Colloquium: Stephanie Rupp, "Currents & Circuits: Dynamics of Power in NYC Blackouts"
OCT 11, 2013 | 4:15 PM TO 6:00 PM
The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
October 11, 2013: 4:15 PM-6:00 PM
Stephanie Rupp, Dept. of Anthropology
Lehman College, CUNY
CURRENTS AND CIRCUITS: DYNAMICS OF POWER IN NEW YORK CITY BLACKOUTS
New York City is marinated in energy. Energy engulfs us, sustaining our lives in ever more intricate, invisible, and seemingly inevitable ways. Yet many—most—people are oblivious to energy’s technical properties, and rarely stop to think about energy in the normal flow of our daily lives. Natural properties of energy are opaque to all but scientists and technical experts; human-made energy systems are out of sight, out of reach, and out of mind, making energy systems is as invisible as they are ubiquitous. Lacking accessible technical knowledge for thinking about energy and its uses, contemporary Americans turn to a palette of cultural images to explain the forces that enable their everyday lives.
This paper seeks to understand energy by examining the punctuated, dramatic instances of its absence: blackouts. Accounts of major blackouts that struck New York City in 1965, 1977, 2003, and 2012 confirm that New Yorkers take constant supply of energy for granted in measure equal to their lack of comprehension of energy in its technical specificity. Studying blackouts brings to light two metaphors that connect the scientific properties and social expectations of energy: currents and circuits. Blackouts in New York City highlight the technical and social expectations of energy: when the circuits of energy are cut, currents of power in technical, social, economic, and political arenas are likewise disrupted. Social relationships that are predicated on constant flows of energy are radically altered and even inverted; blackouts highlight the centrality of energy in social spheres of power.