Energy: A Philosophy of Practice (Invited Contribution to Conference)

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Today, ‘energy’ is most often associated with our vital dependence on the combustion of fossil fuels needed for transportation, the production of food, and an ever-increasing variety of commodities. Although there is no shortage of ‘green’ energy innovations, many cause more problems than they solve, as the example of wind farms in Oaxaca, which caused aridification while reinstating colonial relationships, shows (Dunlap 2018). One reason for this is the sheer volume of energy extraction. The other is the conceptual framework that underpins this activity: this is a source-conversion-end-use concept of energy that is embedded in the Greco-monotheistic-scientific tradition.

Despite the fact that an unbroken line of inquiry can be traced from Aristotle to Einstein, taking in, for instance, Aristotle’s energeia and entelecheia, the passage from pondering the functioning of levers to the discovery of mass-energy equivalence in the 20th century wedded energy irrevocably to technology. Potentiality, which, alongside flux, is one of energy’s main ‘aggregate states’, was reduced to entelecheic end-use. This further gave rise to a ‘standing-reserve’ view of energy where the actual is ‘enframed’ within the usable (Heidegger 1977). If Heidegger’s notion of enframing seems dated, a quick glance at synthetic biology – which modifies biological materials and entities – shows living entities to be a standing-reserve of function.

In the past decade, Energy Humanities has usefully mobilised new-materialist concepts to argue for the relevance of energopolitics to the survival of the planet (Szeman and Boyer 2017). However, Energy Humanities has focused largely on the ethics of energy consumption, which, though useful, does not solve the problem of the crisis of the concept of energy. This paper focuses on reticular causality in the flux-potentiality continuum. Acknowledging energy’s dynamic nature, it proposes a non-dualistic analysis where content (the source of energy) is not separate from method (its technology of transformation). The philosophy of practice the paper formulates has three axes: 1. resonance, which comprises physical, spatio-temporal and animal energies; 2. aura, which includes cultural-virtual energies; and 3. assemblage, which consists of the energies produced by arrangements and contraptions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2022
Event28th Annual Conference, International Sustainable Development Society: Sustainable Development and Courage: Culture, Art and Human Rights - Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 15 Jun 202217 Jun 2022


Conference28th Annual Conference, International Sustainable Development Society
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