3.3. Social aspects of new electricity configurations at local- and other-levels: Towards an analysis of rationales, barriers, enablers & impacts

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Max Richter (Monash University)
Pujo Semedi (Universitas Gadjah Mada)
Ariel Liebman (Monash University)
Nouruz Oktaby (Universitas Gadjah Mada)
Krisna Satya (Universitas Gadjah Mada)


Efforts to establish reliable, affordable, equitable and sustainable electricity in geographically remote areas can produce enormous benefits, and also unforeseen problems and challenges. Idyllic visions of tech-savvy locals thriving culturally and economically among flourishing natural abundance can give way to those of social breakdown and even, paradoxically, environmental degradation. Such scenarios typify depictions of technological interventions and change more broadly, and anthropologists are well equipped to describe and theorise on-the-ground realities with depth and nuance. This paper explores spatially defined levels-analysis orientations through which anthropologists might contribute to new understandings of, and positive outcomes from, remote-area electrification projects and efforts. Approaches include engaging critically with Leslie White’s ‘Energy and Tools’ (1959), conducting a global literature review of related issues and cases, and embedding single case studies in their political-economy contexts. More particularly, the paper considers additional forms of levels analysis as ways toward understanding new electricity configurations and the rationales, barriers, enablers and impacts involved in them. Perspectives include: (i) comparative case study analysis, here a group of landlocked villages in West Kalimantan and a small island chain in Maluku; (ii) moving from local- to meso-level analysis, especially in relation to the various actors involved in micro-grid and grid extension developments; (iii) material, institutional and ideological levels of analysis; and (iv) cross-national, in this case pertaining to discussions on joint electrification projects spanning large parts of eastern Indonesia and northern Australia.