Transforming power: social science and the politics of energy choices

Stirling, Andy (2014) Transforming power: social science and the politics of energy choices. Energy Research & Social Science, 1. pp. 83-95. ISSN 2214-6296

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This paper addresses key implications in momentous current global energy choices – both for social science and for society. 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. Several 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 must be taken of transformation. The paper ends with a series of concrete political lessons.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Power; Social science; Transformation; Energy transitions; Renewable energy; Nuclear power; Climate geoengineering; Sustainability; Reflexive governance; Sociotechnical regimes; Planetary boundaries
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Depositing User: Jill Kirby
Date Deposited: 03 Jul 2014 08:56
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2021 16:21

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