Electricity and Urban Vulnerability: A Sociology of Power

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 14:35
Location: Hörsaal 4A KS (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Steve MATTHEWMAN, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Sociology seeks to make sense of group life in modernity. As such it has largely concerned itself with the metropolitan experience. Much ink has been spilt on the new ways of being and seeing that urban living affords. Much less ink has been spilt on the critical infrastructures which make all of this possible. In the broad historical scheme of things these socio-technical systems which frame our existence are absolutely novel; they are also getting frailer. We will consider some of the implications of this with reference to a single element of the urban infrastructure: electrical power generation. Without electricity modern life is unimaginable. We assume an uninterrupted power supply. In the future this assumption will be sorely tested. The paper predicts that current power blackouts are mere dress rehearsals for the future in which they will appear with greater frequency and severity. Increasing numbers of blackouts are anticipated due to growing uncertainties in supply and growing certainties in demand. Supply will become ever more precarious because of peak oil, political instability, infrastructural neglect, global warming and the shift to renewable energy resources. Demand will become stronger because of population growth, rising levels of affluence and the consumer “addictions” which accompany this. Having challenged the myth of infinite energy the presentation will close with some thoughts about how we might build resilience and offset vulnerability by thinking about sustainable energies.