Welsh Energy Humanities


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How should the humanities deal with energy? 

What role should the humanities play in present and future energy crises? 

What is Welsh energy? Does such a thing exist?

How does Wales connect to to global energy systems and cultures?

Welsh Energy Humanities provides a research network and a platform for an emerging field of research into social, scientific and historical dimensions of energy in Wales and farther afield.

Part of the Cardiff ScienceHumanities Initiative, we are interested in ‘Welsh energy’ as a juncture that runs together diverse areas of knowledge production. We are interested in, among other things, histories of Welsh water and traditions of hydropower; solar panels, supply chains and philosophies of the sun; aesthetic legacies of coalfield society; mine water heat, wind turbines and social regeneration; the politics and literature of nuclear power stations and anti-nuclear protest. And this is only a start. 

In response to the emergence in recent years of energy humanities—a field of research that understands energy as, at once, a foundational idea of physics, a set of cultural and material techniques, and a social relation between people—we want explore energy from the perspective of the Welsh experience. South Wales was (once proudly, now notoriously) a world centre for production and export of coal: a beating heart of global petrocapitalism ca. 1900. Yet this well-known picture hides a more complex story of Wales’s relationship with energy in the past, present and future. Notably, in recent times Wales has become—as a devolved nation, and in significant tension with the UK government—a would-be leader in the transition to renewable energy.[i]

Wales has already implemeted pathbreaking legislation to protect the environment, to oblige us to consider our responsibilities to future generations (the 2015 Wellbeing of Future Generations Act being a major landmark in this respect).[ii] In short, Wales is a fertile site for energy humanities research in a global context—both on the planetary level of climate change and in terms of larger conversations about environmental justice.[iii] At the same time, contemporary Welsh society offers many suggestive examples of what energy humanities might, and perhaps should, become, as a thriving place for grassroots research that combines community activism and growing demands for energy sovereignty.

A research network, the Welsh Energy Humanities will promote and connect existing research from across Wales—and between Wales and wider world—in a way that we hope will be beneficial to all our members. We also hope to stimulate new approaches and fresh ideas that will advance multi-dimensional research into energy, and to promote a wide range of writings, songs, exhibitions, talks and other educational materials that will generate useful knowledge for Wales’s energy future.

Please get in touch with Gavin Williams, a Research Associate working on Welsh Energy Humanities (email: williamsg101 [at] cardiff.ac.uk), in Welsh or in English, if you have any questions, ideas, comments or suggestions. We warmly welcome proposals for collaboration from external partners in education, industry and charities. 

[i] Malcolm Eames and Yan Wang, ‘Regional Governance, Innovation and Low Carbon Transitions: Exploring the Case of Wales’ (Unpublished conference paper, 2010); Eleri Evans, ‘Building a Low Carbon Future: Examining Processes of Effective Community Engagement in Wales’ (PhD Dissertation, Swansea University, 2014); Eleri Evans, ‘How Green is My Valley? The Art of Getting People in Wales to Care about Climate Change,’ Journal of Critical Realism 13/3 (2014), 304-325; Anna Pigott, ‘Imagining Socioecological Transformation: An Analysis of the Welsh Government’s Policy Innovations and Orientations to the Future,’ Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 6/1 (2018), 60-78.

[ii] Sioned Williams, ‘Energised Welsh Communities: Examining the Development and Social Impacts of Community Renewable Energy in Wales’ (PhD Dissertation, Bangor University, 2022); see also Sioned Williams, ‘Summary Report: Energised Welsh Communities: How Community Renewable Energy Projects Relate to the Future Generations Act (2015)’ (published in 2023).

[iii] David H. Llewllyn, Melanie Rohse, Rosie Day, Hamish Fyfe, ‘Evolving Energy Landscapes in the South Wales Valleys: Exploring Community Perception and Participation’, Energy Policy 108 (2017), 818-828; Melanie Rohse, Rosie Day and David H. Llewllyn, ‘Towards an Emotional Energy Geography: Attending to Emotions and Affects in a Former Coal Mining Community in South Wales, UK’, Geoforum 110 (2020), 136-140.