The Birth of Energy

Fossil Fuels, Thermodynamics, and the Politics of Work

The Birth of Energy
Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 7 illustrations Published: September 2019

Subjects
Environmental Studies, Politics > Political Theory, Science and Technology Studies

In The Birth of Energy Cara New Daggett traces the genealogy of contemporary notions of energy back to the nineteenth-century science of thermodynamics to challenge the underlying logic that informs today's uses of energy. These early resource-based concepts of power first emerged during the Industrial Revolution and were tightly bound to Western capitalist domination and the politics of industrialized work. As Daggett shows, thermodynamics was deployed as an imperial science to govern fossil fuel use, labor, and colonial expansion, in part through a hierarchical ordering of humans and nonhumans. By systematically excavating the historical connection between energy and work, Daggett argues that only by transforming the politics of work—most notably, the veneration of waged work—will we be able to confront the Anthropocene's energy problem. Substituting one source of energy for another will not ensure a habitable planet; rather, the concepts of energy and work themselves must be decoupled.

Praise

“Cara New Daggett's The Birth of Energy is a landmark work in the emergent field of energy humanities. In it, Daggett offers a brilliant genealogy of our modern conception of energy, explaining how Victorian empire, evolutionary theory, Presbyterianism, and thermodynamics helped to refashion the Aristotelian idea of energy as ‘dynamic virtue’ into a phenomenon having to do with the movement of matter and, above all, labor. Now facing a world warmed by burning fossil fuels, Daggett gives us a roadmap to thinking energy beyond the Protestant ethic of perpetual work.” — Dominic Boyer, author of Energopolitics: Wind and Power in the Anthropocene


“This complex, ambitious book represents a significant contribution to energy studies, offering an innovative history that situates the scientific discovery of energy within nineteenth-century cultures of imperialism, industrialization, and the governance of work. Cara New Daggett helps reframe the Anthropocene as the most recent realization of our profoundly misguided understanding of energy.” — Stephanie LeMenager, author of Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the America Century


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Cara New Daggett is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech.

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Table of Contents Forthcoming
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Paper: 978-1-4780-0632-9 / Cloth: 978-1-4780-0501-8
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