A1 Technology and Materiality

Chair: Luděk Brož

The Institute of Ethnology, The Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

Addressing topics as varied as transformation of energy production or anti-food-waste activism, participants of this panel share sensitivity to the role of materiality. They study economic crises, social transformation or globalization through attention to materially embedded practices that enact such phenomena.



Friday, September 12, 2014

Room A

14:00-16:00 Technology and Materiality

Chair:  Luděk Brož


14:00-14:30       Dagmar Lorenz-Meyer: Energiewende 2.0? Energy transitions, sociotechnical actors and possibilities of transformation

14:30-15:00       Vlasta Stulíková: Food savers: Anti-food-waste activism and its material practices in the Czech context (GCS)

15:00-15:30       Marta Songin-Mokrzan: The landscape after the crisis. The application of neoliberal technologies of governing within the Special Economic Zone

15:30-16:00       Jan Werner: The Fluidity of Bicycle(s): Old Czech Bikes as a Global Technology


16:00-16:30 Coffee Break



Energiewende 2.0? Energy transitions, sociotechnical actors and possibilities of transformation

Dagmar Lorenz-Meyer

(Department of Gender Studies, Charles University in Prague)


Starting by recalling late 19th century socialist imaginaries of solar powered socialism, this paper turns to early 21stcentury transformations of energy systems that are considered to be one of humanity’s largest challenge and referred to as (low carbon) energy transitions. In Germany civil society actors deploy the term Energiewende 2.0 to pinpoint the challenges of the next phase of reforming grid and storage capacities, fostering marketability of renewable energies and maintaining citizen support. In the Czech Republic with the fourth-highest share of solar-generated electricity consumption in Europe, the long-term strategy is to transition to (more) nuclear power generation. Drawing on participant observation and information materials made available at two international events that gathered policy makers, civil society actors and renewable energy entrepreneurs, respectively, I explore some of the interdependencies and paradoxes of current energy transitions, its drivers and sociotechnical imaginaries. What sociotechnical and economic assemblages get build around energy production and consumption, what imaginaries of nature and renewables are operative, and what transformative possibilities and contradictions might rest in solar cooperatives and the ‘prosumer’?



Food savers: Anti-food-waste activism and its material practices in the Czech context

Vlasta Stulíková

(Department of General Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague)


“My grandma used to wait in a queue for bananas, nowadays I can find loads of them in rubbish behind supermarkets,” says one of the Czech anti-food-waste activists. During the transformation to a market economy the Czech food trade system has undergone a significant reconstruction accompanied by an emergent problem of massive food waste. In response to a social, ethical, economic and environmental urgency of this issue several non-state initiatives have started tackling  food wastage in different ways and on different levels.

I have carried out an ethnographic research among three Czech groups of anti-food-waste activists concern myself with specific material practices deployed by its members. Food not bombs, the first of them, is a part of an international anarchist movement based on informal and anti-authoritarian organisational principle. Food not bombs groups practice dumpster diving (they gather food waste from bins) and cook their findings for low-income and homeless people. The second one, Safe Food (Zachraň jídlo), is a student-based initiative which has organised a massive event “The feast for one thousand” and which leads a campaign against food wastage in the media. The last one, Prague food bank (Pražská potravinová banka), obtains expired food from supermarkets and redistributes it among charities and non-governmental organisation.

In my contribution I will focus on specific material practices deployed by those three initiatives.  Food not bombs, Safe Food and Prague food bank handle food waste in very different ways: both official and unofficial, legal and illegal practices are enacted. Through this practices the three initiatives produce specific standards of edibility an food safety. I argue that different material practices create different “versions” of food waste (Annemarie Mol would call it ontonorms) which more or less, if ever, fit with the “versions” produced by supermarkets. Consequently, those various versions of food waste shape the anti-food-waste politics.



The landscape after the crisis. The application of neoliberal technologies of governing within the Special Economic Zone

Marta Songin-Mokrzan

(Department of Economic Sociology and Social Communication, Faculty of Humanities, AGH University of Science and in Kraków)


One of the most visible consequences of the economic transition process in Poland was the active politics of the consecutive governments to attract foreign investors. The discursive justification of these actions was the necessity of stimulating economic growth by the influx of international capital, not only money, but also professional knowledge and practices. Poland focused on constructing judicial mechanisms, which would offer investment incentives. As the result of these efforts, in 1995 the first Special Economic Zone was established. Since then, Poland has opened another 13 Zones which cover a territory of 16 236,5444 km2. Although they were initially thought as a temporary tool of stimulating economic growth predicted to run for 20 years, the recent changes in law regulations have prolonged their existence till the end of 2026.

In anthropology, Special Economic Zones are considered as unique territorial, legal and disciplinary spaces, which originated as a result of globalization and realization of so called „neoliberal imaginary“. They therefore constitute the essence of neoliberal logic and governmentality. With the advent of the economic crisis of 2008 many social researchers and activists have announced the upcoming end of the current order. Nevertheless, soon after it appeared that the crisis not only did not abolish neoliberal economic and political practices, but even strengthened them.

Although Poland was claimed to be the only “green island” on the map of European economic decline, the global character of the production plants situated within the Zones, makes them more vulnerable to the economic fluctuations than any other types of enterprises. The aim of the paper is to analyze the consequences of the economic crises for the functioning of the Special Economic Zone and its workers. I will mostly focus on the new forms of disciplinary and governing practices caused by the adoption of anti-crisis legislation in Poland. This will help to understand the zombie nature of neoliberalism and its specific and entangled relations with the state. My considerations will be based on ethnographic research conducted since the beginning of 2014 in one of the Zones located in Lower Silesia District.



The Fluidity of Bicycle(s): Old Czech Bikes as a Global Technology

Jan Werner

(Department of General Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague)


Development cooperation represents an important set of relations that shape the contemporary global society. These relations are diverse and link not only people but also complex institutions, materialities and technologies. The proposed paper is based on an ethnographic enquiry into a development project – Czech Bikes for Gambian Schools – concerned with the collection and transportation of old Czech bicycles to Gambia where they are donated to schools and serve the needs of commuting students. The research focuses on local networks, in which the bicycles are enacted in the Czech Republic and Gambia, and more specifically on the bicycles’ mutable functioning and positioning in the different environments. Drawing on the work of Law, Mol and Beisel, the paper is concerned with the relationships between the technical objects and their more or less immediate environments, and the relationships between the former second and third world that are established through the objects’ displacement.

The fieldwork has started in March 2014 and hasn’t been finalized yet. Nevertheless, several interesting patterns have already emerged. The operation of the project can be understood as a process of emancipation of the bicycles that escape social exclusion in the Czech Republic by entering a series of specific linkages and alliances. The central theme is then the fluidity of the bicycle as a technology. In comparison with Law and Mol’s well-established understanding of the concept however, such fluidity is not (just) a set of material characteristics that allow the single object to variably engage in heterogeneous ties. The fluidity of a specific bicycle is above all dependent on the fluidity of other bicycles. That is, the success of the project lies in the capacity of the bicycles to assume alternative positions in it – from a financial resource (when scrapped or used for fundraising) to the very usage in Africa. The bicycle is therefore fully fluid only in plural.