Gavin Bridge (Durham University) and Begüm Özkaynak (Boğaziçi University)

Workshop Title: Energy infrastructure: security, environment and social conflict

Researcher Links Workshops Grants Recipient 

New energy infrastructures are required if society is to secure reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable energy systems. But whom does infrastructure serve? Who whose voice is heard during the decision making process? And how do energy infrastructures lead to new political possibilities? These social science questions framed the discussion at our Energy Infrastructure: security, environment and social conflict Researcher Links workshop, which took place in Istanbul in June 2016. The idea of working together to design and implement a research workshop for early career social scientists grew out of our earlier collaboration in an EU FP7 Initial Training Network. We both saw the Researcher Links programme as an opportunity to build on the things that we had already shared (such as a common grounding in the analytical approach and methods of political ecology, and an interest in working with knowledge communities beyond academia); and to learn from important differences in our respective national contexts (including different trajectories of energy transition, and significant differences between the  academic research traditions). 

In planning the Workshop, our goal was to encourage a cohort of researchers to think about energy in interdisciplinary terms, working across s geographical and professional boundaries in order to create more cohesive and socially engaged research papers. We spent a long time thinking about structure, and creating formats that would allow participants to not only share their work but also learn together in a collaborative environment while connecting with a range of stakeholders from corporate, government and civil society organisations. We drew on previous professional collaborations to secure high quality mentors, who lent their experience and enthusiasm to the workshop’s design and implementation. The five days spent together with 30 early career researchers and mentors in Istanbul was the culmination of an extended period of thinking together. In practice, however, the workshop has become a springboard for future collaboration: the start of the conversation rather than an end point. 

For us, the most significant Workshop outcomes have been an improved understanding of the common ground we share as well as the array of opportunities available in this field for fresh collaboration.

We learned different things as organisers/lead researchers on the Researcher Links application. We enjoyed the experience of collectively thinking through the issue that we wanted to explore together During the process we gained an appreciation for differences in institutional context and disciplinary traditions, such as the long-standing technical and engineering approach to energy in Turkey and the role of geographical, sociological and anthropological perspectives in the UK. Site visits and opportunities for collaborative learning with activists and other stakeholder groups during the workshop exposed us to important differences between the regulatory and political landscapes in the two countries: the way different energy infrastructures dominate the energy agenda (coal, nuclear and hydro in Turkey; gas, nuclear and wind in the UK) and the implications of these different trajectories for public participation and environmental justice at a range of geographical scales. 

For us, the most significant Workshop outcomes have been an improved understanding of the common ground we share as well as the array of opportunities available in this field for fresh collaboration. It has allowed us (and other participants) to identify a specific set of research interests that builds on our previous work but which also extends outwards to include other colleagues, institutes and departments at our respective institutions, as well as wider networks of funding and community action. It has created, in other words, a rich and diverse network, with which all of our workshop participants can consult on matters relating to funding and other research opportunities. Additional outputs include a journal special issue proposal and three original proposal ideas that emerged during our workshop group discussions, and which participants are now working on with input from their mentors. Overall, the Workshop has enabled new professional relationships among participants, consolidated research links with mentors, strengthened links within our mentor network, and created new connections with colleagues, PhD students and community organisations – both in Turkey and the UK.