Gender Slash Infrastructure, or “sewage thick as toothpaste”

What a great event. What an unexpected delight. At the sharp end of a PhD you find yourself going to very few ‘recreational’ seminars. And so often they’re the standard mix of chest-beating, data dumps from those too close to their “facts”, or conceptual hair-splitting from those too far from them. And those are the best ones.

So, yesterday I stole away from cutting 14,000 words down to 12,000, (with only another 6,000 words of cutting to go. Call me Marc Scissorhands). And, thank goodness, I ended up at “Gender and Infrastructure”, a seminar by visiting Australian scholar Dr Zoe Sofoulis.

We will come back to the toothpaste thing.

Sofoulis, who had started out looking gender in science fiction and was supervised by Donna Haraway [we are not worthy, we are not worthy] did a couple of things that should be entirely unremarkable, but aren’t. She asked attendees to call out their disciplines (a good non-threatening way of getting people involved and signalling to everyone who is in the room [and who isn’t.] She also thanked by name people who’d asked ‘hairy questions’ at a recent outing of the presentation/

She then – more conventionally for anyone who has encountered Haraway’s work – decided to muddy the terms of the title – “Gender and Infrastructure”. Some bullet points. Lots of the digressions are mine, and this is heavily paraphrased too.

When and where does gender come up in infrastructure discussions? When and where does it FAIL to come up? Around water, gender often only seen as a ‘third world poverty’ issue. Not so.
Book: Fluid Bonds.
1992 Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development.
Of course, positivist science (not to be conflated with “masculine”) is riddled with masculinised norms, and is a ‘master discourse’ which endlessly challenges qualitative research as mere anecdote. Sofoulis mused on whether the triumph of liberal feminism (and the emphasis on formal ‘equality’ had rendered other awkward questions invisible (which is not to say irrelevant).

Like technologies and interfaces, infrastructures are caught up in politics, in (re)enforcements of the social order.
Sarah Bell
Splintering urbanism of Graham and Marvin
[See also Susan George on the politics of chickens]

Imbricated with entrenching modern divisions of paid/unpaid, private/public and so on.
There is SOME relief from drudgery (days washing clothes, fetching water) but as work of Ruth Schwartz Cowan, Elizabeth Shove and others reveals, as drudgery decreased, housekeeping standards skyrocketed, with moralising discourses around hygiene etc creating a red queen shituation (running to keep still)

Turton Schreiner and Leestemaker 2000 on defeminisation of water, isolation of women’s voices from decision making.

Sofoulis had some fun with her younger self’s predilections for slashes and other attempts to show how terms can be mutually constitutive or antagonistic (gender of infrastructure, infrastructure of gender etc), but decided to park it and not alienate her audience. In words to warm the cockles of the hearts of the Australians present (both of them) a slash was ‘a bit wanky’

Things then all got a bit messy, thanks to double-sided printing, and a willingness (compulsion?!) to move about a bit) in tracing intellectual trajectories and inventories.
So this is going to be a bit bullet-pointy. Don’t blame me if you end up down rabbit holes and fail to submit your thesis/book/marriage proposal/suicide note on time.

Davidson and Stratford 2006 Gender-neutral technology in Economic Globalization, Sustainability, Gender and Water in ‘Fluid Bonds’ …
So anyway, within water studies because of how it is metered/measured, the “household” ends up being taken as the smallest unit of analysis (there was a good quote by Kuntara Lahiri-Dutt at this point.)

But we should take Latour seriously on the whole question of non-human actants and how ‘non-human’ stuff – plants, animals, technologies, shape wider practices and cosmologies. [though you still don’t ever interview doorknobs].

So “laundry” means and does different things when it is days of (communal) washing and beating of clothes by the river versus a button pushed as you head out to salaried work.
[Am reminded of a Vietnamese peasant who married an American construction contractor and then got laughed at by her new in-laws for not knowing the finer details of what could go in a kitchen trash compactor. Also, that thing about the Chinese washing machine company that learnt its customers were using their product to wash potatoes, and adapted accordingly.]
Sofoulis then digressed on cigars and Freud – sometimes a cigar is indeed just a cigar. Not everything longer than it is wide is a phallic symbol…

Then she talked about her 2000 paper on ‘Container Technologies’which is a Must Read for After The Thesis.

A mention of Gregory Bateson (aka Mr Margaret Mead) on the unit of survival being the organism plus its environment, and Withicott (sp?) on matter as facilitating movement [compare machine fetishism of Alf Hornborg?] Sofoulis also gave historian of technology Lewis Mumford a shout out, around his critique of history of tech being too much about thrusting/smashing machines and not about storage – – vats, kilns etc.

Mention of ‘Donai (?) and “background technologies”, and naturally old Martin ‘I was never a Nazi’ Heidegger and his concept of standing reserves’.
Shove and inconspicuous consumption.
Haraway and ‘situated knowledge’.
Back to positivism and its (great phrase!) ‘epistemocidal tendencies’. Undercuts interdisciplinarity as a kind of ‘apex predator’!!
Sofoulis then admitted to having not fully recovered from her “narcissistic intellectual wound” of having lived in a HisCon bubble only to realise the lack of influence it had on practitioners in the Real World. She urged the attendees to think of the ‘shit and string beans’ issue, as captured in a quote from Marilyn French’s ‘The Women’s Room’.

“When your body has to deal all day with shit and string beans, your mind does too.”

What knowledges matter? Which roles? How do they circulate? What resources are used?
For example, in Australia the technical/technological work (mostly by men) around water gets published in journals, while the social research is ‘commercial in confidence’ and appears in the grey literature. She was scathing on engineers who think everyone is a data nerd and technology sorts who add a survey at the end of a report and call themselves social scientists, but who wouldn’t actually know social science if they fell over it.
So, some oracular statements/suggestions
Don’t assume liberal feminism is an unalloyed Force For Good
Diversity in groups
New problems will affect different groups differently
Specificitiy – work ends up generalised too easily
There are differences both within and between households that need looking at.
Sue Jackson on different knowledges, also Deborah Bird Rose.


There were different question from the audience. Sofoulis listened intently and was clearly having a good time with them, and occasionally ‘just’ ‘riffed’ (it’s harder than it looks).

Some observations (and yes, finally, toothpaste and sewage).

The Millennium Drought in Australia, that led to expensive desalination plants being built and then mothballed DID create some discursive openings for social scientists. Sofoulis explained how economic rationalism (Australian for “neoliberalism”) had assumed that ‘homo economicus’ would respond only minimally to the (minor) price signals in water charging changes. In actual fact people’s willingness to conserve water far far exceeded expectations (not just ‘in public’ but also behind closed doors. People were sending in all sorts of ideas that had to be acknowledged before they could be ignored [shades of Nigel Balchin’s The Small Back Room]. Sewage became so thick (because people weren’t flushing?!!) that pipes were corroding and an odour control sector boomed?!
Similarly, people bought water tanks (tapping into the whole rural imaginary of “The Bush”) when it made little or no ‘economic sense’ to do so…

So, government ended up (and still is) WAY behind people in sustainability aspirations, and defer and stymie it. [Indeed, just today it turns out the Turnbull government is ‘NEGging’…]

Trying to speak to indigenous knowledges without having done the field work would be a Very Bad idea…

Extra stuff
– the DAD model of policy making – Decide Announce Defend, versus PEP participate, educate ??
Naturvation – nature based innovation, mexico city (biomimicry? Industrial ecology?)

Timothy Moss Infrastuctural legacies 

Things to think with:

Verdict : Fascinating event, instructive, fertile, suggestive. Could not be a greater contrast to the ‘people willing to have smoke blown up their asses as the planet burns’ thing I also went to…


Oil (and) slick: Of corporate citizens and the great energy transition.

Whose ego needs are being met? That, imho, is the key question, in almost any gathering, whether it dresses itself up as academic (aka ‘intellectual’), activist, capitalist, whatever. If you ask that question (at least to yourself – it’s a CLM to say what you think, after all), then a whole lot probably becomes clearer. Whatever the organisers tell you the meeting is about (energy transitions, flower arranging, something equally will-pass-the-time-until-the-apocalypse), it is always about (at least) both that and ego needs. Hidden curriculum, hidden agenda, yadder yadder yadder… Oh, and organisations have ‘egos’ too (Dr Freud, meet Professor Schumpeter; Joe, Siggy…).

Tonight,  Manchester Business School, – so sorry, Alliance Manchester Business School – deployed some extra security because it was hosting Dr Brian Gilvary, the chief financial officer of BP no less (the company formerly, albeit briefly, known as Beyond Petroleum). And the topic? That great mystical and mythical beast, the “energy transition”. Or rather, the energy transition that is indeed unfolding (especially over the last 18 months) but seemingly cannot/will not be accelerated to get us within spitting or dying distance of “two degrees” above pre-industrial global average temperatures (yeah, because two degrees is sooo safe.). You know, that energy transition. The one over which ink is spilled and careers builded here, in this green and pleasant land. The new Jerusalem. That one.

So, back to the beginning: whose needs? The attendees, with a need to feel informed/send ‘I came to your lecture it was fab please gizzajob’ emails. Or to be a Known Quantity. Or to virtue (or cynicism) signal. And of course to do the whole money/legitimacy fungibility thing. Whatevs.

Just about now you’re thinking how much more of this is there? So here is the tl:dr Dr Gilvary was very very clear – and admirably keen to be clear. Despite the long list of technologies on which it is keeping a watching brief (see below), for the benefit of any pension-holders who may be worried, for the next 5 years (at least) 90% of what BP does will be oil and gas. What that says about the so-called two degree target? That’s ‘not for us to do.’ Habitable planet? Even thought they’re number one oil trader in the world, ditto… But of course, the dinosaurs will tap dance, if we show them there’s a buck in it. Of course they will.

Right, feel free to give up (on the blogpost, not the living – mortal sins/imagine Sisyphus happy blah blah) at any point. Onwards with it, mostly just a chronological drive [Easiest framing, if not the best]. Apols for any innacuracies, please check against transcript, video etc. [Digressions and editorialising will be in square brackets like this].

The audience- very diverse (not sarky) crowd from all corners of t’planet. Gender mix about 45% women. Some old farts (author’s age and older) but lots of young ‘uns (doing MBAs and so on).

Opening remarks from the head of MBS. Sorry, AMBS; strategic partnership, 100 million (pounds or dollars?) in collaborative project with five partners, range of global energy industries, benefit to industry and supply chains [shades of Matt Canavan and his self-perceived job?]

Gilvary, who did a maths PhD at Manchester, has been with BP since 1986 (41 years), started by observing how exciting the times are for energy transitions folks (practitioners and scholars) and argued that the next 10 years will see historical changes. The last 18 months along have had a huge impact. However, there is a heck of a lot of installed infrastructure, so how we will be transitioning using that is anyone’s guess re: the years 2050-2100. ([Ed: this is why the word palimpsest should be taught in kindergartens].

The speech was structured around a) Energy globally, 2) BP in that (since Lord Browne’s 1997 speech at Stanford) (31 years ago) , 3) BP’s strategy and 4) what you need to do [we didn’t actually get to that]

That presentation, bullet pointed

Energy as driver of economic growth [Hmm – chickens, eggs and practice theory and creating demand to make centralised plant profitable blah blah. Grok ‘Fossil Capital’ and the that ‘Energy, Work and Finance’ piece by the Cornerhouse folks. Whatevs. Nowt on the Great Acceleration (named, it turns out, for the Great Transformation. Who knew?]

Heading towards 9 billion people. Most energy growth will come from non-OECD countries, because we’re getting ‘efficient’ (Yom Kippur war, 55mph speed limit, unless you’re cannon-balling). But China, India, and especially Africa.
Some leapfrogging of dirty tech (i.e. renewables) will be done. Oil and coal will decline, gas will increase. It is, says Gilvary, a ‘transition fuel. [Oh for a Tyndaller to heckle…] Cleaner than wood, he says.
BP invested heavily in solar 40 years ago, got out out of it five years ago (a mistake). Invested 3.5bn and wrote it off. Solar will be a great source. Hydro will ‘tick along’. Meanwhile Germany is closing down nuclear post-Fukushima and importing US coal to plug the gap (oops). [Energiewende is not done…]
Gilray thinks “we’re going to see some pretty strange things”.
US India and China continuing to use coal (hmmm, we will indeed see).
Renewables solve OTHER problems – e.g. air quality in cities [a real problem if you’re a Chinese technocrat who can’t send the army in like they did in ’89 when the little emperors start dropping like asthmatic flies].
The renewables boom not driven by Paris Agreement [indeed, pre-dates it. Overcapacity in production of PV etc.]

Gilvary recounted that when he joined BP in 86 Peak Oil was being put at 1990, then pushed back and back. He reckons there is no shortage of mostly accessible oil [would be interesting to know what his EROI numbers are]and points out that the crucial factor will be ‘societal demand’ and that therefore policy matters.

BP Energy Outllok assumptions, ‘relatively conservative’ – decline in oil demand to 2035, (I think he meant/said per capita?) offset by population growth in China, India, the Middle East, where gas previously exported is being reserved for aircon).
Oil will come from usual places, not so much from Canada (I think he was saying). US is now an exporter of course, thanks to shale/fracking.

So, to BP – has modelled scenarios around what they think will happen, fast transition, even faster transition. Why? So they have a business model that can cope with whatever seems likely. Oh, and 1 in 7 quid in pensions is connected to BP [I think?]
[Hmm. Scenarios bless them and Shell. Meanwhile, Kodak moments do happen…]

Anyway, to be verbatim “it will be policies that will make a difference”. E.g. Britain and its 2040 “ban” on internal combustion engines.

Then again “technology will get us through the transition” [Not a contradiction, but possibly a tension though not one that anyone explored in the Q and A . Me?  I was too busy virtue signalling]

So, BP; Turning to gas, because, there is a ‘fun fact’ that if you replaced all coal with gas you’d apparently come in under two degrees. [I wonder if that includes all the leakage that so often doesn’t get counted….]

Renewables are a competitor for this, and there are interesting moves re: storage..
Impact of the tech will be transformational.
And here is a list of some of the 400 technological advances that will be ‘disruptors’ in a positive or negative way.
Advanced materials, biofuels, solar, unconventional oil and gas, quantum computing, fuel cells, autonomous vehicles, bioproducts, battery systems, enhanced oil recovery, hydrogen as vector, 3D printing, perpetual motion machines, electrofuels, transport efficiency, advanced nuclear, block chain, advance wind, non mechanical ?) drilling, artificial intelligence. [NB one of them is made up. Can you tell what it is yet?]

Accelerated by (global) government policy decisions. Investors will follow -e..g lead in paint and lead in petrol not going on anymore. Therefore, he says, we need carbon pricing.

Five areas BP particularly looking at. – renewables (but not solar), advanced mobility, bio and low carbon products, carbon management, digital transformation, , power and storage.

Then followed a rather unclear ‘energy quiz’, which probably needed some piloting.

And no time for the ‘what are we to do’?

Those Q and As, bullet pointed

So, how much are you investing in renewables compared to renewables?
Lots more in oil and gas….

Has BP modelled the 350ppm atmospheric concentration that James Hansen says is needed to keep below 2 degrees? If not why not?
How would you respond to the claim that fossil fuel incumbents are calling for a global carbon tax because they know it can’t be delivered?
What can we expect to see incumbents – not the nice and cuddly BP – do to protect their stranded assets as policymakers try to policymake us to the sunny uplands of technotopia?
These three were welcomed as “loaded” [because apparently when you ask if this ‘bridge to the future’ is actually a bridge to hell, that’s loaded. Go figure.]. Like those well-known radicals Friends of the Earth do at AGMs.
And the answers were [and these are paraphrases, NOT direct quotes] “not for BP to do. Not BP’s responsibility.” [Hmm. So, happy to appear a ‘responsible corporate citizen’, but as soon as it gets a bit hot, then retreating into ‘nothing to do with us old chum’. If only there were a TV show where the phrase ‘the Game’s the Game’ was standard. Not so much the new Jerusalem as the new Hamsterdam. So it goes.]
“Global tax? Well, there are twelve US states were there is a carbon tax.”
“Not a question for us.” [See question one. What incumbents will do to delay, defer, block the transition is THE question, no? But silence is an answer all of its own…]

What premium does BP place on customers who want green instead of standard projects?
Since 2000 carbon neutral offset thing, but don’t like to shout about it because would rather underpromise and overdeliver

What products are you producing that are attractive for energy transitions?
BP  bought an outfit called “Beyond Limits” which does AI stuff, like on that Mars probe [think Wall-E]
And BP got a data mining company to come in and do in 30 seconds what would have taken them three or four months to do with only in-house expertise, so it has 2000 wells now controlled from one spot.

How is BP going to grow in the transitional space?
Proprietary efforts and tech, but also ‘things that are good for the sector’.

So, now, we know BP as an oil and gas company. What will we know it as in 2040, and you’re not allowed to say “energy”.
Gilvary did well here, since his most obvious answer was verboten, and eventually, after touching on Deepwater Horizon, came out with some stuff about adaptability and relationships. Because, yes, if you want to be any good at this transitions thing, and getting people on board, and keeping them on board, you have to be good at relationships. If you aren’t, well, sooner or later, you will in fact be found out. So it goes.
Oh, and BP is the world’s number one oil-trader.

And then everyone left, presumably most or all of their ego needs met.  And we all lived happily ever after. Until we didn’t.


Other reading.  Oh, email me.  Meanwhile

Big Oil’s Grip on California.


So, in other news, went to a truly fantastic, far smaller messier and less slickly presented presentation just before this one. Incredibly fruitful, so much to chew on. Massive props to the presenter, the chair and everyone else.  Watch this space for a review imminently.

A PhD thesis explained via Woody Allen’s “Sleeper”

So, you slave through archives and papers and interviews and more papers and hard hard work. And you come up with a 20 thousand word chapter, full of the very hard-won anecdotes and quotes and…
You have ten thousand words, TOPS.

Which means you have to kill your darlings, doing away with stuff that cost you days and sweat.

The best way I can explain it at present is fighting the evergrowing magic pudding, as in this scene from Woody Allen’s hilarious Sleeper (presumably riffing off Mickey Mouse and the multiplying brooms in Fantasia?)

The whole clip is hilarious, but I am talking about the period from about 3 mins 30 to 4 mins….

Back to thwacking…

ABC Insiders 24 September 2017 – observations

Abc Insiders 24 September

So, there was an ‘extra’ bit with Barrie Cassidy pondering the consequences of Abbott’s behaviour for energy policy (compare coorey article on same topic in AFR).

Programme itself opens with interview/intersplice with the headbutt guy in Hobart

Sadly no music over the top of this- too controversial? Could have had

“Can’t get you out of my head” by Kylie Minogue or “Headbutt” The King Blues

Then Kiwis and their election is discussed

Then ALP deputy leader Tanya Plibersek (super slick at what she does – on top of her brief etc) on  same sex marriage, universities, and then energy policy at 19.50.

She talks about emissions intensity scheme/clean energy target as ‘number two approach’, happy to compromise to introduce this, gas reservation policy, more renewables.

The problem is all inside the liberal and national parties, small rump of people who are absolute wreckers.

Are you prepared to walk back a bit from renewables in spirit of compromise?

She doesn’t say yes or no,  says already compromising, renewables becoming cheaper than coal – they are the pathway

Do you need to go to 50 per cent so fast?
People would argue over whether its so fast… Certainty and investment when Labor was in charge…

Followed by the musical montage  “A targeted threat’- about, energy policy and the Abbott/Turnbull stoush, the song – Charlie Puth Attention

Murphy – Abbott is doing frontrunning (she wrote on this earlier in the week…)

Abbott is building a poison pill into the process – if Turnbull builds a bipartisan consensus, what country needs, Abbott will dress it up as betrayal of conservative values.

Fran Kelly – AEMO says reliability problem is this and next summer (coal fired power stations take YEARS to build)…

then clip of Rod Simms of ACCC at the National Press Club saying no single policy will delviery cheqapness, reliability and emissions reductions…

More headbutt stuff from 37 and a half minutes

Hilarious Cory Bernardi Streisand Effect thing

Malcolm Roberts is toast, surely.

North Korea – yeah, we’re all doomed.

Cartoons were awesome


Overall – 9 out of 10..  Insiders at its best…

Activism: ffs, read this – Building Movements, Not Organizations

Building Movements, Not Organizations

Creating a healthy, humane world will require more than new organizational designs. It will take rethinking the nature of organizations entirely….

What might be possible, therefore, if socially minded organizations and businesses acted more like movements than organizations? And what might that look like in practice?
To answer those questions, consider how we might re-define the following three factors: success, leadership, and means.


Oz at a distance #1; podcasts and Insiders

Minimal biog bit – I am from Adelaide. Just spent a lovely 7 weeks there bludging of my parents and doing research for The Thesis. One ritual we got into, mater and I, was watching ‘The Insiders’, an ABC TV show on a Sunday morning for politics junkies. The format’s the same each time – an intro, a snarky montage with music of some scandal-de-la-semaine. Then a round-up of the Sunday papers with three hacks (never all male or female at least not in my time watching). Then an interview with some political worthy. Then more hack chat, and a spoof-y video with talking heads literally inserted (perhaps the classic recent example is the Monty Python/Theresa May mash-up, thought the Twilight Zone one was pretty good too). Then someone reviewing the best political cartooning of the week, then final comments. If ever there were a show that exemplified the old saw that ‘politics is show-business for ugly people’ then this is it.

It’s variable, of course, depending on whether the hacks hate each other (by far the most fun is to see David Marr and Gerard Henderson having to restrain themselves in each others’ company). So, the plan is to just note down (more for me than anyone else!) the “best” bits. Because, you see, you can watch it on youtube (bless!).

So, 10 September.

Still no Bazza (sad emoticon)

Treasurer Scott Morrison was a fluent performer, almost making the inattentive viewer believe the Coalition has an energy policy (it doesn’t). But can’t get the lump of coal out of my head.

While the show was on air, the Nationals, at their conference, voted down a burqa ban. As one of the hacks said, it’s all so George Christensen can shore up his vote with One Nation waverers…

Michael Stutchbury ,  editor in chief of the Fin talking nonsense on (who is to blame for the catastrophe that is Australian ) energy policy and Katherine Murphy of the Grauniad interrupting repeatedly to correct him (if the gender dynamic were reversed it would have looked awkward, tbf).

The judge video spoof/hacking thing was good, but not a classic.

Meanwhile, a new podcast with Richard Denniss (full disclosure, he’s a friend) of The Australia Institute has begun. It’s called The Lucky Country, after Donald Horne‘s seminal book on Oz. If the first one is anything to go by, it’s going to be compulsory listening, clearly. In this one, the personal highlight was Laura Tingle (writes for the Fin, is generally brilliant) from about 20 mins in (though the whole thing is worth listening to, natch)

She has written on this stuff for Quarterly Essay (esp Political Amnesia). Her she gives the example Canberra Bureau of the Fin. It had 12 journos in 2013. There are 4 now. So therefore all have to become generalists, “jump in with broadest of general knowledge.” This means they don’t have as good contacts/know as many experts. It means they see/report the world through a political prism – is it good/bad for Government, rather than through a policy prism. Generally dumbs down issue, because can’t give history/wide range of views. And thus everything becomes a horse-race. And given that, the death spiral of traditional media risks accelerating… What is to be done??

As time/bandwidth allows, I’ll keep up with these two, and be a bit choosier about watching ABC’s Monday night ego-fest Q and A, which is really just dumbed down and shout-y.  Much more heat than light, sadly.

Max Weber nails it on politics, natch #stupidity

“Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he will not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or base for what he wants to offer.”

Reminds me of

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Albert Einstein


“Against stupidity the very gods
Themselves contend in vain.”
Friedrich Schiller, Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans, at Project Gutenberg), Act III, scene vi (as translated by Anna Swanwick) (1801)

Words, ideas, videos