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Writing a PhD about Samsø: a taste of what it’s about

I’ve spent 5 months of the past year on Samsø, talking to people on the island and following and participating in the work at the Energy Academy. Armed with a heavy ring binder containing all my notes and some of the many reports about the Renewable Energy Island I’ve found during my fieldwork, I then moved to London where I have been a visiting researcher at Goldsmiths University of London since September.

The center I’m visiting is called CSISP, Center for the Study of Invention and Social Process, an innovative research center especially interested in questions of science, technology and the environment, as well as with ethnographic and digital methods, methods for investigating the Internet.

My work about Samsø is starting to take shape, so below you can read a bit about the two research papers I’ve written while I’ve been in London:

‘Let’s go global!’ – Circulating Samsø Globally?

Since Samsø – a Danish tourism and farming island – was appointed Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island and embarked on a ten-year experiment to see if it could become energy self-sufficient through the development of windmills and district heating plants on the island, it has had global ambitions; it has wanted to make its exertions count.

In this article I ask why the production of an exemplar fit for circulating internationally has been such a priority for the project developers on the island, and whether and how this circulation has been achieved.

The analysis employs a mixed methods approach combining fieldwork episodes with digital mapping of the Internet focused around the concept of the issue network in order to grasp the online and offline circulations which underlie Samsø’s widespread success.

The argument put forward is that the project developers have managed to keep the model or idea of ’Samsø’ flexible and thus fit for circulating in many different zones or networks all over the world. From the regional European project network, to the heavily politicized American network and the Danish business-as-usual network Samsø manages to show through its example that a greener world is possible.

Living on Samsø: Creating a viable community through energy transformations

Samsø is Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island – renowned for being self-sufficient in renewable energy and for having achieved this self-sufficiency through successful processes of citizen participation, which the project developers term ‘energy democracy’.

I discuss these processes of citizen participation as instances of material participation motivated first and foremost by a concern for the future of the island as a ‘liveable’ community; that is, a community in which jobs and institutions are not constantly threatening to disappear.

Through this concern for the survival of the island community, energy and renewable energy technologies became a shared concern for the islanders, and people ended up investing time, effort and resources in achieving the shared goal of becoming Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island, thus turning energy transformations into a socioeconomical win-win situation.

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