Paper at 4S, San Diego 2013. Imaginaries of Smart Grids: Public Issues, Contradiction and Controversy

My abstract for the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S).

Panel Imagining Public Issues in the Technosciences.

On Thu Oct 10 2013, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Building/Room: Pacific Salon Seven

Title: Imaginaries of Smart Grids: Public Issues, Contradiction and Controversy

Smart grids are communicated in the public sphere in stories about the coming together of utilities and communications (gas, electricity/monitoring of data) into a network that can be managed for optimum use of resources. Imaginaries of smart grids address certain public issues, such as efficiency in responding to energy demand; environmental concerns, by integrating renewable forms of energy; and the empowerment of consumers. However, these imaginaries also point to possible controversies in the role of the public. The user is either largely invisible in large-scale images of the grid, or rendered very central within domestic settings. So where exactly is the public, as user or consumer, in these contradictory narratives of smart grids which circulate in the media? This paper will trace the range of publicity and media images of smart grids and will identify the dominant and alternative visions and contradictions within these images. It will draw from contemporary stories being told by diverse actors, across multiple media forms: energy policy research, distribution power operators, power companies, businesses and government. The media analysis of the visual culture of smart grids will ask how the public is constructed or is absent in relation to smart grids. We identify the contradictions and articulate that these contradictions point to axes of controversy and resistance, which importantly indicate and perform levels of public engagement. By doing so, we reflect on the ways in which imaginaries shape what is public about smart grids-as-technoscience.

The research leading to this paper has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under the grant EPINET.

Session Participants:

Imaginaries of Smart Grids: Public Issues, Contradiction and Controversy

*Aristea Fotopoulou (University of Sussex)

The First Bite: Imaginaries of Food, Publics and the Laboratory Grown Burger

*Kate O’Riordan (University of Sussex, and Cesagen)

The Making of Obsolescence: How Things Become Public in the Age of Precariousness

*Ana Maria Delgado (University of Bergen), *Blanca Callén (Centre for Science Studies. Lancaster University)

Biometrics – Technology of Distrust? Exploring Security in a Policy Vacuum

*Kjetil Rommetveit (University of Bergen), *Kristrun Gunnarsdottir (Lancaster University)

Discussant: Brian Wynne (University of Lancaster)
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