Loloum, T., Fürst, M. F., & Bovet, A.
Taking Care of Energy infrastructures
5th STS-CH conference
Swiss Association for the Studies of Science, Technology & Society
The energy transition is often framed in terms of a technological challenge and an engineering problem, involving innovative design, efficient planning, and effective optimization of energy infrastructures and the built environment. This innovation-centric view tends to neglect the fact that ‘change’ often occurs once energy systems are already in place, through incremental adaptations, additions and enhancements. The focus on engineers, planners and designers also puts aside the many actors in charge of operating and maintaining such systems on a daily basis: grid operators, HVAC technicians, facility managers, installers, caretakers, etc.
Drawing on authors like Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (2017), Dona Haraway (2016) and Bruno Latour (2013), we argue that fixing ‘things’ and taking care of energy infrastructure implies more than maintaining their technical functioning: it means caring for the people who use them and their environments, and it requires active engagement, social skills and a sense of concern towards associations between humans and non-humans. The session therefore extends on current debates in science and technology studies and energy social science that (I) observe how classical dichotomies (e.g. between planning and operation, professionals and users, engineers and technicians, people and machines) are maintained, and sometimes contested and reconfigured; (II) investigate energy infrastructure and energy transition at the level of everyday lay and professional care-taking activities, i.e. considering energy practices as situated and culturally embedded realities rather than in terms of dominant paradigms of technological innovation and economic rationality.
This panel session invites contributors from all disciplinary horizons, looking at energy infrastructure “from below and within”, focusing on operation routines, control rooms, repair and maintenance, incremental improvements, “middle actors” (technicians, installers, controllers, caretakers, facility managers), disruption, practices of daily-use and socio-technical encounters. We particularly encourage prospective participants to emphasize the richness of empirical material in their presentations, exhibit visual and/or audio data, or even material objects that can form a basis for a fruitful discussion. If appropriate conditions are in place, the session will be followed up by a quick tour of the conference venue’s infrastructural backstage and/or a meeting with one of the building’s facility managers/maintenance staff in order to get a concrete grasp of what energy infrastructure is, and what taking care of it actually entails.