Counter-narratives of energy democracy

Authors: Matthew Burke*, McGill University
Topics: Energy, Cultural and Political Ecology, Communication
Keywords: energy democracy, renewable energy, transition narratives, social transformation, social movements, sociotechnical imaginaries
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Harding, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Conventional ways of communicating about the transition to renewable energy in North America presuppose that energy systems can be changed while sustaining existing social, political, and economic relations. Energy democracy counters such ostensibly apolitical narratives by emphasizing the socially transformative potential of transition. Yet energy democracy, as organizing principle and social movement, is itself recognized as flexible and contested. This research seeks to better understand and discern the practices and implications of energy democracy and its variants through synthesis and qualitative analysis of transition counter-narratives drawn from public communications of energy democracy initiatives actively working in northeastern North America. Transition narratives are examined through four constituent elements, including collective-action frames, discourses, sociotechnical imaginaries, and stories. The research finds a set of diverse organizations across the region taking up and giving shape to the concept and goals of energy democracy, revealing a convergence around commitments to a socially transformational shift to collectively-controlled renewable energy systems. A comparison of transition narratives suggests distinct and potentially competing approaches to energy democracy, or multiple energy democracies, described as local and regional communities, public partnerships, and social movements. These energy democracies express differences in terms of social groups to be connected and empowered, theories of change and stability, form and specificity of institutional change, resistance to negative as well as promotion of positive agendas, and ability to work across scales. These differences can and perhaps must activate productive tensions among multiple energy democracies working for and within a democratized renewable energy future for this region.

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