New volume on Cultures of Energy

Just glancing at the January 2013 publication, Cultures of Energy: Power, Practices, Technologies, edited by Sarah Strauss, Stephanie Rupp, and Thomas Love.

From the introductory chapter by the editors:

Among anthropologists, Leslie White was most prominent in writing about energy, analyzing its relation to the evolution of culture and the development of civilization (1943, 1959). In his earlier work (1943), White advanced the fundamental hypothesis that “other things being equal, the degree of cultural development varies directly as the amount of energy per capita per year harnessed and put to work,” a seminal idea that he developed more extensively in his 1959 volume, The Evolution of Culture. …

White’s basic insight that transformations in technology — including the intensification of use of energy — are coupled with transformations in cultural contexts and social institutions presents a compelling touch point for contemporary research on the impacts of consumption and technology on the natural environment.

At the same time, White’s narrow focus on technology, the satisfaction of human needs through reliance on material outer forces, such as tools, weapons, and other materials, rather than “inner resources” contained within the human organism, such as myth-making and social associations, seems artificially to separate and unproductively to decouple technology from social values.

As the chapters in this volume demonstrate robustly, contemporary uses of and relations to energy are intimately connected with people’s social values and images of energy and its associated technologies; how people use energy is related to how people value it; and how people value energy is related to what it enables them to accomplish not only materially but also socially and culturally.

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