Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer on Writing a Duograph

howeboyerCymene Howe and Dominic Boyer are the authors of Wind and Power in the Anthropocene, a duograph in two volumes: Ecologics and Energopolitics. In this guest post, they explain just what a duograph is and how they came to write one.

 Winds of Desire

Few people realize that the wind that cuts across southern Mexico is among the best in the world for generating immense quantities of renewable electricity. Nor is it common knowledge that Oaxaca’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec has become home to the densest concentration of wind parks anywhere in the world. In our research, we wanted to understand the powers of that wind—its ability to shape political debates, to twist the direction of species, to designate economic prospects, to carve out new relations between indigenous peoples, to overturn semitrucks and to condition the future. In the Isthmus there is no escaping the wind. But, there are divergent ideas about how to best capture it, mold its kinetic intensities, and harness its potential. There are also real questions as to whether the wind, in itself, can or should be captured at all.

Our anthropological research set out to address a central question of Anthropocenic times: How will low-carbon energy transition take place and what occurs in those transitions? Who is allowed to set the agenda and who—human and otherwise—is affected? And finally, what are the political, social and elemental forces that shape the imaginaries for low-carbon energy futures?  Over the course of sixteen months of fieldwork, we spoke with representatives of every group of “stakeholders” in wind development in Mexico: community members and corporate executives; federal, state, and local government officials and NGO staff; industry lobbyists and anti-wind power activists; conservationists and media professionals; indigenous rights advocates, bankers, and federal judges.

We arrived at and left fieldwork as committed advocates for low-carbon energy transition. But our experiences in Mexico taught us that renewable energy can be installed in ways that do little to challenge the extractive logics that have undergirded petromodernity. Renewable energy matters, but it matters how it is brought into being and what forms of consultation and cooperation are used. We came to see that “wind power” has no singular form or meaning. Everywhere it was a different ensemble of force, matter, and desire—inherently multiple and turbulent.

To (try to) capture wind and power: a duograph

The traditional academic monograph is familiar to many readers. With Wind and Power in the Anthropocene we wanted to try something different. We call it a “duograph”: two single-authored volumes that draw from a shared research project and archive. Each volume of the duograph details different case studies and follows distinct lines of inquiry and theoretical travel. Collaborative research and writing are nothing new in anthropology and while coauthoring offers many opportunities to learn through dialogue, it also involves compromises and ultimately, a synthetic voice and direction. We wanted to experiment with a new form. Our two volumes of the duograph speak in parallel, but not always in unison.

Ecologics Ecologics, by Cymene Howe, follows the aspirations of a giant wind park destined for the isthmus, one that would have been the largest of its kind in all of Latin America, promising immense reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and opportunities for local development. Between the distinct imaginaries of environmental care and environmental harm the deeply relational qualities of energy and environment come into focus, illustrating that the dynamics of energy transition cannot be captured without understanding how human aspirations for energy articulate with or against nonhuman beings, technomaterial objects, and the geophysical forces that are at the center of wind power.

EnergopoliticsEnergopolitics, by Dominic Boyer, engages the case of Mexican wind power to develop an anthropological theory of political power for use in the Anthropocene anchored by discussions of “capital,” “biopower,” and Dominic’s own neologism, “energopower.” At the same time, the volume emphasizes the analytic limitations of these conceptual minima when confronted with the epistemic maxima of a situation of anthropological field research on political power. Those maxima not only exceed the explanatory potential of any given conceptual framework, they also resolutely demand the supplementary analytic work of history and ethnography. Energopolitics is thus an urgent invitation for Anthropocene political theory to un-make and remake itself through the process of fieldwork and ethnographic reflection.

We invite our readers to read these volumes synchronously, or not—to think of them as a Choose-your-own-Adventure trip, or to follow a character, human or otherwise. You are invited to riddle through the knots of aeolian politics or become absorbed in the meaning of trucks. Or, to perhaps pause for a minute to see the istmeño sky: filled with birds by day, bats by night and turbines for the foreseeable future.

Cymene Howe is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Rice University and author of Intimate Activism: The Struggle for Sexual Rights in Postrevolutionary Nicaragua. Dominic Boyer is Professor of Anthropology at Rice University, Founding Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS), and author of The Life Informatic: Newsmaking in the Digital Era. They also co-host a weekly podcast, Cultures of Energy, featuring discussions on innovative scholarship, activism and art making around issues of environment and energy.

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