Keynote: Politics at the Interface – Reflections on Infrastructures of Energy Citizenship

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Speaker: Penny Harvey, Manchester University

Keynote at the CLAIMS & DigiSAt Research Projects joint International Conference.

About the CLAIMS & DigiSAt Research Projects joint International Conference

In this 2-day International Conference, we think together about infrastructures, technologies, digital everyday lives, and energy futures in Cape Town, South Africa (and beyond). We look across scales and sites - at situated, digital everyday lives, global tech giants, and local tech entrepreneurs, and the energy needed to keep this dimension powered in a time of profound energy crisis in South Africa. The Conference is sponsored by the research projects 'Digital everyday lives far from Silicon Valley: Technological Imaginaries and Energy Futures in a South African Township (DigiSAt)' (IRFD 2021-2024, 1130-00019B) and 'CLAIMS to Energy Citizenship in South Africa' (DFC 2024-2028, 24-M05-KU). PI: Karen Waltorp, UCPH.

We centre the Cape Flats on the urban periphery of Cape Town; we centre the surrounds - those urban spaces beyond control and capture that exist as a locus of rebellion and invention (Harney & Moten 2013, Simone 2022). This extends to considering in parallel the subversion of digital technologies of oppression toward a liberatory potential - the technological surround (Coleman 2021) in a post-Apartheid setting.

People make claims to energy and electricity from vastly different positions, as they engage with the digital services and technologies powered by energy and undergirded by an infrastructure of servers, centres, and cables. The promise of stability which infrastructures hold (Harvey 2018), makes them enchanted sites of contemporary state-craft (Harvey & Knox 2012), even as these infrastructures (may) disappoint and generate negative consequences. How can we understand the (dis)enchantment with the urban state-craft of energy-generation and -delivery? How do sociotechnical imaginaries of the ‘Silicon Cape’ and the recurring power cuts figure in these entwined digital infrastructures?

The title of the Conference 'Infrastructural Interfaces & the Technological Surround' is an invitation to grapple with the digital-energy nexus across the two research projects and alongside our Keynotes Beth Coleman and Penny Harvey. We foreground the empirical attention to everyday (work) lives, and a propositional attitude to thinking about the space of energy and possible futures in an interdisciplinary perspective. A Book Talk on Energy Futures: Anthropocene Challenges, Emerging Technologies and Everyday Life ( DeGruyter 2022) is part of the official conference program.