What I do?

Fracking Lancashire: the planning process, social harm and collective trauma

New article co-authored with Damien Short in Geoforum:

To date there have been very few studies that have sought to investigate the crimes, harms and human rights violations associated with the process of 'extreme energy', whereby energy extraction methods grow more 'unconventional' and intense over time as easier to extract resources are depleted. The fields of rural sociology and political science have produced important perception studies but few social impact studies. The field of 'green criminology', while well suited to examining the impacts of extreme energy given its focus on social and environmental 'harms', has produced just one citizen 'complaint' study to date. It is vital that more social and environmental impact studies become part of the local, national and international public policy debate. To this end, in the following paper we seek to move beyond perception studies to highlight the harms that can occur at the planning and approval stage. Indeed, while the UK is yet to see unconventional gas and oil extraction reach the production stage, as this article shows, local communities can suffer significant harms even at the exploration stage when national governments with neoliberal economic agendas are set on developing unconventional resources in the face of considerable opposition and a wealth of evidence of environmental and social harms. This paper takes a broad interdisciplinary approach, inspired by green criminological insights, that shows how a form of 'collective trauma' has been experienced at the exploration stage by communities in the North of England.

Społeczne forum gazu łupkowego

social forum on shale gas

10. kwietnia 2017, Dago Centrum, Warszawa


forum społeczne.png

Energy for society: 1st international conference on energy research & social science

2-5. April 2017, Sitges, Spain

Marie skłodowska-curie alumni association: polish chapter meeting

6. March 2017, University of Warsaw

Presentation: Energy and democracy: The case of shale gas developments in the UK and Poland

Energy and democracy - we probably rarely think about the two at the same time. On the face of it, electric lines, power stations, refineries, offshore oil and gas rigs and platforms may seem to have very little to do with how our social and democratic systems work and change over time. But my research shows that not only does energy have a profound role in shaping our democracies but also that particular sources of energy such as shale gas are more likely to produce particular kinds of democracies.

energy impacts: people, responsibilities and the contested futures of energy developments

28. February - 2. March 2017, Bergen

An international conference co-organised with Ståle Knudsen University of Bergen; Saska Petrova SEED University of Manchester; Håvard Haarstad University of Bergen.

Conference programme and more information in the "conference" tab.

New technologies and their social impact

10-11. November 2016, London

Workshop focus:

Our general approach to technology is that it has no specific socio-political consequence, function or effect independently of the socio-political-cultural order, which is the impetus for its invention. What may be immanent to technology, its potential, is actualized through the dimensions of the socio-political world. Indeed, it is our contention that specific social-political conjunctures give force, dynamic and direction to technological development.

A key question we ask is: Are we in a moment of a grand technological intensity, which is opening and driving new social and political possibilities or are we seeing the deepening of older ones

M4Shale Gas Project Meeting in Karlsruhe

6. October 2016, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)

SP4 Public Perceptions of the Environment Impacts of Shale Gas

Guest speaker: Social Licence to Operate: Lessons from Lancashire

The social futures of resource extraction and energy

What are the main challenges for the future of energy? Can they be addressed with unconventional natural resources? The ways in which we answer these questions have the potential to influence our societies in fundamental ways. What impacts will our choices about the futures of energy have on individuals, communities and the globe?

Speakers: Prof. Anthony Ingraffea (Cornell University, USA),  Prof. Debra Davidson (University of Alberta, Canada), Prof. Michael Bradshaw (University of Warwick), Dr Anna Szolucha (University of Bergen, Norway)

Chairing: Marc Hudson (University of Manchester)

30th August 2016, 6 pm

Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston

Free event followed by Q&A and wine reception. Seat reservation recommended at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-social-futures-of-resource-extraction-and-energy-tickets-27142642374

Event organiser: Anna Szolucha

EASA Conference: anthropological legacies and human futures

Conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists at the University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy, 20-23 July 2016

"The politics of knowledge and time: Shale gas developments, grassroots resistance and democracy in Lancashire, UK"

Debates about shale gas exploration tend to revolve around primarily two axes: of knowledge and time. This is the plane on which many certainties and uncertainties about the past, present and future of energy and democracy are being played out between actors embedded in unequal social relationships.
Decisions about shale gas developments are made in the face of many uncertainties about their future harms and benefits. Nevertheless, some claim they are also based on many “certainties” about the adequacy of science and regulatory frameworks. The weight accorded to each of these aspects depends on a complex interplay of the politics of knowledge and time between governments, extractive industry and local populations. All sides use knowledge and time to their advantage by mobilising their expertise and expanding or contracting time for action.
Based on my fieldwork in Lancashire, UK, I will adopt a grassroots lens to explore these dynamics after four years of public protest and civil disobedience in the area. Contrary to political and technocratic rhetoric, knowledge has not neutralised the inherent power imbalances between state, industry and local communities. Residents have had to work towards gaining detailed knowledge about the techniques and impacts of fracking as well as overcoming time-related barriers to match their expertise with democratic agency and empowerment. Grassroots groups have been reappropriating the tactics of their opponents by using science and expertise to confirm the indeterminacy of knowledge about the benefits of fracking. May they also be “repowering” democracy from the ground up by utilising expertise to expand and hence, undermine the narrow parameters of technocratic and political decisions? Are they anticipating a new kind of democratic politics when they are reaffirming the political and temporal nature of decision-making related to shale gas as not a matter of evidence but one of judgement?

3rd Isa forum of sociology: the futures we want

Conference of the International Sociological Association at the University of Vienna, Austria, 10-14 July 2016

"Through Our Eyes" exhibition was also displayed throughout this event.

"Grassroots Mobilisations and the Democracy They Want: Renewable Energy and Anti-Fracking"

This paper will provide a comparative analysis of the changing nature of democracy in contemporary Europe as well as the issues involved in negotiating the future supply of energy – the two questions that perhaps, unlike any other in the contemporary world, demand our immediate attention.

"Repowering Democracy: How Grassroots Energy Initiatives Are Changing the Face of Democracy in Europe"

This paper will assess the claim that only innovations in democracy and local renewable energy solutions that are complementary and occur in parallel can offer comprehensive frameworks to maximise the impact of local initiatives on pressing societal issues.
University of Vienna

University of Vienna

political ecology, Environmentalism and greens in the centre and east of europe: past, present and prospects

Conference at the Universite libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, 2-3 June 2016

"Anti-fracking in Poland: Emerging political ecologies"

The relative lack of political ecology in Central and Eastern Europe coincides with a broader phenomenon that is also making it increasingly difficult for the opposition to fossil fuel industry and for popular demands for energy transformation to navigate the closely intertwined structures of state, finance and (carbon) democracy. In this paper, I try to unpack some of the aspects of this phenomenon in relation to civil disobedience against fracking (an unconventional method of shale gas extraction) that took place in Poland.
Based on my research in Poland, I would like to explore how in practice, national policy narratives, legal frameworks and local planning procedures appear to be designed in ways that help evade different forms of popular democratic contestation and social innovation, producing some puzzling outcomes when they are met with grassroots resistance. This will help examine the inherent power imbalances between state, local communities and energy corporations during the initial stages of planning and development processes.
I will also analyse the main trends in popular and media discourses about shale gas in the context of Poland's position as one of the largest coal-mining countries in Europe. This conference paper will aim to explore how economic and political pressures are passed from the top national and international actors down to citizens living and working in regions potentially affected by fracking. I will try to uncover the consequences of national, corporate and international interests and narratives for local communities as well as how local communities respond, mediate and resist such pressures. This will also help describe persistent inequalities that are being played out in the interactions between local populations, the authorities and energy corporations.

Alternative Futures and Popular Protest

Conference at the Manchester Metropolitan University

I will be bringing the photovoice exhibition to the annual AF&PP conference in Manchester on 21-23 March 2016. There will also be a little talk about doing engaged research.

Egalitarianism project meeting in Ascona

At the intersections of grassroots resistance and a shale gas democracy: Navigating the politics of knowledge, time and representation in Lancashire, UK

Shale gas development in the UK is a highly contested issue, which is articulated most strongly in the resistance and civil disobedience of local residents across the country. Many grassroots groups are forced to fight the government and gas corporations on technocratic or scientific grounds, questioning the potential benefits and highlighting possible harms from gas extraction. They engage in the complex politics of time by juxtaposing the temporal and political nature of decision-making related to fracking to permanent effects of shale gas activities. They are also addressing the bypassed issues of democracy and social justice that are excluded from the planning process and hence, they are inadvertently reorganising political life away from the dynamics of shale gas democracy that evades different forms of popular contestation.

At the same time, all of these complex processes are being played out in a highly “mediatised” context which may quite easily render itself to a dynamic of a spectacle. Speeches and representations are made, experts are cross-examined and arguments brought forward, mistakes are used ruthlessly against opponents and slip-ups – mocked. Appearances are carefully managed and scrutinised. Spaces of internal and public debate are opened up or locked down in subtle ways for strategic advantages of the players. This may create the appearance of a spectacle because actors seem to be reluctant to engage directly with the issue that requires a democratic judgement. Instead, they participate in the process via a proxy: expert and legal knowledge or media representations. Are grassroots groups really substituting expertise and media images for democratic experience, at the same time questioning the loss of local control over their immediate environments? Or are they using the tactics of their opponents strategically and simultaneously, developing a radical political subjectivity? I argue that these questions are significant because they may be revealing an emerging structural shift in the liberal representative model of democracy as well as the changing social position of the groups that have so far been regarded as the foundation of that model.

Political ecology seminar in bergen

Many thanks to Ståle Knudsen and Ingrid Birce Müftüoglu from the University of Bergen who made this seminar possible.

The title of my preentation: Doing engaged research about fracking: Questions, biases and democracy

In this presentation, I would like to complement the understandings of engaged anthropology presented by Clarke and Ryan et al. by exploring a case for engaged and participatory research that is focused on grassroots innovation and empowerment rather than primarily policy change. Based on my research about social impacts of shale gas developments in North West England, I will tackle questions about bias and democracy as well as the temporal limitations of an engaged approach to research that concerns this highly contested issue.

Photovoice Exhibition

"Through Our Eyes" is a photovoice exhibition that shows what it means to live with the prospect of fracking.

The idea for this exhibition came from my ongoing research project that explores the social impacts of shale gas developments in Lancashire. One of the early findings of this study is that even before fracking commences, it has very profound impact on the local communities. The aim of the exhibition is to give voice to the local communities in order for them to take stock of this impact in their own words and images. The exhibition would not be possible without an immense collective effort from many people who contributed their time and skills.

The first showing of the exhibition took place in Blackpool on 9th February 2016 (coinciding with the first day of the public inquiry process concerning Cuadrilla's appeal to conduct shale gas exploration and monitoring works in Lancashire).

This is a mobile exhibition so the photos are now available to be displayed wherever and whenever there is an interest.

If you would like to show the exhibition in your community,

let me know by

Ebony Ava Johnson (Frack Free Lancashire)

Ebony Ava Johnson (Frack Free Lancashire)

Where it all began... I first began to research fracking in 2012.
The health impacts and the environmental destruction the USA
had seen were horrifying. I knew I had to raise awareness in my
community. I set up an information point in my mum’s empty
shop so that local people could drop in and learn more about
the dangers of shale gas extraction. We didn’t even have a
table to start with, just a few leaflets and lot of determination.

Little did I know that I was about to embark on a journey all
over the UK to work with people from all over the world, in my
fight to protect my community and others against fracking.
Sue Price

Sue Price

My ‘Happening’
I had never taken part in public protest before Barton Moss. I was
shocked by what I saw. Shocked at the number of police, the number
of cameras: surveillance was massive. We were all clocked. And I was
shocked by the brutality. Yes – brutality from the very people paid by
the public to protect us. It was when I saw this woman aggressively
restrained by the police that I realized we are in some sort of battle
against the establishment. People were being randomly plucked from
the crowd and shoved into police vans or thrown to the floor. I was
afraid. Maybe that was the aim.

But it just convinced me that this is a battle worth fighting.

Social Impact study

The first social impact study of fracking in Lancashire. (in progress)


Initial reflections from fieldwork in the UK

Many people say that we live in a climate moment; that is in a moment when the environmental crisis could – with a wartime sense of urgency – unify all disparate social movements and issues not only to tackle climate change but also to create a fairer and a more democratic and egalitarian world. Naomi Klein, claims for example that: “[a]s part of the project of getting our emissions down... we once again have the chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up.” (This Changes Everything, 2015, p. 10)

In my research, I look at the intersections of energy transitions and democracy understood not as a particular, time and space-bound model of governance but as the rule of the people. In the public discourse and the media, the problem of climate change is almost exclusively articulated as a problem that stems from the lack of the political will on the part of our governments and the biggest financial players to lay the ground for a more democratic energy economy. My project leads me to see the problem rather differently.

As part of this project, I often employ a grassroots lens to examine why for the communities on the ground, the problem of climate change and with it the issue of unconventional gas extraction is not necessarily best solved by the state and gas companies. The problem for them is not so much that the state and corporations are not delivering a climate friendly world (although it is also that). But the problem is that state and finance could probably quite effectively “solve” climate change and create an almost perfectly environmentally sustainable but at the same time quite unequal and undemocratic world.

I am currently doing fieldwork in order to investigate these dynamics in relation to anti-fracking residents' groups in Lancashire, UK. I am learning about how they are navigating the closely intertwined structures of state, finance and democracy; how national policy narratives and planning procedures seem to be designed to evade popular contestation and what power imbalances are played out during planning and negotiation processes.

And this could probably very easily follow the script of a modern-day struggle between David and Goliath or of subaltern charisma in the face of an all-powerful opponent. The residents' experiences of these two years, however, are far more complex than that. They are more than a story of ordinary local people intimately tied to their land and the pristine nature of their area against a powerful multinational corporation backed up by a government with all its enforcement agencies. Rather, these experiences reveal the practices of everyday state formation, discourse creation and the politics of science whereby all players (anti-fracking groups, state and finance) are strategically appropriating the tactics, the discourses, as well as the terms of critique of their opponents. For the residents' groups, this is far from co-optation of grassroots agency. On the contrary, their tactics actually create an effect of political autonomy and agency.

Lancashire Nanas in June 2015

Lancashire Nanas in June 2015

One of the first things that struck me about anti-fracking struggles is that when these groups win and a gas company is forced to withdraw or at least put on hold their plans to drill for shale gas, a common response from residents is usually along these lines: “we don't feel very elated. It's one small victory but nothing to do with fracking and the major issues around that” and you have to ask why?

From a grassroots perspective, if we do indeed live in a climate moment, it is a moment when small groups of local residents often find themselves fighting against resource extraction led by their governments and powerful corporations, and they have to fight them on technocratic grounds, often bypassing issues of democracy and justice. In a climate moment, the desire for local control addresses not only the problems of resource extraction but also these bypassed issues that could help create a more egalitarian and democratic world.

'Leaving it in the ground' in Lancashire

Conference paper at the University of Bergen, "Beyond oil" conference.

Fracturing democracy? State, fracking and Local power in Lancashire

Fracking may have been rejected in Lancashire, but the battle reveals that power is being stripped from the people of Britain.

Read the entire article on openDemocracy.net.

Fracking and democracy in the uk

A timeline of some of the major events is also available here.