CfP – Special Issue – ‘Histories of Flexibility’

Events, Uncategorized, Update

Histories of Flexibility

Special Issue

Journal of Energy History / Revue d’histoire de l’énergie (JEHRHE)



Peter Forman (Lancaster University)

Stanley Blue (Lancaster University)

Elizabeth Shove (Lancaster University)


Over the last five years, flexibility has emerged as a key topic in academic, industry and policy debates concerning the decarbonization of contemporary energy systems (IEA, 2008; Goutte and Vassilopoulos, 2019; Ofgem, 2017; Martinot, 2016; Powells et al. 2014). These conversations have primarily developed around the challenge of maintaining the synchrony between energy supply and demand whilst also reducing the carbon intensity of energy networks. Widespread decarbonization is seen to require substantial investment in renewable resources such as wind, solar and tidal power, yet these resources are each characterised by distinct rhythms of generation (day and night cycles, tide timetables) that do not necessarily align with the times when energy is needed.

Researchers are consequently investigating ways in which the flexibility of energy systems can be increased, with flexibility typically being seen as a system’s ability to “respond rapidly to large fluctuations in demand and supply, both scheduled and unforeseen variations and events, ramping down production when demand decreases, and upwards when it increases” (IEA, 2008: 14). It is in this context that there is growing interest in the flex-abilities of different aspects of energy systems, including the potential for generators to quickly deliver energy when needed; for businesses and organisations to shed or reduce their consumption at specific moments; or for residential consumers to reduce peak load by changing the timing of energy-demanding practices.

However, across the energy sector, issues of flexibility are routinely presented as contemporary challenges linked to novel imperatives of decarbonisation and renewable supply. Practically no attention has been paid to the ways in which past energy systems have been variously (in)flexible, to earlier efforts to manage the relation between supply and demand, or to how such strategies reproduce specific assumptions about ‘normality’ and normal service in different societies and historical periods. As such, there is little sense of how understandings of flexibility have developed and of how they have been built into the design and operation of energy systems over time.

We are consequently inviting contributions for a special issue of the Journal of Energy History on the ‘Histories of Flexibility’. We believe that contemporary debates about flexibility could and should be informed by understandings of how temporal and spatial relations between supply and demand have been configured in the past, and of the processes and politics involved. We therefore invite articles that contribute to an understanding of how supply-demand relations have been managed historically and that, in one way or another, inspire and inform contemporary debates. Whilst most attention to date has focused on flexibility in the context of the electricity sector (partly because electricity is difficult to store), we invite contributions that go beyond this context, suggesting that there is potentially much to learn about how supply-demand relations have been organised and managed in relation to other fuels (coal, gas, oil). We are also interested in accounts that detail the different forms of social and institutional flexibility associated with different ‘end uses’ (for instance, heating, automobility), across different sectors. There are no specific limits with regards to time period.

Specific topics that might be explored in more depth include:

  • Issues of aggregation and scale and how these relate to the challenges of managing supply-demand relations – including the move from smaller scale to networked grids.
  • Responses to instances of ‘shortage’ or crises in supply – what do these reveal about diverse forms of flexibility, about notions of normality and about the periods in which they occur?  As well as moments of breakdown, such as power cuts there are other revealing forms of restriction, for instance in war times or times of economic crisis.
  • Methods of handing variations over different time scales: for instance, seasonal fluctuations as well as daily peak loads.
  • How changes in societal and institutional rhythms, e.g. working hours, holiday periods, etc. have a bearing on both the ‘need’ for energy and when it is required.
  • Methods and techniques for recording and representing the relation between supply and demand in real time, and for forecasting future needs.
  • The political and institutional organisation of energy systems, and how these constitute pressures for and interests in different forms of flexibility.


To have your paper considered for this special issue, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words to Peter Forman at, by June 7th 2019. Abstracts will be reviewed by the co-editors and authors will be notified of the success or rejection of their applications by June 20th 2019. Unfortunately, we cannot accept publications in French.

We have funding from CREDS (Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions) to host and organise a two-day workshop for contributors (scheduled for December 2019).  This event will provide an opportunity to revise, comment on and improve the coherence of the draft articles and ensure that the special issue adds up to more than the sum of its parts.


7th June 2019 Deadline for abstract submission
20th June 2019 Selection of authors
10th November  2019 Deadline for first paper drafts
18th December 2019 Workshop to review and discuss papers (funded by CREDS)
January – May 2020 Editing submissions
28th August 2020 Final deadline for submission to ‘The Journal of Energy  History’

The Journal:

The Journal of Energy History / Revue d’histoire de l’énergie is the first journal in French- or English-speaking academia dedicated to the study of the history of energy. At the heart of human history, concerns about energy have increasingly become global, complex, and pressing. They merit rigorous investigation and study, including historical inquiry. Furthermore, the history of energy helps us understand the history of human society and sheds light on contemporary challenges.

The Journal of Energy History / Revue d’histoire de l’énergie seeks to go beyond studies that treat different sources and forms of energy in isolation. The journal hopes to create new opportunities for scholarship and publication in which the full potential of historical research can be realized by comparing and contrasting different forms of energy produced and consumed in their social, political, economic, technological, and cultural contexts.


Event: Chemical Kinships – RGS 2019

Events, Uncategorized, Upcoming Events

I’m excited to be part of the upcoming Chemical Kinships session at this year’s RGS-IBG annual conference in London, organised by the fantastic Angeliki Balayannis (Brunel University London) and Emma Garnett (King’s College London). Abstract and session outlines follow below.

Session Abstract

A. Balayannis & E. Garnett

A chemical turn is taking place across the social sciences and humanities. This bourgeoning field of research is increasingly approaching industrial chemicals ontologically, as heterogeneous material entanglements. These situated attunements to chemical relations and conditions are stimulating new conceptual developments, including: chemical kinship (Agard-Jones 2013); chemical geographies (Romero et al. 2017); the chemosphere (Shapiro 2015); chemical space (Barry 2005); and chemo-ethnography (Shapiro and Kirksey 2017). This session considers what a geographical approach to chemicals generates conceptually, empirically, and ethically. Geography has largely taken the materialities of industrial chemicals for granted – often reducing them to villainous objects. By approaching the spatiotemporalities of chemicals through their enabling and constraining capacities, this session considers the ways shared exposures afford new political possibilities (Alaimo 2016; Murphy 2006).

The session has two key strands, the first entails a set of themed paper sessions, exploring chemical entanglements in embodied, material, and affective registers. The second puts these ideas into practice, through a participatory workshop for cultivating attunements to chemical kinships in central London – exploring bodily relations with chemicals, ranging from antibiotics to air pollutants to plastics. Our point of departure for this final session is Elizabeth Povinelli’s key question (2017: 508): ‘How does one probe and discover the world that one is in, but can experience only peripherally?’


Paper Abstract

CH4emical Encounters: A Human/Natural Gas History – Knowledge/Politics/Governance

 P. Forman 2019

How has natural gas, an often-violently vital, yet also invisible, intangible, and largely odourless material, become humanly known? How has it transformed so radically in its everyday relationships with people that, in the space of just 200 years, it has gone from inspiring widespread fear to featuring as an everyday household commodity that people not only depend upon, but which is so normalised in daily routines that it is rarely given a second thought?

To explore these questions, I outline a brief history of human-natural gas encounters, describing the development of a range of increasingly elaborate techniques for rendering natural gas knowable, communicating its effects, and regulating its behaviour. In the process, I examine how natural gas occupies a position that seemingly contradicts dominant narratives of material vitalism (in which materials are overwhelmingly represented as villainous entities: as sources of societal threat or challenging inertia), demonstrating how gas instead presents a range of threats and opportunities for society. These vital capacities are also shown to be the focus of increasingly sophisticated practices of governance, gas being surveyed, monitored and manipulated in efforts to actualise certain vital capacities, whilst inhibiting others.

In tracing this history of gaseous knowledge production and governance, I conclude by considering the lessons that could be learned for the governance, politicisation and rendering known of other gaseous substances that have significance for ecological governance in the Anthropocene, in particular, carbon dioxide and air pollution.


Preliminary Programme


Session 1

Organisers: Angeliki Balayannis,  Emma Garnett

Chair: Angeliki Balayannis


Making microbes make materials: Chemical kinship and relations of value in the biotechnological production of industrial chemicals

  • Eleanor Hadley Kershaw (University of Nottingham, UK), Carmen McLeod (University of Nottingham, UK), Brigitte Nerlich (University of Nottingham, UK) 

Chemical regimes of living and home hygiene practices in Sydney, Australia

  • Rachael Wakefield-Rann (University of Technology Sydney, Australia) 

Here We Go; Here We Go; Here We Go: Olfactory Circulations in Moments Of Collective Delight

  • Victoria J. E. Jones (Durham University, UK)

Oxidation in Relation to Urban Bio- and Geo- Politics: When Elements and Bodies Encounter in a Petrochemical City

  • Yi-Ting Chang (National Taiwan University, Taiwan), Shiuh-Shen Chien (National Taiwan University, Taiwan), & Yi-Ting Chang (National Taiwan University, Taiwan)

Circulating stories of the air

  • Harshavardhan Bhat (University of Westminster, UK) 

Session 2

Organisers: Angeliki Balayannis, Emma Garnett

Chairs: Angeliki Balayannis, Emma Garnett


The Social Life of Nitrogen: Organic Chemicals and Political Economy

  • Emma Cardwell (University of Glasgow, UK)

CH4emical Encounters: A Human/Natural Gas History -Knowledge/Politicization/Governance

  • Peter Forman (Lancaster University, UK) 

Beyond nuclear geographies: Exploring the entangled afterlives of para-nuclear waste 

  • Rebecca Alexis-Martin (University of Southampton, UK) 

Garbage Mountains: Chemical Geographies as Sacred Space

  • Katie Oxx (Saint Joseph’s University, USA)

CO2; the problematic chemistry of cement; and the question of substitution

  • Vera Ehrenstein (University College London, UK) 

Session 3

Organisers: Angeliki Balayannis, Emma Garnett

Chairs: Angeliki Balayannis, Emma Garnett 




Event: CfP ‘Thermal Geographies’ RGS-IBG 2019 Annual Conference

Events, Uncategorized, Upcoming Events, Update

There is still time to submit an abstract to our RGS-IBG session on Thermal Geographies! Full details below.
rgs-ibg-logo SMALL


Thermal Geographies: empirical, conceptual and methodological encounters and consolidations.


RGS-IBG 2019 Annual International Conference: London (Wednesday 28th to Friday 30th August 2019).

Convenors: Elspeth Oppermann (Technical University Munich), Gordon Walker (Lancaster University) and Peter Forman (Lancaster University).

This session seeks to draw together the multiple ways in which the ‘thermal’ plays a role in shaping geographical materialities and knowledges, and their co-production. It is propelled by two shifts. First, the emergence of new modes of engaging with the thermal such as: embodied, affective, experiential and non-representational engagements with heat and warmth (Ingold, 2011; Vannini et al. 2012); new materialist accounts of energy (Bennet, 2009; Kirby 2011); and analyses in the fields of architecture (Ong, 2012) and human evolution (Jablonski, 2013), which identify heat or thermal energy as agential in the co-production of socio-material, cultural and political worlds.

Second, profound shifts in the materiality of our encounters with thermal energy; on the one hand human life has a remarkable ability to shield itself from and control thermal environments, and on the other, we are increasingly exposed to the vagaries of thermal shifts beyond our control, in part as a result of our (inadvertent) climate engineering. As such, the thermal appears as newly powerful: experientially productive, and potentially existentially destructive. Too much or too little heat, at the wrong or right times, in the wrong or right places – is playing an ever more visible role in the production of thermally differentiated physical and social geographies.

Geographers have engaged with the thermal in various ways. Examples include: the thermally shifting geopolitics of the Arctic, (Shake et al. 2017; Steinberg & Kristofferson, 2017); uneven thermal infrastructural, economic and social geographies (e.g. Buzar, 2007; Silver, 2016);  elemental and pyrotechnical geographies of ice and fire (e.g. Adey, 2015; Clark & Yusoff, 2014); and the entangled geographies of thermal flow for, through and from social practice, including in relation to corporeal vulnerabilities of various forms (e.g. Oppermann and Walker, 2018; Hitchings, 2011).

Cognisant of our temporal and spatial situatedness in a rapidly warming world, we invite empirical, methodological and theoretical papers that critically engage with the thermal as a productive geographical register for understanding, intervening in, or engaging ethically with the dynamics of political, cultural, economic, material and ecological formations.

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words with your name and affiliation to Elspeth Oppermann ( and Gordon Walker ( by the 8th of February, 5 PM UK time.

Teaching: Student Debate

Events, Past Events, Securing, Update


This post previously appeared on the student-run blog for my course ‘Critical Security Studies’. The course ran over the summer semester of 2017 at the Institute for Political Science at the University of Tübingen. To access this site, please click here.

This week marked the final seminar of our summer semester course on ‘Critical Security Studies’. To round things off, students took part in a class debate that looked at the tensions between the imperative for security in a period of increased instability and the need for personal privacy. Students were tasked with representing a number of societal interests, including those of government, commerce, and members of the public. Representatives from each group began by first preparing a 5 minute outline of their position, after which the floor was opened for discussion. Challenges were then made across the represented organisations regarding the political implications of different stances.

Topic highlights included: challenges over who/what the referent objects of security were (national security, personal security, economic security, environmental security, etc.), as well as what the threats perceived to necessitate particular security measures entailed; questions over the capacity of governments and regulating bodies to keep up with technological change and adequately legislate/regulate the behaviour of corporations and intelligence agencies; the capacity of these organisations to protect personal data from hackers and state-supported cyber-attacks; fears over the marginalisation and vilification of certain social groups through these methods; the lack of transparency and accountability within the processes of sovereign decision making (including in the formation of security algorithms, the collection of data, and the enforcement of these decisions); the implications of the position ‘you have nothing to worry if you are not doing anything wrong’; and the distinction between ‘feeling secure’ and ‘being secure’, which entailed a fascinating and detailed student critique of what it actually means to ‘be secure’. Discussion was brisk and light-hearted (albeit with a meaningful punch), and the debate topped off what has been a thoroughly stimulating and enjoyable set of conversations that have taken place over the previous thirteen weeks of this seminar series.

Event: AAG 2017 – “Exploring the Modular, Material and Performative Politics of Security”

Events, Past Events

AAG 2017 – Exploring the Modular, Material and Performative Politics of Security

Organisers: Peter Forman & Nat O’Grady

Session dates and times tbc.

Critical geographies and security studies have led the way in dealing with the complex material entanglements and transformations that underpin and organise, but also complicate, modes of governance and security (Adey and Anderson, 2012, Aradau, 2010). Insight has been unearthed with particular efficacy, we feel, when security has been thought of as a set of practices and performances (O’Grady, 2015). Examples of such performances range from moments of interface with digital technologies; at the front line in an emergency’s wake or real-time unfolding; or at the borders between nation states. Whilst such practices might be said to hinge upon lively material objects in their execution, they must also be appreciated for their constitutive effects, whereby they bring into being new material conditions.

In organising these panels, we encourage participants to reflect upon the politics behind security practices and the ways in which these politics may be unpacked, through exploring their constitutive materialities and the new material conditions that they bring about in their performance. In this manner, we hope to examine the different ways in which security practices are configured, attending to their logics, aesthetics, temporalities and spatialities, along with the material assemblages and affective forces that rise to prominence in their performance. In so doing, we hope to call to the fore and open up the politics of dynamic material and immaterial security practices.

Keywords: Security, Governance, Modulation, Agency, Assemblage, Performativity, Emergence, Relationality, Mobility

SESSION (I) Exploring the Modular, Material and Performative Politics of Security – Novel Security Strategies and Datafied Mobile Governance

Marieke De Goede

 “The Chain of Security”

Ilia Antenucci

The Security of Logistics and the Logistics of Security. Privatizations, Power Assemblages and Political Order”

Btihaj Ajana

Datafied crossings and the embodied refugee”

Till Straube

Interfacing Predictive Policing Devices”

Lior Volinz

Privatized and Pluralized: Modular Security provision with and beyond the State”

SESSION (II) Exploring the Modular, Material and Performative Politics of Security – Socio-Material Performances and Subjects

Elspeth Oppermann

Energetic entanglements with heat: the (in)security of workers’ bodies in the practice of securing the grid”

Andrew Dwyer

A More-than-Human Security: Performances of a Malware Politics”

Rhys Machold

Relational materializations: waging ‘success’ through mobility”

Patrick Weir

“Becoming Securitized? Assemblage theory and Re-Materializing the Copenhagen school of security studies”

Patricia Noxolo

Reading Erna Brodber for gendered in/securities”

SESSION (III) Exploring the Modular, Material and Performative Politics of Security – Panel Discussion

Discussant: Prof. Phil Steinberg

Panelist 1: Prof. Louise Amoore

Panelist 2: Peter Forman

Panelist 3: Prof. Pete Adey

Panelist 4: Dr. Nat O’Grady

Panelist 5: Dr. Kimberley Peters

Event: ISA 2017 Panel “Modular Performances of Security”

Events, Past Events


Please see below for details of our upcoming panel (subject to acceptance) at the ISA Annual Conference in Baltimore next year. For further information, please contact:, or

Peter Forman (Durham University, UK)
Georgos Glouftsios (Queen’s University, Belfast)


Chair: Dr. Audrey Reeves  (Bristol University)
Discussant: Dr. Claudia Aradau (King’s College, London)



Critical security studies and international relations continue to inadequately account for movement and transformation within their analyses of contemporary forms of governance. Our aim in establishing this panel is to call upon scholars working within related fields to critically reflect upon the heterogeneous entities (bodies, infrastructures, devices, ‘things’, data, etc.) that are assembled, disassembled, and reassembled in the process of ‘doing’ security. In particular, we encourage close empirical and conceptual reflection upon the qualities of these ongoing relational metamorphoses: their logics, temporalities, geographies, materialities and textures, and the emergent affects that emanate from their complex relational entanglements. We invite participants to dwell upon these phenomena and critically engage with the opportunities and consequences that are involved in their arrangements. We identify Deleuze’s (1992) concept of ‘modulation’ as one means through which to do this, finding its appreciation of the simultaneous transformation of security’s referent objects, and of the governing assemblages themselves, to be of particular value for accounting for the ontological turbulence of bodies, materials, infrastructures, data and things, that become tied up within practices of security. Modulation remains an under-utilized concept within this literature, and we therefore encourage participants to explore its utility in understanding security governance.

Keywords: Modulation, Metamorphoses, Security, Governance, Assemblage, Relationality, Performativity, Emergence, Agency, Mobility


Modular Performances of Security: A Research Agenda

Georgos Glouftsios (Queen’s University, Belfast)

Peter Forman (Durham University, UK)

Critical approaches to (in)security continue to inadequately account for movement and transformation within their analyses of contemporary forms of governance. In this paper we critically reflect upon both the relational metamorphoses undergone by security’s heterogeneous referent objects and bodies, and also the ways in which the governing assemblages themselves undergo shifts and mutations. We identify Deleuze’s concept of ‘modulation’ as one means through which to do this, finding its appreciation of the simultaneous transformation of security’s referent objects, and of the governing assemblages themselves, to be of particular value for accounting for the ontological and agential turbulence of human and non-human actants that become tied up within practices of security. Instead of assuming fixity, we argue for a modular understanding of security along two axes of reflection: the ontological and epistemological. Such an approach, we argue, provides an alternative conceptualisation of the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of security, whilst also liberating critical approaches from the limitations inherent to static understandings of security and introducing new avenues of theoretical and empirical enquiry.

Keywords: Modulation, Security, Performativity, Ontology, Epistemology

Automation, Improvisation and Emergence: Re-thinking Objectification at the Border

Dr. Mike Bourne (Queen’s University, Belfast)

Dr. Debbie Lisle (Queen’s University, Belfast)

Drawing from an ESRC funded project entitled ‘Treating People as Objects? Ethics, Security and the Governance of Mobility’, this paper contests unidirectional understandings of border automation as the simple delegation of previously human actions to inert machines. Such understandings assume a one-way allocation of objectification from objects to humans whereby human agents are objectified into stable, reliable forms of data. The paper focuses instead on how automation proceeds through unstable, complex and overflowing loops, doublings, re-routings and dead-ends which exceed conventional judgements that people are increasingly ‘treated like objects’ at borders. By comparing and juxtaposing the pathways of humans and freight through the increasingly automated borders of the EU, the paper pays particular attention to: (a) moments when automated technology ‘pushes back’ against its human users (e.g. when technology goes wrong or is not understood); (b) the techniques by which security agents treat technological objects with propriety, care, attention and devotion (e.g. routine  maintenance; protection; humanization); and (c) emergent forms of improvisation and adaption that reveal human and non-human agents working together (e.g. crisis work-arounds; re-tooling).

The Labor of Modulating Digital Governmentality

Dr. Rocco Bellanova (Peace Research Institute, Olso)

Digital data translate people, behavior, things and events into computable information (Kitchin 2014). As such, they are a remarkable force because they provide the tools for knowing and governing a world otherwise perceived as radically uncertain (Rouvroy 2011). Critical Security Studies and Surveillance Studies have been particularly proactive in studying the governmental rationalities introduced by algorithmic security (i.a. Amoore & de Goede 2005, Lyon 1994). However, emphasis on the powers of large-scale security programs (Bauman et al. 2014) risks casting a shadow on the intensive work of modulation on which digital governmentality relies. The everyday practices of digital surveillance require a continuous labor to ‘keep things together’ at technical, political and legal level – and these sites of modulation remain largely overlooked by critical researchers. In conversation with Science and Technology Studies’ works, this paper proposes and discusses a few notions to empirically explore the labor of modulating European data-driven security assemblages. In particular, its methodological proposal to study socio-technical controversies aims to show the epistemic advantages of following digital data through their continuous shifts between ‘matters of concern’, ‘matters of fact’ and ‘matters of care’ (Latour 2004, de la Bellacasa 2011).

Key words: Critical security studies; International Political Sociology; Surveillance; Digital data; Socio-technical controversies; Matters of care; European Union

Modulating Modulation: Border Management as Disposition

Julien Jeandesboz (REPI, Université libre de Bruxelles)

Contemporary border control is often portrayed as the modulation of flows of persons and goods rather than the strict imposition of sovereign rules or enforcement of disciplinary norms. This depiction is shared among scholars and practitioners, although they often draw highly divergent conclusions from it. The paper first considers the extent to which the notion of modulation can be used to make sense of how border control today is done, and particularly how it is done as a specific security practice. Second, the paper works to situate modulation as a particular claim about borders and their controls, which is itself situated in specific social settings. Drawing on research conducted among border control policymakers in the EU institutions, it explores the way in which modulation is itself modulated and produced through the professional dispositions of these actors. In so doing, it emphasises the possible ambivalences of modulation as both an analytical construct and a situated discourse of power.

Modular Security in Congo: Where Things, Not People, are the Referent Object

Dr. Peer Schouten (Danish Institute for International Studies)

Congo is often understood to epitomize the failed state, meaning that force is not collectively organized. But patterns do seem to exist—the scarce modern infrastructure in the country (around industrial mining firms, transport corridors and humanitarian hubs) displays sophisticated security arrangements. they just escape Based on insights from critical social theory, I enquire into the complicity of the notion of ‘collective’ underpinning conventional approaches to state failure. Instead, I enquire how powerful socio-material collectives are modulated that escape the eye as ‘political’ entities but nonetheless make up a substantial part of the fabric of collective life in Congo, structuring access to security and well-being.

 Keywords: security, political theory, congo, security studies, failed state