AAA Presentation: All That Is Water: Engineering Energy Sovereignties and Electricity Nationalities

I'm delighted to be part of this excellent panel at the AAA conference this Wednesday in Chicago: Technopolitical Futures: Transformations in State and Expertise (12-4pm)

I'm giving my paper, All That Is Water: Engineering Energy Sovereignties and Electricity Nationalities, at 2:15 on Wednesday November 20 (room TBA).

My abstract: The engineers responsible for Itaipú Binational Dam were tasked with more than just churning water into electricity or spinning nature into national development. They had to find a way to give electricity, generated by the same water of the same river at the same dam, two discrete national identities as a way to defend the sovereignty of the dam's owners, Brazil and Paraguay. Designed as a juridically distinct space of exception, Itaipú has become a “state within a state,” simultaneously subordinate and exterior to the Brazilian and Paraguayan states, rescaling sovereignties and territorialities to both the regional and the subatomic. As the state rematerializes in energy policies and practices, technicians have been transformed into technocrats such that, in Itaipú, engineering is not merely a scientific endeavor but a kind of politics as a vocation. This paper explores how electrical engineers superintend political processes and, through material and symbolic entailments, bestow nationality upon the nigh immaterial—electricity—to construct energy sovereignties and a territoriality that emanates from the circulation of charge. This invisible circulation animates conceptualizations of property and value which form the basis of a wider ethic of renewable energy newly emergent in South America. Through an ethnography of the discursive and physical interventions initiated by engineers in the world's largest dam, I show how “nature” and “nation” are altered by hydroelectric statecraft, the political economic and symbolic structures that emanate from the harnessing of hydroelectric energy and gesture towards a non-fossil-fuel future where contentions over transborder water resources abound.

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