Neoliberal electricity: economics and the purification of energy

March 5th will be the fifth 2013-2014 meeting of the Copenhagen Markets and Valuations Group*. We will be visited by Manuel Tironi (CSISP – Goldsmith, University of London – Instituto de Sociologia, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) who will present and discuss his paper: “Neoliberal electricity: economics and the purification of energy”. March 5th 10:00-12:00, Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Kilen, Kilevej 14A, 4, 2000 Frederiksberg. Room: Kilen, K4.74. The seminar is free and open for participation, but it is expected that participants have read the circulated material. To attend, please register with seminar.ioa@cbs.dk (please mention the name of this seminar in the subject of your email) and you will receive the readings.

Neoliberal electricity: economics and the purification of energy

Abstract

I examine the formation of an electricity market in Chile and the constitutive effects of neoliberalism in the Chilean energy sector. But instead of resorting to conventional macro approaches, I describe how electricity was neoliberalized – that is, practically, technically and materially shaped into a neoliberal form. This is thus not just a story about epistemic communities and expert cadres transferring neoliberal ideologies to local state management and cultural circuits, or about the sociotechnical articulation of neoliberal markets already in operation, but about the crucial mediating moment in which neoliberal ideas, techniques and assumptions had to interact, and sometimes contentiously, with pre-existing modes of knowing and ordering. To this end I focus on the technical arguments mobilized by neoliberal economists to cancel a large nuclear project in the late 1970s. More specifically, I describe the work done by economists to purify electricity via the application of new economic evaluation techniques in which any factors, rationales and entities not conforming to neoclassical arrangements were isolated and erased. I identify three of these processes: the elimination of non-economic elements, the state and the engineering culture from electricity planning. The larger point of this story is a call to assess neoliberalism in Chile – and the performative affordances of economics at large – as a process of technical articulation inseparable from the objects and entities being neoliberalized.

* The group is more formally called “Thought in progress group: organizing and valuing markets” and its meetings have had the more or less consistent participation of Christian Frankel, Susse Georg, Peter Karnøe, Frederik Larsen, José Ossandón, Trine Pallesen, Ann-Christina Petersen Lange, Isabel Pedraza, Dean Pierides, Rasmus Ploug Jenle, and Satu Reijonen.

Previous meetings

Reading group: Chapters (14, 15 and 16) of Bruno Latour’s An Inquiry into Modes of Existence. January 5th, 2014.

Presentation of work-in-progress: Mariana Heredia, Universidad de San Martin – Argentinian National Scientific Council, ‘The Convertibility puzzle: The intervention of local economists in Argentina’s path to neoliberalism’. November 4th, 2013.

Presentation of work-in-progress: Daniel Neyland, Goldsmiths, ‘The Mosquito Multiple: Malaria and Market-Based Initiatives’. October 1st, 2013.

Workshop: ‘Paying Attention to Observation Theory: A Conversation on Finance, Networks and Observation Theory’, with Elena Esposito, Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia and David Stark, Columbia University. May 27th, 2013.

Presentation of work-in-progress: Dean Pierides & Jon Roffe (University of Melbourne): ‘What is a market? Melbourne research on organization, society and markets’. April 17th, 2013.

Reading group: Breslau, D. (2011) ‘What Do Market Designers Do When They Design Markets?’ and Roth, A. (2002), ‘The economist as engineer: game theory, Experimentation, and computation As tools for design economics’. March 11th, 2013.

Reading group: T. Mitchell (2011) Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. February 4, 2013.

Presentation of work-in-progress:  Peter Karnøe (Aalborg University) & Liliana Doganova (Mines Tech), ‘Controversial valuations: Assembling environmental concerns and economic worth in clean-tech markets. January 28th, 2013.

Presentation of work-in-progress:  José Ossandón (IOA) & Sebastián Ureta (Universidad Alberto Hurtado), ‘Taming Uncivilized Markets’. December 12th, 2012.

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