Skip to Content

Energy Imaginaries Beyond Fossil Fuels: New Places, Times, and Methods

«Back To Seminars

Organizer: Johannah King-Slutzky

Co-Organizer: Conor MacVarish

Contact the Seminar Organizers

Despite a widespread preference for technocratic solutions to the climate crisis, we cannot transition to more responsible energy regimes without attending to the socio-historical basis of energy. Cara New Dagett puts it succinctly: “To understand energy as a ruling idea is to appreciate how energy arises in the context of the power relations of fossil-fueled industrialization, with ‘an aim’ that is oriented toward the extension of Western trade and industry” (7). 

Dagett’s critique of energy as a ruling idea raises several points. First, energy is a productivist concept that was theorized in order to quantify work and extend Western industry’s reach. Yet despite energy’s role in solidifying the economic dominance of the West and Global North, Anglophone studies of energy remain strongly biased towards Global North understandings of fuel culture. 

Relatedly, Linthicum et al. report that the energy humanities’ legitimate interest in petroculture “leads it to focus mostly on the twentieth century and North America” which “has the unintended effect of ‘re-invisibiliz[ing] the power of Eurocentric narratives’ (Linthicum et al. 373-374). Many of us are familiar with the still-necessary ethical mandate to revise our reading lists to minimize geographic and racial biases. But scholars in the energy humanities have been less mindful of the risks of fossil fuel-specific interpretations of the anthropocene, thereby unintentionally sidelining energy regimes beyond oil or coal.

Third, literary study and related fields can sharpen our critical understanding of energy – so often conceived as an ahistorical, technical concept – precisely because of our willingness to embrace tools like speculation, qualitative analysis, and theoretical elaborations that cannot or have not been empirically validated. However, the energy humanities still tend to disavow modes like speculation that are ill-suited to the goal of solving brass-tacks political quandaries.

To that end, we request submissions on the conceptualization, extraction, distribution, or expenditure of energy beyond the use of fossil fuels in the industrialized West. We particularly encourage submissions that depart from "alternative fuels" as conventionally understood: so, not merely a request for papers on hydro- or solar power, although those will be considered. Geographic, temporal, cultural, and conceptual displacements from Global North fossil fuel economies would all be welcome. Papers investigating concepts such as Warren Cariou's energy intimacy, deterritorialized energy flows in the “global mine,” or an unusual energy source like vital energy in the crowd in 19th century science are all good examples of topics.

Abstracts of 250-300 words should be submitted directly to the ACLA website. Contact Johannah King-Slutzky at with questions.

«Back To Seminars