The Evolving Localism (and Neoliberalism) of Urban Renewable Energy Projects


  • Jason Morris

    doctoral candidate
    1. Cultural Studies, George Mason University
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    • His dissertation research focuses on the development of neighborhood-scale renewable energy initiatives in Washington, DC and suburban Maryland.


This paper contributes to the development of an anthropological understanding of the emerging political economies of renewable energy in the contemporary United States. It explores efforts to develop place-based, local systems of renewable energy production and places them in the context of a larger history of the political economy and social construction of U.S. energy systems. Marked by emancipatory discourses of local self-reliance, decentralization, ecological sustainability, energy security, and community-scale governance, contemporary renewable energy initiatives bear a strong resemblance to the small-scale, grassroots energy actions that emerged during the energy crises of the 1970s. Both past and current local renewable energy efforts are also deeply embedded within and subject to contemporary regimes of environmental governance, ecological modernization, and neoliberal responses to ecological crises. Using emerging energy initiatives in Washington, DC as a case study, I discuss three key elements of the political and social construction of contemporary local renewable energy production—ownership, governance, and sustainable urban place-making—and examine the problematic theme of “localism” that links them.