Repowering Democracy: How Grassroots Energy Initiatives Are Changing the Face of Democracy in Europe

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 14:45
Location: Hörsaal 34 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Anna SZOLUCHA, University of Bergen, Norway
In recent years, and in direct contrast to increased concern about global warming, the pace of unconventional gas development around the world has been staggering. The unlikely counterpart of the unconventional oil and gas boom has been a decline in conventional forms of democratic political participation (such as elections) and a simultaneous enormous growth in non-institutional forms of participation such as boycotts and protests. Many local communities are organising into action groups and campaigns against hydraulic fracturing. In places where the protesters managed to make the energy corporations abandon the drilling sites, communities are organising in egalitarian ways and forming new renewable energy co-operatives where regardless of their shareholding, all members have the same power to co-decide. The aim is to take responsibility for meeting their own energy needs in a way that is local and mitigates climate change. May grassroots mobilisations against fracking and new local energy co-operatives reveal the potential for a repowering of democracy?

Building on my fieldwork in the UK and Poland, in this paper, I would like to investigate the potential of such groups for a repowering of democracy, i.e. a reformulation of democratic models and a reorganisation of energy production along more egalitarian lines. The main objective will be to analyse (1) the forms of politicisation and imaginaries of egalitarianism in Polish and British communities and (2) to describe efforts to draw up strategies for local and systemic social innovation in the field of democratic self-organisation of energy initiatives as well as, more broadly, a more democratic way of local self-government.

This paper will assess the claim that only innovations in democracy and local renewable energy solutions that are complementary and occur in parallel can offer comprehensive frameworks to maximise the impact of local initiatives on pressing societal issues.