Regime of Obstruction: How Corporate Power Blocks Energy Democracy

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 13:00
Oral Presentation
William CARROLL, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada
This paper reports on an interdisciplinary research partnership that probes the multifaceted ways in which the organization of corporate power in and around Canada’s carbon-extractive sector blocks a transition from fossil capitalism to energy democracy. Our approach is centred upon a family of techniques that map the organization of power, socially, economically, politically and culturally. These include analyses of (1) the social networks through which power and influence flow, (2) the commodity chains along which carbon extraction, processing and consumption occur, and (3) the discursive structures that frame issues and narratives in the struggle to persuade publics, governments and communities as to the desirability or inevitability of fossil capitalism as a way of life. After presenting a conceptual framework for understanding the distinct modalities of corporate power the paper presents findings from three research streams of the partnership. The first stream highlights the structure and dynamics of Canada’s carbon-capital sector, its various linkages to regional, national and transnational capitalist structures and agencies, its extractivist logic of accumulation by dispossession and the business strategies carbon-extractive corporations are adopting in the current era of chronically low fossil-fuel prices and the increasing risk (to fossil-capital investors) of stranded assets. The second stream focuses on the struggle for hearts and minds – i.e., the networks and practices through which carbon capital strives to secure popular consent and to coopt, disorganize or marginalize dissenting perspectives. This includes, significantly, the reach of corporate power into Indigenous communities whose land claims and collectivist traditions often stand in the way of oil and gas infrastructure (and who have suffered the worst environmental and health impacts from carbon extraction, as part of ongoing colonization). The third stream considers emergent forms of resistance and counter-power, some of which point beyond fossil capital, to alternative energy futures.