Sustainable Biofuels?: Redesigning Nature, Nation, and Growth


Biofuels, perceived as a “renewable energy resource” that can propel our societies towards sustainable futures, is a contested issue. Mainstream critiques of biofuels question the sustainability of biofuel production systems by taking its impacts on the environment and economy into consideration. As such, national and subnational governments, alongside intergovernmental organizations and other related civil and private sector actors, work on “best governance practices” to render biofuels into a “sustainable” source of energy. However, this mainstream lens of governance lacks a significant historical understanding of biofuels and further reduces biofuels into a resource question. This panel draws attention to the materials out of which biofuels are made from a material-semiotic perspective. When we begin thinking about biofuels through the analytical and conceptual tools of STS, new research questions emerge. To this end, we ask: How do technoscientific practices of making biofuels refigure “nature,” “nation,” and “growth”? The contributions reflect on this question through tracing different materials (e.g., corn, sugarcane, phosphorus, and Marabú) in different geographical regions ranging from Brazil, Canada, Mauritius, Cuba, and the United States. They challenge the consideration of biofuels as merely “local sources of energy” by unpacking the multiple colonial, present, and future international relations around biofuels while troubling simplistic binaries such “native/invasive” species. The multispecies and transnational approach adopted in this panel not only contributes to a critical understanding of biofuels but also works on a subject that has yet to be deeply explored in the field of STS. 


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Contributed date

July 19, 2020 - 6:21am

Critical Commentary

Abstract of the panel organized for the EASST/4S 2020 Conference