The Coal Renaissance and Cosmopolitized Low-Carbon Societies

Working paper de David Tyfield

Current efforts at 'low-carbon transition' are marked by a striking paradox: the 'phenomenal' and 'historically incredible' resurgence of coal. Exploration of the source of this conundrum opens up an analysis of current trends regarding low-carbon energy transitions in terms of the forging and emergence of 'cosmopolitan climate risk communities'. Such an analysis is a case study in a broader shift to a methodologically cosmopolitan social science that involves empirical examination of processes of cosmopolitization and associated social, and not just technological, challenges of low-carbon transition. This leads to exposition of an emerging constellation of energy and political regimes connecting 'clean coal' with a 'liberalism 2.0' centred on a rising China. The low-carbon society emergent from these developments, however, is shown to be marked with intra-national inequality, violence, absurdity and a haunted schizophrenia more reminiscent of coal's previous Dickensian heyday than the progressive and normatively cosmopolitan visions of much 'low-carbon transition' literature. The implications and possible emerging configurations of such a 'clean coal'-based liberalism 2.0 are explored with particular reference to the changing natures and social definitions of techno-nationalism and cosmopolitan innovation.

The author

David Tyfield is a Lecturer at the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe), Sociology Department, Lancaster University. His research focuses on the interaction of political economy, social change and developments in science, technology and innovation, with a particular focus on issues of low-carbon transition in China. Recent sole or lead-authored publications include ‘Cosmopolitan Climate Risk Communities’ (Global Networks, 2013), ‘Game-Changing China: Lessons from China about Disruptive Low Carbon Innovation’ (N E S TA, 2010), ‘Cosmopolitan China?’ (BJS, 2009) and The Economics of Science (Routledge, 2012 in 2 volumes).


David Tyfield. The Coal Renaissance and Cosmopolitized Low-Carbon Societies. FMSH-WP-2013-37. 2013.<halshs-00842922>