The Politics of Circumvention: The Off-Grid Eco-Housing Movement of
Dissertation Description: My work lies at the intersection of ecological questions of human and nonhuman relationships and asymmetrical social relations. Through harnessing a transdisciplinary stance, I analyze three summers of ethnographic data gathered on builders, residents, and structures of the Off-Grid Movement. I argue that this movement (along with tiny houses, minimalism, and other alternative living arrangements) is a continuation of a long trend of human activity I term the Politics of Circumvention.Throughout history as humans found themselves becoming increasingly caged in from social and material assemblages (examples include horticulture, artificial irrigation, and the centralized electricity grid) they sought to extricate themselves by constructing (terraforming) alternative assemblages. I contextualize the Off-Grid Movement by exploring back-to-the-land movements in the US, communes of the 1960-70's, current eco-villages, the Amish, Maroon societies, and the Zapatista.
In regards to the current off-grid phenomenon, findings include: a
pervasive critique of contemporary society that weaves technical and
social concerns from consumer culture and market relations that
“infantilize” individuals to the inevitable despoliation of nature from
extractive-based operations; a form of political (dis)engagement I term
Off-Politics, whereby formal and informal state-based political forms are
rejected; political contestation is relocated at the level of material
throughput of the off-grid human/nonhuman systems (collection and reuse of
rainwater; onsite treatment of waste; photovoltaic electricity production,
storage, and distribution; passive solar and thermal heating and cooling;
reuse of garbage as building materials; and food production); the pleasure
of mobilizing nonhumans; overcoming the limitations of specialization by
practicing a Do-It-With rather than Do-It-Yourself, amounting to a sense
of self-empowerment; counterintuitively disconnection is accomplished
through connection to both people and nature; through voluntary simplicity
lifestyle individual autonomy is constructed; and lastly responsibility is
articulated for the self, but also for wider human and nonhuman populations. While completeness of “off-grid” is absent, it is never claimed as a goal. Instead of an autarchy a variegated and value-oriented dependence is sought.
Dissertation Chair: Dr. William T. Bielby
Areas of specialization: Social Movements and Political Sociology; Science, Technology and Society; and Environmental Sociology.