Powering Transitions: Energy Elites and Sustainable Futures

Researcher: Anna Rauter (PhD Social Anthropology, 2022)
Supervisors: Dr Mette High, Dr Huon Wardle

Centre for Energy Ethics – Department of Social Anthropology – School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies

Former PhD Student Anna Rauter’s study analysed how people strategically situated within the Norwegian energy industry experience current energy dilemmas and imagine future energy production amidst mounting climate change concerns. Anna Rauter drew on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Oslo amongst the leaders and experts of Norwegian energy companies, referred to as ‘energy elites’. The resultant thesis shows how: 1) energy elites problematise and relativise the interrelations and tensions between different types of energy production (renewable and hydrocarbon) in light of climate change, 2) some elites challenge whilst others reinforce the energy status quo, and 3) energy transitions are manifested and became an endpoint rather than a process.

This image shows black smoke coming out of the chimney of a residential oil-heating next to a solar panel used for water heating. While the image was taken in Crete, Greece (where Anna wrote up her PhD thesis), it manages to capture the energy dilemmas that people also encountered during fieldwork in Norway. Anna specifically refers to the tensions arising from the continued reliance on hydrocarbons alongside the promotion of renewable technology in light of mounting climate change concern. This image has a transnational appeal as it portrays the duality that people, businesses, and entire countries are encountering on their paths to transitions towards renewable energy. On the one hand the image transmits a feeling of confrontation – a clash – illustrated by the black smoke and the solar panel. Despite these visual contrasts of the ‘clean’ vs the ‘dirty’, the fact that both types of energy production are represented in the same image shows that energy also interrelates, occupies the same times and spaces, and co-exists in current perceptions and future imaginaries.

Photography: Anna Rauter