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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

7 - Energy Technologies as Time–Space Appropriation


To reconceptualize the relation between “power” in the sense of sociopolitical organization and “power” in the sense of energy technologies, we need to unravel the continuities and discontinuities between our concepts of “energy” and “agency.” A delineation of the significance of “agency” is discussed in Chapter 10, where it is observed that so-called posthumanists misleadingly tend to attribute agency to any kind of force, regardless of whether it is propelled by a purpose of some kind. Paradoxically, my critique of the mainstream approach to energy technologies is that it tends to disregard the human agencies underlying their capacity to redistribute workloads and environmental burdens in world society. At first glance, these two objections may seem contradictory, but they are not. In the first case, I disavow the attribution of agency to nonliving forces, while in the latter, I propose that we identify the human agency involved in organizing the unequal access to nonhuman energy. Both arguments challenge conceptual fallacies – either blurring the distinction between the living and the nonliving, or treating technological systems as artifacts purified of human agency – that epitomize the phenomenon of fetishism. In both cases, society is made invisible. In the former case, decontextualized entities are represented as equivalent sources of agency, and the distinction between social and natural is dissolved. In the latter case, the category of “energy” reveals itself to be a politically neutral way of talking about social machinations. Bodily work – muscular energy – is always propelled by agency. When nonmuscular energy is harnessed to substitute for bodily work, there may be sociopolitical agencies at work that are less apparent.

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