simply being ‘captured’ and ‘instrumentalised’ by the – increasingly desperate – global North energy narrative? 

Keynote speakers: Karen Barad, Lee Bul, Winona LaDuke, Michael Marder (TBC)

Possible topics include but are not limited to

  • Past, present and futurological philosophical, scientific and technological accounts of kinetic and potential energies (radiant, thermal, motion and sound, and chemical, stored mechanical or gravitational) 
  • Abandoned energy-transforming technologies (e.g. Lukyanov’s water computer)
  • Pre-electricity ‘energy’ networks (e.g. hydraulic power networks)
  • Energetics – the theory that ‘lost out’ to mechanics at the beginning of the 20th century (Helm; Ostwald)
  • Vitalist accounts of cross-species energies (e.g. Bergson) 
  • Organic and machinic theories of self-organising complexity (e.g. Varela, Wolfram) 
  • Culturally minoritised holistic narratives that include physical and virtual energies (e.g. those of the Chumash, Haudenosaunee, Māori, Warlpiri, and Yoruba, among many other Indigenous cultures)
  • Artistic explorations of manifest and non-manifest energies (e.g. those of Beuys, the Gutai Group, Pogačnik, Bul, Guðjónsson or Sutela, among others
  • Past and present energetically sensitive architecture and design (e.g. Arata’s) 
  • Medieval Christian monasteries or Buddhist sanghas’ management of physical, chemical, and spiritual energies, human labour and tools
  • Chinese and Islamic medical theories of energy

Please send 400 w proposals for individual papers, artistic interventions or poster presentations of 15 min in length, accompanied by a 150 w bio and a concise list of AV requirements to ENERGYPhilosophyofPractice@dundee.ac.uk by 23:59 GMT on 1 July 2024. Proposals for panels of not more than 2000 w in length (including abstracts and bios) should be sent by 23:59 GMT on 24 June 2024. Notifications of acceptance will be sent by 10 July 2024. Presenters will be encouraged to pre-circulate papers to their panel members by 20 Sept to enable in-depth discussions.

We appreciate that presenters who live on the other side of the globe may not wish to fly to Scotland and will make remote arrangements for a limited number of presentations. However, this is an in-person conference and live participation is encouraged. The conference is part of the 2023 – 2027 AHRC-funded research project ENERGY: A Philosophy of Practice (AH/X009114/1).