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Energy in Society Interdisciplinary Working Group

The Energy In Society Interdisciplinary Working Group invites proposals from all fields that examine energy transitions for an international conference at the Banff Centre September 18-21, 2019. Convened by: Energy In Society, Calgary Institute for the Humanities (CIH), University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), Berlin, Germany. Submission deadline: 15th January 2019. Download the call for papers.

In our contemporary world, especially in an Alberta currently defined by oil bust, many people are focused on finding solutions to a fossil-fuel dependent society. However, in order to understand both the nature of today’s energy challenges, as well as socially acceptable solutions, we need to uncover the history and politics of certain assumptions about energy. Over the past two years as a working group at CIH, Energy In Society (EIS) has put together a research agenda on energy transitions which asserts:

 If we want to address our energy futures, we need to know about our energy pasts, because historical decisions and narratives create the societal criteria of the present;

  • We need to understand the dynamics of energy politics, not only in Canada, but elsewhere in the world. This includes addressing dominant and suppressed energy discourses as well as examining and giving voice to all actors involved—this includes the State, Indigenous peoples, corporate actors and marginalized groups;
  • Scholars, policy makers and the general public have focused too much on singular commodities—such as oil and coal. We need to understand that all energy systems are intertwined, and that energy pathways and transitions need to be understood holistically.
  • Lastly, research on our energy futures and solutions also entails cooperation across disciplinary lines. We know therefore that energy research should always be interdisciplinary.

 The EIS interdisciplinary working group seeks to build on its successful collaboration with the Calgary Institute for the Humanities and its multiple initiatives over the past two years. In 2018-2019, we will solely focus on beginning to implement the research agenda described above. We therefore propose to focus our working group on the writing of grants, preparation of a large international conference, and writing of scholarly work over the next year.

In 2016-2018, we developed our energy-centered research agenda through our speaker series and working group sessions on the topics of coal, Indigenous rights and extractive industry, environmental regulation, energy and our food system. We also used the CIH working group as a starting point to create research collaborations both within the university and with international partners. This past year, EIS organized a large cross-faculty workshop on the topic of Global Energy Transitions. This event, co-organized by CIH and the VPR’s office, featured the work of 20 University of Calgary scholars from the Faculties of Arts, Sciences, Environmental Design, Law, Engineering, and Social Work, as well as the Schools of Education, and Public Policy. The initial steps towards collaboration were complemented by an “Energy Transition” lunch at CIH. With CIH’s support, EIS has also embarked on a series of workshops and meetings with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) about the formation of a joint partnership on the topic of “Energy Transitions.” Over the past two years, we have met with our collaborators in Germany four times, and EIS hosted MPIWG scholars at the University of Calgary in June 2018 to formalize a memorandum of understanding, and embark on formal joint research.

EIS is now in a critical position. We have completed much of the work to assemble a research agenda, identify research partners and collaborators, and develop a research infrastructure for energy in the humanities and social sciences at the U of C. In 2018-2019, it is therefore imperative for us to begin putting the agenda in action through grants, conferences and writing.

Convenors for 2019-2020:
Dr. Petra Dolata, CRC History of Energy, Associate Professor, Department of History (
Dr. Sabrina Perić, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology (
Dr. Roberta Rice, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science (roberta.rice@ucalgary.a)

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