Icelandic Geopower: Accelerating and Infrastructuring Energy Landscapes

Publikation: Bog / Antologi / Rapport / Ph.D.-afhandlingPh.d.-afhandling


Mounting evidence of increasing carbon and nitrogen levels, warming and acidification of the oceans, as well as ongoing biodiversity loss, has led scholars within the natural sciences, particularly Earth Systems science and geology, to reconceive humans as geophysical force-makers with planetary effects. Such claims have prompted scholars within anthropology and science and technology studies (STS) to reconsider the varying specificities of the relationships within and between humans and the earth under conditions of environmental urgency.
This dissertation makes an intervention into these discussions through an ethnographic and practice based approach to the study of renewable energy. It does so by examining the production of geothermal energy in the Hengill volcanic zone in the southwest of Iceland. The analysis that is produced is based upon an engagement with the practices, ideas and concerns of some of the central actors connected to the volcanic zone as it is transformed into a controversial site of energy production for aluminium smelting. I draw upon varying analytical resources from within both anthropology and science and technology studies.
Conducting ethnographic fieldwork with those who make geothermal energy (geologists) as well as those who protest against its production (residents living in the vicinity of the volcanic zone) allows me to understand how geothermal energy is produced and resisted through particular sets of practices and technologies. At the same time it also allows for a detailed analysis of how the forces of the subterranean are converted into energy resources that are so valuable to the Icelandic nation. Successfully making these conversions, from forces to resources, requires not just complex technical work, but also a range of political initiatives. Carrying out ethnographic fieldwork with key actors allows me to examine how this complex techno-political work is carried out and to what effects.
However, drilling deep in the subterranean of a highly active seismic area is dangerous and risky. In producing geothermal energy, other consequences are produced along the way, the most prominent of which is “man-made” earthquakes. The derivative production of earthquakes in the volcanic zone leads me to analyse the geological, financial, and political conditions through which this volcanic landscape is being appropriated and transformed for energy production.
More specifically, this dissertation examines how the mixing of geological forces and the forces of capital are accelerating parts of the landscape, and generating new phase shifting thresholds. Examining events unfolding in Hengill through the analytics of acceleration and phase shifting thresholds makes a contribution to debates within anthropology and STS about how to conceptualise processes of rapid change. Accelerating, I argue, is not only a process of doing things more quickly and therefore a quantitative endeavour; it is, in fact, also a qualitative process, which can alter the very nature and composition of our world. Changes in speed can also lead to changes in kind.
The dissertation makes an intervention into these debates as technological and digital practices relentlessly quicken the pace of life, and at a time when collective human actions are seen to be accelerating ‘nature’ as the planet overheats. A focus on acceleration, therefore, allows me to analyse the urgent issues of energy supply and rapid environmental change both from a temporal and political perspective. Conceptualising the varying temporalities that emerge through such processes of acceleration, as well as the political responses to them is an important part of the work of this dissertation.

ForlagIT-Universitetet i København
Antal sider306
ISBN (Trykt)978-87-7949-351-3
StatusUdgivet - 2017


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