Public Seminar - The sociology of energy transformations

This presentation explores sociological insights into rural energy developments and the possibilities for and barriers to just decarbonisation. Beck Pearse presents some of her research into ‘eco-social’ contestations over new coal mines and large wind and solar utilities in rural NSW. In doing so, she will pose the question - what does environmental sociology involve? What does this branch of environmental social science contribute to our understanding of energy transition?

Environmental sociology applies the sociological imagination to environmental issues. This subdiscipline investigates eco-social relations, practices and power dynamics that shape the metabolism of society-nature. Contested energy ‘commodity frontiers’ in rural locales are at the heart of a metabolic rift in the earth system.

Beck’s presentation will offer some illustrations of environmental sociology in practice. As social researchers in the field, we attend to how different meanings of energy commodities (coal, wind or solar) articulate with competing political and economic interests. And how the contestations over energy development shape material and distributive outcomes. Going beyond description of disagreements over energy projects, environmental sociology can help us a get a grip on how matters of concern become (partially) resolved one moment to the next.

We will unpack the significance of land and property relations in contested coal, wind and solar projects and the unequal outcomes for human and non-human inhabitants of new energy commodity frontiers. Further, by looking at how tensions are worked through in environmental and indigenous heritage regulations, we develop insight into the obstacles to just energy transformations. The presentation will draw conclusions relevant to today’s debates over ‘green tape’ and energy system planning.

About the Speaker

Dr Rebecca Pearse is a lecturer in environmental sociology, jointly appointed in the Fenner School of Environment & Society and the School of Sociology. Her teaching and research focusses on environmental inequalities, policy and social change. Beck is a Chief Investigator on two ARC Discovery Projects: Decarbonising Electricity (Goodman et al. 2018-21) and Environmental Justice and the Making of Just Food and Energy Policy (Schlosberg, Pearse and Rickards 2020-22).