Renewable energy development and its contestation (EDS425)



The course explores the contestation of renewable energy development. It furthermore explores the socio-technical imaginaries of energy and the environment as a possible route to responding to contestation and to rethink the just and legitimate governance of renewable resources. 

Different forms of modern renewable energy production (wind, solar, hydro, thermal, biofuels) and related infrastructural developments are at the core of green transformations to low-carbon societies. Although promising more sustainable futures than fossil fuel technologies, renewable energy development nonetheless frequently generates conflict and political and legal contestation across the world. Local communities - contrasting in their social and economic character - have reacted to the transformation and degradation of landscapes, land use and property relations resulting from renewable projects. Critical questions are also asked by communities and their political representatives about the sourcing of raw materials and the economic and energetic benefits of renewable projects. 

In this course we will study at depth the dynamics of these new “green” conflicts, the physical impacts of renewable energy projects, and the competing discourses and practices expressed in these contexts. The course explores and contrasts the common experiences of renewable development with a focus on empirical cases in Scandinavia, Africa and Latin America. The course will also draw on a series of overlapping theoretical approaches in political ecology, social anthropology, science and technology studies, environmental governance, and assemblage theory in the analysis of these environmental conflicts. 

The course facilitates an arena for learning through direct interaction between academics, business, local government officials and environmental activists. Conditions allowing, PhD candidates and invited scholars will visit an energy production site and meet with energy sector practitioners and community representatives. The course is a rare opportunity to jointly reflect on conflicts resulting from renewable energy development and the identification of possible solutions. 


Students will learn to:

  • Understand and analyze renewable energy contestations and discuss alternatives 
  • Understand the significance of terms such as energy justice, socio-technical imaginaries and energy citizenship 
  • Understand complex relations between renewable energy, land-use planning, cultural conditions and economic structures 
  • Analyze barriers and potentials for collaboration and deliberation 
  • Analyze how socio-economic aspects and knowledge influence management conditions,  decision-making structures and project outcomes

Learning activities:
The course involves lectures/ online lectures, discussion, student presentations, group work, excursion (conditions allowing) and writing.

A complete reading list will be provided for each class in ample time before the start of the course.


Students should be enrolled in a PhD programme and have a basic understanding of social theory and qualitative research before joining the course.

If we do not reach the maximum number of PhD students we may also include a limited number of Master’s students who are interested in the topic and have a suitable background, e.g. in the fields of environmental politics, forest policy and economic, environmental issues, social science or related natural resources governance.

All students need to complete an application with motivation statement (see below) and submit an essay abstract together with a CV (CV must be no more than 2 pages).

The extended essay abstract (max. 1500 words) will form the foundation of student selection and is intended to operate as the basis of eventual essays produced by students attending the course. Essays should reflect the main themes and interests of the PhD candidates’ thesis. We are therefore looking for a clear relationship to be formed between the overall theme of the course and the students' chosen PhD themes. 

The course is limited to a maximum of 20 participants.

Mandatory activity:
Participation in all classes and discussions (either hybrid or fully online). Written paper.

Pass or fail 5 ECTS, based on a completed essay (8000 words).

Nominal workload:
40 hours pre-course tasks (reading course literature and writing)
40 hours seminars/lectures
60 hours post-course tasks (writing)

Entrance requirements:
Students at the PhD level will have priority. 

COVID-19 pandemic response:
The course is planned to be run either as a hybrid course including both classroom and digital teaching, or as a fully online digital course. Students from Norway or abroad will be able to take the course in digital format, whatever the Covid status. Zoom will be the digital platform used on the course. The day set aside for a course excursion will be tailored to the circumstances at that time.  


Draft 8/3/2021

Day 1: Conflict and Contestation (Tuesday 8th June)

On the first day of the course we will outline the overall rationale for the course. We will also launch a discussion of one of our key concerns i.e. the Contestation of Renewable Energy Development. Through course presentations, the presentation of research findings and discussion we will explore specific cases of energy contestation both at home and abroad. In doing so we also aim to uncover the histories, back stories, dynamics and imaginaries at work in these contestations.

Morning session:

09:00-09:45 Introduction to Course and the Theme of Energy Contestation. John-Andrew McNeish. Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU)

09:45-10:30 Fossil Fuel+, technology and the Politics of Renewing Destruction. Alexander Dunlap. Centre for Development and Environment. University of Oslo, Norway.

10:30-11.00 Break

11.00-11:45 Green Curses: The Contestation of Renewable Energy in Africa. Preliminary Findings. Kendra Dupuy/Siri Rustad. Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO), Norway

11:45-12.45 Energy Justice and Inequality in Low-Carbon Transitions. Benjamin Sovacool. Centre for Energy Technologies. Aarhus University, Denmark.

12.45-13:45 Lunch

Afternoon session:

13:45-14:45 Discussion of Presentations (Chair: John-Andrew McNeish)

14:45-15.15 Break

15.15-17.00 Tutored PhD groups. Initial Presentations.

19:00 Welcome Dinner (if on campus)

Day 2: The Practice of a Politics and Governance of Renewables (Wednesday 9th June)

We hope to organize the second day in connection with an excursion to a site of renewable energy production. Our plans will have to respond to the requirements of the response to the current global COVID-19 pandemic. We will therefore wait until after Easter 2021 before making a more exact specification of the day’s programme. With or without the excursion, the intention on day is to listen to stakeholders connected to the development and contestation of renewable energy development in Norway. Without the excursion the day will take the following format:

Morning session: 

09:00-09:45. Introduction: The Politics and Governance of Windpower in Norway (and Further Afield). Mikaela Vasstrøm. University of Agder, Norway.

09:45-10:30. 20 years as neighbours to wind turbines – How local acceptance depends on more than positive consequences. Landssammenslutningen av Norske Vindkraftkommuner (LNVK)

10:30-11.00 Break

11:00-11.45 Let Nature Live: Campaign Against Windpower. Vidar Lindefjeld. Legal Advisor. La Naturen Leve.

11.45-12.30 Title to be Confirmed. Jørgen Kocbach Bølling. Concessions Department. Norwegian Water and Energy Directorate (NVE)

12.30-13:30 Lunch

Afternoon session:

13:30-14:15 Hydropower in the Renewable Energy Mix. Achieving Social and Environmental Sustainability. Stephen Sparkes. Statkraft. 

14:15-15:00 Working with Social and Environmental Impact in the African Hydro-power Sector. Irene Nakiwa Koksæter/ Jørn Stave, Social Development Advisors, Multiconsult

15:00-15:45 Discussion of Presentations (Chair: Mikaela Vasstrøm)

15:45-16:15 Break

16.15-17:30 Tutored PhD groups 

Day 3: Socio-Technical Imaginaries (Thursday 10th June)

The day will introduce and explore in depth ideas of socio-technical imagination and the insight they provide to an understanding of the contestation of renewable energy development. Historians and social analysts of technology have worked in tandem to remind us that there can be no machines without humans to make them and powerful institutions to decide which technologies are worth investment. In more recent years, concern has also turned to the conceptual frameworks that situate technologies within integrated material, moral and social landscapes. Multiple imaginaries are now recognized to co-exist in tension within a society, and because of social, economic and political histories some imagined futures are elevated above other. Imaginaries, however, also encode not only what is attained or attainable, but also how life ought to, or ought not to be lived. In this sense they express both normative social understandings, and social disagreements-sometimes severe or violent- about what constitutes a desirable future. In this course aim to consider both the theoretical and practical implications of socio-technical imaginaries.

Morning session: 

09:00-9:30 Introduction: Socio-Technical Imaginaries and the Future of Energy. Anna Sophie Hobi, NMBU/Magnus Skålhegg, University of Agder, Norway.

09:30- 10:15 Complementary but contradictory imaginaries in Japan and Fukishima around transitions to hydrogen and renewables. Gregory Trencher. Tohoku University, Japan.

10:15-10:45 Break

10:45-11.30 Bio-energy Futures: Framing Socio-technical Imaginaries in Local Places. Weston Eaton/Morey Burnham. Idaho State University, USA.

11.30-12.15 Metrics and Competing Socio-Technical Imaginaries. Siddharth Sareen. University of Stavanger. Norway.

12.15-13:30 Lunch

Afternoon session:

13:30-14:30  Discussion of Presentations (Chair: Anna Sophie Hobi)

14:30-15:00 Break

15:00-16:30 Tutured PhD Groups



Day 4: Pathways to Renewable Energy Justice (Friday 11th June)

On the final day of the course we will connect the previous days’ discussions regarding contestation, governance and socio-technical imaginaries with the energy justice. In doing so we aim to identify possible routes to more just energy futures and end the course on a positive note. The speakers on this day will not only highlight anew the injustice of current energy development, but also indicate alternative and more grounded directions towards more inclusive and consensual development. Here we study the consequences of imaginaries and the related concepts of ontologies, ethics and participation for both the analysis of contestation and the design of grounded renewable energy governance and development.

Morning session:

09:00-09:30 Contested Norwegian wind power policies and emerging questions of energy justice. John-Andrew McNeish, NMBU/Mikaela Vasstrøm, University of Agder.

09:30-10:15 The good process or the great illusion? A spatial perspective on public participation in Danish municipal wind turbine planning. Laura Tolnov Clausen.University of Agder, Norway.

10:15-10:45 Break 

10:45-11:30 Justifiable Energy Injustices? Exploring institutionalized corruption and electricity sector "problem solving" in Ghana and Kenya. Aled Williams, CMI/u4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre.

11:30-12:15 Green colonialism and Saami resistance to wind power in Norway. Eva Maria Fjellheim. Centre for Sami Studies. University of Tromsø, Norway.

12:15-13:30 Lunch

Afternoon session:
13:30-14:15 Energy Ethics. Mette High. University of St Andrews, Scotland.

14:15-14:45 Discussion and Final Reflections (Chair: John-Andrew McNeish, NMBU/Mikaela Vasstrøm, University of Agder).

14:45-15:15 Break

15:15-16:30 Tutored PhD Groups 

Tutored PhD Groups: 

The tutored PhD groups function as a colloquium throughout the course for presentations and discussions of own PhD research projects in relation to the course themes and presented theories, and to further the course paper.

 The groups will consist of 4-5 PhD students and a course lecturer (depending on number of PhD students one course lecture might have to have several groups). The group formation will be based on the students abstracts (sent with the application) to create groups with similar themes, context, theoretical or methodological approach. In each group, all abstracts will be shared for reading, and all students will be given responsibility as a peer-commenter for one fellow PhD student.

In the first session (day one) all students shortly present their PhD project and questions/learning goals related to the course. The second (day two) and third (day three) session facilitate in depth discussions on PhD candidates research projects and essay topic. PhD students present their PhD research project, emerging questions and reflections in relation to the course theme/theory (15-20min) and receive comments from a peer-commenter, the rest of the group and the course lecturer (20-40 min). On the fourth day the tutored PhD group session will focus on lessons learnt from the course i.e. what PhD candidates see as possible take-aways from the course and how this will influence the direction of their essays- and PhD projects.



Nb: There is no matriculation cost.

Interested students should upload the following via the Application form.

  1. Confirmation of PhD status at home institution
  2. Curriculum Vitae (max 2 pages)
  3. Extended Essay Abstract (1500 words)

Applications are invited from 1 February 2021
Application deadline: 15 March 2021
Successful applicants will be contacted by 10 April 2021.    

Here is the link to the: Application form


This is the first of a series of PhD courses organized by the Rethinking Rights for the Green Transformation project, with financing from the Norwegian Research Council. The courses are organized by the Rights, Accountability and Power in International Development (RAPID) research cluster at the Department of International Environment and Development Studies.

Rights, Accountability and Power in Development (RAPID) is one of the four research clusters at the Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Faculty of Landscape and Society, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU).

Established in 2008, RAPID brings together academics across the Faculty who share theoretical frameworks and research interests focused on the inter-section between rights, accountability and power.

The research cluster is a forum for understanding how different groups gain, lose or maintain access to key resources such as land, water and forests, and the social and political factors involved in shaping these outcomes. We also focus on the governance and management of non-renewable resources such as oil, gas and minerals, and the politics of the expansion of extractive frontiers and renewable energy production.

RAPID integrates the academic strengths of its members (social anthropologists, human geographers, political economists, etc.) in interdisciplinary approaches and an anthropology of development at the environment/development interface. RAPID was recognized as for its research excellence by the 2019 National Evaluation of Social Science Environments (SAMEVAL).

The Department of Global Development and Planning, University of Agder (UiA) offers education in city and regional planning, national and international communication and development. 

The course is organised in direct collaboration with the Norwegian Research Council-financed WINDPLAN and GREEN CURSES projects. 

Published 15. January 2021 - 13:02 - Updated 9. April 2021 - 10:00