Read the full introduction here.
Questions of energy dominate Canada’s contemporary political, economic and cultural landscape. Governments at all levels have, to varying degrees, recognized climate change as a political priority. Yet many also champion carbon extraction and export as essential to Canadian economic growth and prosperity. Many in the oil and gas sector likewise admit to the need for climate change to be integrated into regimes of energy regulation and governance, but also insist upon the long-term viability and even expansion of the fossil-fuel industry as well as our ongoing dependence upon it in everyday life.
The rapid decline of global energy prices, coupled with the uneven but extraordinary growth of renewables, has raised significant doubts about the economic and technological logic of such arguments. The recent scale, pace and intensity of climate change have only underscored the need for an immediate transition away from fossil fuels. Industry and government proposals to expand carbon infrastructure – pipelines, fracking, coal and LNG exports, etc. – have, unsurprisingly, been met with stiff resistance from First Nations, environmental groups, local communities and others. But the fight against ‘extractivism’ is more than simply a defensive struggle to protect local eco-systems, economies, communities and ways of life: it also generates and sustains alternative visions of how transformations in the production, circulation, governance and use of energy can ground new forms of social, cultural and political life.
Historically, critical engagement around questions of energy has been sparse in the humanities and social sciences, and the field of communication is no exception. In recent years, however, scholars from a wide range of disciplines have devoted increasing attention to the social, cultural and political dimensions of energy and, in turn, explored the often invisible influence that historically specific energy formations exercise upon and through a variety of disparate phenomena, including habits, values, ethics, ideologies and institutions. It is to this growing body of literature – often dubbed ‘the energy humanities’ – that this special issue intends to contribute.
Communication and media studies are well situated to engage with this emerging area of study. Though rarely remarked upon, Harold Innis’ transportation-oriented approach to communication implies the centrality of energy and fuel to Canadian development. Today, the numerous sub-disciplines of communication studies offer a variety of perspectives to address key questions concerning energy and Canadian society. For instance, how does Canadian energy development interface with the political economy of contemporary Canadian communication systems? How might cultural studies and related approaches understand the changing role of energy discourse in Canadian national identity and popular culture? How do news and journalism mediate our understanding and engagement with the political and economic dimensions of energy development? How has the emergence and growth of social media transformed the promotional and/or oppositional communications strategies of corporations, governments and social movements? How might research into political, corporate and civil society communications inform our understanding of social and political conflicts around different forms of energy? And what insights might be gained from a technology studies approach to the production and circulation of energy?