Energy geographies at the RGS-IBG annual conference: Reflections

I have just returned from the Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society, which, once again, has been replete with energy-themed events. The Energy Geographies Working Group sponsored a total of 15 sessions; this means that, just as in 2012, it was possible to go to an energy session in every slot at the conference!

The impressions I got from the presentations and discussions I that I attended was that the conceptual diversity, spatial scope and empirical richness of the material that comes under the aegis of ‘energy geographies’ shows no sign of decreasing. On the contrary, this year we saw a level of international engagement that has been unprecedented in this context, at least as far as the UK is concerned. Also, while ‘social practices’ remain one of the dominant theoretical entry points for many researchers, it was possible to observe the increased presence of other frameworks that are part of the conceptual mainstream in geography and related social sciences: assemblages, political ecologies, green growth, networked urbanism, vital materialities …

One of the most striking set of papers was presented at the series of sessions on ‘The contested politics of urban electricity networks’, using insights from urban infrastructure studies. I was struck by the depth of the evidence explored in them, and the engagement with geographical contexts beyond the global North. This was strengthened even further in the session on ‘New Energy Frontiers: Perspectives on the Global South’ which was co-sponsored by the Developing Areas Research Group. Also of note was the two-part block on ‘New Approaches to Energy: Equity, Justice and Vulnerability’, which featured an innovative format combining papers included in a recent special issue of Local Environment, followed by a discussion panel with some of the leading academics in the field. No less interesting were the sessions on energy and transport, the new economic geographies and socio-technical collectives of low carbon transitions, as well as the world café on innovative energy and geography teaching.

The conference also included a special panel session dedicated to Mike Bradshaw’s forthcoming monograph titled ‘Global Energy Dilemmas: Unpacking the Nexus of Climate, Security and Development’. The discussion – and it seems, the book itself, out on the shelves soon – signal the arrival of a new paradigm in energy and geography thinking, relating to the complexities and synergies arising at the contact points between different systemic challenges at the global scale.

I should add that energy themes were also present in a much wider range of sessions and papers, principally organised under the auspices of the Planning and Environment Research Group, while operating with the registers of ‘carbon’, ‘climate’, ‘social practices’ and ‘transition’. The emergent debate on the ‘geo-social’ and ‘anthropocene’ can also be said to have strong intersections with energy debates. A key challenge for the energy and geography community in the years to come, therefore, will not only be the need to continue to capture the thriving body of early new scholarship produced by the wide variety of ongoing research projects across the UK and beyond, but also to find new ways of engaging with mainstream debates in geography that have the nature-society relationship at their core despite not using energy as an explicit explanatory framework.

Panelists in the second part of the session on 'New Approaches to Energy: Equity, Justice and Vulnerability'
Panelists in the second part of the session on ‘New Approaches to Energy: Equity, Justice and Vulnerability’

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