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Shadows for Sunlight: Epistemic Experiments with Solar Energy in India

  • Author(s): Badami, Nandita
  • Advisor(s): Maurer, William M
  • et al.
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In 2014, the Government of India quintupled the scope of its National Solar Mission. With its revised target of 100 MW of solar capacity by 2022, this ambitious program did much more than catapult solar energy to the forefront of India’s development priorities. My dissertation, Shadows of Sunlight: Epistemic Experiments with Solar Energy in India, shows how the large scale rollout of solar transforms categories of knowledge formatted by fossil fuels, including “energy”, “rationality”, “the future”, and “the environment.” Chronicling the work of politicians, policymakers and activists, and drawing extensively from gray literature, the project engages debates in anthropology, science and technology studies, the sociology of knowledge, and political theory to chart the “worlding” of solar into a modern energy form.

Chapter one shows how solar is often unthinkable without coal and oil—policymakers work with a fossil fuel-conception of energy to anchor their ideas about what energy is. In exploring how “thinking solar” is a fundamentally relational project, this chapter also works to demonstrate the stakes of the dissertation: the question of how to think about solar is not just a methodological one, but also, an epistemological one. Chapter two draws links between solar philanthrocapitalism and the Enlightenment politics of light itself, the chapter cautions against the regressive epistemics we might unintentionally reinforce by mobilizing light as a measure of rationality. It suggests, in its place, a politics that de-links the expectation of development from the commitment to improve energy access—“endarkenment”— as an alternative register for theorizing solar as an energy form. Chapter three illustrates how solar defies the easy assumption that it serves techno-deterministically environmental ends, juxtaposing the practice of Solar Thermal Enhanced Oil Recovery against India’s leveraging of solar in its diplomatic bid to claim greater “carbon space.” Chapter four traces how solar is imagined, in a modular fashion that is inspired by the technical specificities of the technology, to “plug in” to the abstractions that are the environment and the economy as a solution writ large. In doing so, the chapter investigates how solutions interpellate the epistemic contours of the abstractions into which they are imagined to intervene.

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This item is under embargo until June 2, 2027.