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Soc Stud Sci. 2016 Jun;46(3):327-350. doi: 10.1177/0306312716644534.

The everyday lives of energy transitions: Contested sociotechnical imaginaries in the American West.

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Liberal Arts and International Studies, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, USA.
School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA.


This article brings together two growing literatures - on sociotechnical imaginaries in science and technology studies and on resource materialities in anthropology - to explore how two energy-producing communities in the American West understand the moral salience of energy systems and the place of labor within them. Studies of energy sociotechnical imaginaries overwhelmingly focus on the role that state and transnational actors play in shaping perceptions of the 'good society', rather than how these imaginaries inform and are transformed in the lived experience of everyday people. We illuminate the contested dimension of sociotechnical imaginaries and their positioning within structures of power that inform visions of moral behavior and social order. Whereas the role of energy in national imaginaries is grounded almost entirely in the consumption it enables, examining the everyday ethics of people who live and work in Colorado's uranium-rich Western Slope and Wyoming's coal-rich Powder River Basin reveals an insistence that 'good' energy systems also provide opportunities for dignified and well-paid blue-collar work. This imaginary, we argue, remains 'bounded' at a local scale rather than circulating more widely to gain national or international traction. Theorizing this boundedness illustrates not only the contested nature of sociotechnical imaginaries, but also the constraints that material assemblages and sediments of the past place on imagined futures.


energy; labor; materiality; mining; sociotechnical imaginaries


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