Workshop: Transitions, ‚pileups‘ and the rule of abstract Energy: Energy regimes and social transformations in and beyond the fossil era, May 15, 2019

Research Workshop with Éric Pineault (UQAM, Montreal/Kolleg Postwachstumsgesellschaften) in Jena, May 15, 2019

In this workshop, we will discuss several related controversies concerning the relations between changes in the energy basis of modern capitalist societies on the one handand transformations of their social and mental infrastructures on the other hand. In his famous book „Carbon Democracy“, Timothy Mitchell has claimed that the material properties of fossil energy sources shape the social, mental and political structures of the societies using them to a very high degree, pre-forming as it were the opportunities and limits of democratization processes. Against this view, Andreas Malm has objected in „Fossil Capital“ that the takeoff of a coal-based industrial economy in 18th century Britain was not the „work“ of coal as a resource itself, but the outcome of an expansionary social logic and mentality that had been at play long before, and that merely found its preferred medium of abstraction from social and material restraints in the innovation of the steam-powered factory. Larry Lohmann and Nicholas Hildyard have emphasized that „energy“ itself is an abstract concept that, analogous to the logic of exchange value, enables economic actors to disregard social and material limitations to their activities and conceive of them as capable of infinite expansion. How such expansion has been enabled again and again in the course of the past two centuries by adding oil, gas, nuclear and other energy sources to the energetic base has been demonstrated by Vaclav Smil. His empirical analyses of global energy use in the fossil era amount to the thesis that these energy sources, rather than being the drivers of expansion in several stages that societies have successively ‚transitioned‘ through, have in fact progressively ‚piled up‘ to meet a ceaselessly expanding energy demand. Based on texts by these authors, we will discuss these and related issues, with a particular focus on what conclusions may be drawn from these debates in view of the necessity of far-reaching change that societal energy systems will face in the near future if a post-fossil, bio-based economy and society is to be achieved and catastrophic global warming averted.

New book publication from Matthias Schmelzer

New book: “Degrowth/Postwachstum zur Einführung” from Matthias Schmelzer and Andrea Vetter got published in Germany in spring 2019.

Degrowth or post-growth is a dynamic research field and reference point for diverse socio-ecological movements. Degrowth is not just a basic critique of the hegemony of economic growth. It is also a vision for another society that outlines paths to fundamental societal change in the face of climate change and global inequality. This volume is the first attempt to introduce it systematically in German language. The English translation will be following soon.

Lilian Pungas field work in Eastern Estonia

For her dissertation within the junior research group flumen, Lilian Pungas traveled to the region around Narva in North-Eastern Estonia in August 2019. Partly with the help of her translator she conducted interviews with different experts in the bioeconomy sector and/or practitioners of (semi-)subsistence agriculture in Estonian as well as in Russian language.

Jana Holz in Finland

Jana Holz was from the 12th until the 23rd of August 2019 a visiting scholar at the University of Helsinki, doing research for her dissertation project. In total, she spendt four weeks in the North European country and visited the capital  Helsinki, Tampere, Joensuu and Jyväskvlä. Jana Holz is writing her dissertation on innovations and changes in the Finnish forestry sector with reference to the bioeconomy and its socio-structural significance for transformation processes within the framework of the junior research group flumen.

UFZ Symposium in Leipzig

Lilian Pungas, Philip Koch and Jana Holz attended the symposium “Resources in Social Science Environmental Research” at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research from the 30th September until the 1st October, 2019 for “flumen”. Approximately 20 junior academics presented and discussed both, material and immaterial, resources and questions such as: how do resources shape the relationship between society and the environment, various dimensions of social inequality regarding the (in)availability and the use of resources, and what constitutes and defines a resource, in general.

Lilian Pungas gave a lecture at the University of Vienna

flumen researcher Lilian Pungas gave a lecture on 7 November 2019 at the University of Vienna, at the Institute for Political Science as part of their lecture series “Ecological Crisis in Eastern Europe”. Lilian’s lecture was titled “Subsistence farming under high voltage power lines and next to oil shale power plants in Eastern Estonia”. 

Globally seen Estonia extracts of the oil shale, this resulting in very high ecological footprint per capita. For the sake of energy security from its Eastern neighbor (oil shale covers 90% of Estonia’s electricity demand) it accepts as a country an ecologically extremely high price for the extraction of one of the most polluting fossil fuels. Paradoxically, the oil shale extraction itself takes place in Eastern Estonia near Russian border in the region of Ida-Virumaa, where most habitants belong to the Russian-speaking minority, which suffered disproportionally in the 90s due to different economic reforms and the 1992 citizenship law.

Research colloquium

This semester the junior research group flumen offers a research colloquium to present and discuss current research on socio-ecological topics. It is also intended as a meeting place for Master’s students in the field of “Sustainability and social transformation” and others, interested in respective issues. In the following semesters, a regular colloquium programme, including various guest lectures, will be offered with the participation of the other departments of the Institute for Sociology in Jena.

The Research colloquium takes place thurstdays from 2-4 p.m. at the Humboldtstraße 34, Jena