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RESEARCHERS TO WATCH

Dealing with the future of energy

In her new project, social anthropologist Anna Szolucha wants to look at citizen engagement in climate and energy transformation. In particular, she asks: how do you involve people from the bottom and up?

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Anna Szolucha, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen (UiB), photographed in March 2017.
CREATING A NEW INNOVATIVE LAB: The young anthropologist Anna Szolucha is turning to community-based climate and energy transformation in her new research project and aims to establish The Power Lab in Bergen.
Photo:
Sverre Ole Drønen, University of Bergen

Being up close with anti-fracking activists in the north of England, Anna Szolucha has been at the forefront of the global protest against the giants of the energy industry.

The future of energy

Now she is taking her research to the next level, by proposing a major new research project on climate and energy transformation, with a particular view on citizen participation.

“In the context of energy and fossil fuels, active citizen engagement has the capacity to impact on democratic processes, extending beyond issues related directly to energy transformations and development,” says Szolucha from the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen (UiB). “The question is: how should we understand the social role of energy and the impact that it will have on the future of democracy and society?”

“Citizens affected by energy developments are often at the forefront of the debate on these issues. They play a crucial role in pioneering sustainability and energy issues, and are leading innovations,” Szolucha points out, “their initiative is then picked up by social movements or encounters barriers which mirror the socio-political and cultural role of our ways of organising energy. Citizens are central actors that reflect grassroots concerns, and provide a motivation for change in the politics of climate and energy transformation.”

Building a new research team

Since 2015, the Polish-born researcher has been part of the Egalitarianism-project, headed by world-leading anthropologist Bruce Kapferer. A ground-breaking project, based at UiB and supported by the European Research Council (ERC).

Now, Szolucha wants to build her own interdisciplinary research team centred on anthropology and ethnographic methods.

“I want to explore how ordinary citizens are driving energy change and leading the transformations to sustainability as well as what is the significance of the impact that they are having on democracy, governance and societies,” she says.

If successful, the team will comprise of Szolucha as principal investigator (PI), a postdoctoral fellow, two PhD candidates, and one research assistant.

Experimental lab in Bergen

According to Szolucha, the team will look at what she calls “energy potentials” and the social impacts of energy developments, where the aim is to develop research-based theories of change and influence the public debate. For this purpose, she wants to create an experimental research lab based in Bergen: The Power Lab.

“The new lab will become a hub for international cooperation placing humanities and social sciences at the heart of interdisciplinary research in energy and climate transformations,” says the social anthropologist.

Szolucha’s project team will collaborate with other UiB researchers, including Professor Håvard Haarstad, who has received a recruitment grant from the Bergen Research Foundation (BFS). Haarstad heads SpaceLab at UiB’s Department of Geography, the initiators of the new Centre for Climate and Energy Transformations (CET).

The lab will also cooperate with the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT), which is one of the strongest UiB environments for EU funding.

“The Power Lab will enrich UiB’s energy research environment by becoming a centre for high-impact and high-visibility research involving academic as well as societal developments,” says Szolucha.

She points out that the new lab will build on the staff and expertise gathered as part of the Egalitarianism-project, but also other projects such as ENERGETHICS, headed by Professor Ståle Knudsen, which explores aspects of corporate social responsibility of Norwegian energy companies. The Power Lab also aims to develop synergies with Professor Don Kalb and his BFS-supported project on class, value and social transformation.

Lab with an international scope

The lab will use multiple case studies from four different continents: Europe, North and South America or Africa and Asia.

“Our overarching goal is to make a lasting impact on the most pressing energy issues faced by local communities and to contribute to social innovation on a larger scale,” says Anna Szolucha.

“I believe that a stronger attention on citizen participation founded in the history and culture of local communities can pave the way to a new view of current assumptions about energy and the powerful stakeholders in the energy industry.”