Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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Deified - Damned - Depleted: Energy as Resource, Symbol, and Consumer Good


20.01.2011 – 22.01.2011

Location: Deutsches Museum, Munich

: Nina Möllers (RCC / Deutsches Museum), Helmuth Trischler (RCC / Deutsches Museum), Karin Zachmann (Deutsches Museum / TU Munich)

Program – English (pdf, 642 KB)

Conference Report – English (pdf, 245 KB)

The Project

The research project “Objects of Energy Consumption” is a joint venture of the Deutsches Museum and the Central Institute for the History of Technology at TU Munich and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Based on the examination of household appliances used in food preparation, heating, lighting, and personal hygiene, it analyzes the complicated sets of relationships and interdependencies that led to high energy consumption patterns in private households. Building on recent paradigm shifts in the history and sociology of technology from production to consumption aspects and applying them to the topical issue of energy supply and usage, the project utilizes theories and methods in technology studies as well as museum and material culture studies. Aside from scholarly publications on the consumption of household energy and its mediation through historical housing and household exhibitions, the project is aiming at furthering the knowledge transfer between museum research and exhibitions, and develops a digital object database available for scholars and the interested public.

For further information on the project, please the external website.

The Workshop
The history of Western industrial and affluent societies is based on the use of different kinds of energies: from human and animal energy to chemical, mechanic and kinetic energy. Physical and intellectual concepts of energy became a formative topic of modernizing and industrializing societies in the 20th century. Tying into the ubiquitous belief in progress, the "energetic imperative" called for the exploitation of natural resources. Trusting in inexhaustible reserves, energy intensive living and working environments evolved. It was only with the oil price crises of the 1970s and the ever more apparent ecological consequences of rampant energy consumption that the private household moved into the center of public attention. Energy not only powers machines, but cultural world views as well. Energy technologies are, in the words of Wolfgang Sachs, material expressions of cultural systems that create wishes and lifestyles. The cultural images, interpretations and values connected with energy as well as their implementation in social and cultural practices and material objects stand at the center of the conference. In addition to the diverse discourses about energy, the workshop equally stresses concrete consumption practices and their retrospective dependencies on these discourses. By analyzing energy as resource, symbol and consumer good, we aim at a deeper understanding of energy as a world-moving force in past and present.