HomeThe Materialities of the Energy Transition in Mountain Regions: for a Critical Approach

The Materialities of the Energy Transition in Mountain Regions: for a Critical Approach

Les matérialités de la transition énergétique en montagne : pour une approche critique

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Published on Monday, June 29, 2020 by Anastasia Giardinelli


The materialities of energy transition raise questions about the place of mountain territories. Particularly sensitive, and even vulnerable areas to the effects of global change, these spaces are idealized as “a nature to be preserved", pilot territories but also important suppliers of raw materials. Examining energy transitions from a critical materiality perspective invites exploration of the ethics of energy, in terms of availability of resources, provision of services to isolated populations, together with new consumption behaviors and new ways of operating. Three dimensions of materiality will be explored: (1) resources, the materials necessary for the technologies on which transition is based; (2) location, place-dependence for energy production; and (3) infrastructures, their evolution or permanence, questioning their materiality, acceptance and landscape integration in response to new ways of conceiving energy.



Both paradigm and process, the energy transition describes the shift from fossil-fuel based energy systems to more sustainable systems based on renewable energies. Changes to regulatory frameworks and new ways of organizing energy grids are enabling energy efficiency and renewable energies initiatives to find their place, at various scales, via different modes of consumption (on-grid, off-grid), and alongside efforts to improve energy conservation. At the same time, this evolution is reshaping relationships between actors. According to theories of the Anthropocene (Bonneuil, 2015; Crutzen, 2001; Steffen et al., 2018) and the Capitalocene (Malm, 2017; Moore, 2017a, 2017b), the global energy transition is a “vital” response to the urgent need for global change.

Examining energy transitions from a critical materiality perspective involves (1) considering the materials needed to produce the technologies on which transitions are based, (2) assessing the materiality of localized resources, and (3) analyzing energy infrastructures (grids, power plants, etc.). Here, the notion of materiality refers to the complex links between the material dimensions of socio-economic systems and the socio-environmental system. It is a critical perspective in that it explores the ethics of energy production, taking into account the availability of materials and resources, together with new consumption behaviors and new ways of operating in a world where environmental problems have made these issues urgent (High & Smith, 2019; Servigne & Stevens, 2015).


This call for papers invites scholars to explore the materiality of the energy transition in the case of mountain territories. Because mountain areas are particularly sensitive, or even vulnerable, to the effects of global change and, at the same time, idealized “natural” spaces that must be preserved, they are the focus of numerous energy transition initiatives. The signification of mountain environments also shapes their inhabitants’ relationships with the environment; relationships that determine, promote, or impede the implementation of energy transitions by making it possible for more ideological motivations to supersede economic considerations. Development in these territories, constrained by their relief and their geographical configuration, also calls into question the logic of grid-based energy projects by showing the capabilities of off-grid initiatives in isolated areas, which are veritable test beds for assessing new ways of producing and using energy. In this respect, mountain huts are particularly interesting places for testing innovative consumption practices and self-generation methods.

But mountain territories are also repositories of the minerals, metals and rare earth elements required for new energy technologies (solar panels, wind turbines, smart grids, batteries etc.), whose extraction to serve the needs of other territories inevitably has implications in terms of social break-up, “denaturing” indigenous landscapes, and environmental irreversibility. On the other hand, mountain territories possess globally important, non-conventional energy resources (water, solar radiation, geothermal energy, etc.), which make them both potential suppliers of renewable energies and ideal territories for implementing the energy transition. Exploiting these resources necessarily impacts, positively and/or negatively, the source territory. Hence, studying mountain regions also involves examining highly publicized and easily ideologized societal issues, while taking into account the diversity of situations and the problems affecting different mountain contexts (geographical configuration, peripheral location, forms of development, population density, remoteness, connections etc.) in order to consider ambient discourses from a critical perspective.

The materiality of the energy transition, which is subject to multifarious power relations, has given new importance to mountain territories. The issue here is the environmental value of mountain areas – Are they sources of commodities needed for the transition? Are they repositories of biodiversity that should be set aside from the commercial sphere? Should they be open to economic exploitation? – and the need to take into account divergences and convergences between the Global North and Global South. Consequently, it is also possible to analyze the spatial scales of energy transitions in terms of (1) the development, adoption, and implications of innovations with respect to their material requirements; (2) power relations (including North-South); and (3) political reconfigurations.

Without being exclusive, this call for papers invites contributions on the following three dimensions of materiality:

  • Resources: New technologies can feed “green” economic growth, a concept that can itself be seen as one of the transition’s contradictions. On the environmental, social, and political levels, implementing technologies that can be polluting and require extractive resources can both recast power relations and reinforce existing inequalities. Moreover, the notion of “green growth” does not challenge the capitalist paradigm, which is built on ever-greater consumption of “high-tech” goods and services. The resulting increase in the need for materials (Bridge et al. 2013; IPCC, 2014, Child et al. 2018) in turn reshapes the extraction sector (Addison, 2018). The development of energy storage systems clearly illustrates this phenomenon: high-performance batteries have the potential to revolutionize energy grids (Carrizo & Forget, 2017; Forget et al., submitted) and services such as mobility (Ali et al., 2017; Cranois, 2017; Martin et al., submitted, Vikström et al., 2013), but they require numerous raw materials (lithium, cobalt, nickel, etc.).
  • Location: A focus on in-situ energy production can give new value to places. Historically associated with hydropower and wood energy, mountain areas are now also sites for solar farms, geothermal power plants, and methanization plants, etc. (Droulers, 2019; Flaminio, 2016; Sanjuan & Béreau, 2001). The different types of renewable energy remind us that, even though resources are social constructions, raw materials, and therefore the territories in which they are found, are central to energy production. This situation provides an opening for studying the phenomenon of “place dependence”, as territories’ dependency on the materials available for producing energy (Chabrol, 2016) inevitably raises the issue of their dependency on grids to meet energy demands (Aykut et al., 2017).
  • Infrastructure: Whether or not infrastructures evolve in the face of the energy transition raises questions about the transition’s materiality and how it is perceived, accepted, and integrated (or not) into the landscape in response to new ways of conceiving energy.


Article proposals, around 1,000 words in length, should be sent in either French (if the author is a native French speaker) or English (if the author’s mother tongue is any other language)

by 15th October 2020 

to Marie forget, marie.forget@univ-smb.fr and Sylvie Duvillard, sylvie.duvillard@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr, as well as the editorial team, addressed to Olivier Vallade, olivier.vallade@msh-alpes.fr. Final articles are expected by 1st March 2021. Publication of the articles is tentatively scheduled for December 2021.

Final articles must be submitted in one of the languages in which the review is published: Alpine languages (French, Italian, German), Spanish or English. The author must see to it that the article is translated into the second language after it has been assessed. One of the two versions must be in English. If the article is submitted by a native English speaker, the second version must be in French.


Aykut S. C. et Evrard A., 2017.– « Une transition pour que rien ne change ? Changement institutionnel et dépendance au sentier dans les “ transitions énergétiques ” en Allemagne et en France », Revue internationale de politique comparée, vol. 24(1), 17-49.

Addison T., Roe A., 2018.– Extractive Industries ; The management of resources as a driver of sustainable development, Oxford University Press, 733 p.

Ali S. H. et al., 2017.– « Mineral Supply for Sustainable Development Requires Resource Governance ». Nature 543 (7645), pp. 367-72

Bonneuil C., 2015.– « Anthropocène », dans Dictionnaire de la pensée écologique, Bourg D. (dir.), Presses Universitaires de France, p. 35-40

Bridge G., Bouzarovski S., Bradshaw M., Eyre N., 2012.– “Geographies of energy transition : Space, place and the low-carbon economy”, Energy Policy, vol. 53, p. 331-340

Carrizo S., Forget M., 2017.– « Fronteras y frentes energéticos », Orbis Latina, vol 7, p. 37-53

Chabrol M., 2016.– « Énergie, territoire et Path dependence : enjeux spatiaux et territoriaux d’une déclinaison régionale de la transition énergétique en Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur », thèse de doctorat d’histoire, Université d’Avignon.

Child M., Koskinen O., Linnanen L., Breyer C., 2018.– “Sustainability guardrails for energy scenarios of the global energy transition”, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, vol. 91, p. 321-334

Cranois, A. 2017.– « De l’automobilité à l’électromobilité : des conservatismes en mouvement ? La fabrique d’une politique publique rurale entre innovations et résistances. » Thèse de doctorat Aménagement de l’espace, Urbanisme, Paris Est

Crutzen, P.J. 2007.– « La géologie de l’humanité : l’Anthropocène ». Écologie & politique, 34(1), 141-148.

Droulers M., 2019.– « Le défi des biocarburants au Brésil », L’information géographique, 2009/1, vol 73, p. 82 -97

Flaminio, S. 2016.– « Ruptures spatio-temporelles dans les représentations médiatiques des barrages (1945-2014) », L’Espace géographique, vol. 45, no. 2, p. 157-167.

High M., Smith J., 2019.– “Introduction : The ethical constitution of energy dilemmas”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 25-S1, p. 9-28

Malm A., 2017.– L’anthropocène contre l’histoire. Le réchauffement climatique à l’ère du capital, La Fabrique, 2017, 242 p.

Moore Ja. W., 2017a.– “The Capitalocene Part I: On the Nature & Origins of Our Ecological Crisis.” Journal of Peasant Studies. 44. pp. 594-630. Doi :10.1080/03066150.2016.1235036.

Moore J. W, 2017b.– “The Capitalocene Part II: accumulation by appropriation and the centrality of unpaid work/energy”. The Journal of Peasant Studies. 45. pp. 237-279. DOI :10.1080/03066150.2016.1272587

Sanjuan, T. & Béreau, R., 2001.– « Le barrage des Trois Gorges : Entre pouvoir d’État, gigantisme technique et incidences régionales ». Hérodote, 102(3), 19-56.

Servigne P., Stevens R., 2015.– Comment tout peut s’effondrer, Seuil, Sciences humaines, Essais Anthropocène, 304 p.

Steffen et al., 2018.– “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115-33 p. 8252-8259

Vikström H. et al., 2013.– “Lithium availability and future production outlooks”, Applied Energy 10 (110) : 256-266.

Co-directors of publications

  • Dominique Baud, Senior Lecturer in geography and geomatics, Laboratoire PACTE, UMR 5194 CNRS / Institut de Géographie Alpine / Université Grenoble Alpes, Grenoble, France

  • Sylvie Duvillard, Senior Lecturer, Université Pierre Mendès-France, Grenoble II et chercheuse au laboratoire pacte, Université Grenoble Alpes, France

  • Coralie Mounett, researcher at CNRS, Laboratoire Pacte UMR 5194, Grenoble

Members of the committee responsible for headings

  • Anouk Bonnemains, PhD in geography, associate researcher at the EDYTEM Laboratory (co-responsible for the Varia section with Olivier Vallade)

  • Jean-Baptiste Bing, PhD in géography, director of the Maison du Patrimoine Oral de Bourgogne.

  • Mari Oiry-Varacca, Lecturer in Geography, University Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée. Laboratoire Analyse Comparée des Pouvoirs (co-responsible for the Mountains in Fiction section).

  • Léa Sallenave, Doctoral Assistant, University of Geneva, Department of Geography and Environment and University Institute for Teacher Education IUFE (Co-responsible for the Mountains in Fiction section)


  • Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary, Full Professor at Grenoble-Alpes University / Head of PACTE research center / Member of the "Institut universitaire de France"

  • Jörg Balsiger, Swiss National Science Foundation Professor, Department of Geography and Environment and Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

  • Winfried E. H. Blum, Professor Emeritus, Institute of Soil Research, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU),Vienne, Autriche

  • Sophie Bonin, Maître de conférences, École Nationale Supérieure de Paysage de Versailles, France

  • Axel Borsdorf, Professeur à l’Université d’Innsbrück, Autriche

  • Philippe Bourdeau, Professeur à l’Université Grenoble Alpes / Institut de Géographie Alpine / UMR PACTE, à Grenoble, France

  • Federica Corrado, Politecnico di Torino, Italie

  • Anne Dalmasso, Professeure d'histoire contemporaine, Université Grenoble Alpes Responsable de l'axe Territoires, économie, enjeux sociétaux Axe(s) / transversalité(s) : Territoires, économie, enjeux sociétaux

  • Bernard Debarbieux, full professor in geography and regional and urban planning, Geneva School of Social Sciences, University of Geneva

  • Cristina Del Biaggio, chercheuse invitée (post-doc) à l’Instituts of European Studies de l’Université d’Amsterdam, Pays-Bas

  • Pierre Derioz, Maître de Conférences HDR en Géographie, Université d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse, UMR Espace-Dev 228 IRD (Maison de le télédétection), Montpellier, France

  • Marie Forget, Maître de Conférences en Géographie, Université Savoie Mont Blanc, laboratoire EDYTEM, France

  • Monique Fort, Professeure Émérite (Géographie, Géomorphologie), UFR de Géographie, Histoire, Économie et Sociétés, UMR 8586 PRODIG, Université Paris Diderot, France

  • Marie-Christine Fourny, Professeure à l’Université Grenoble Alpes, France

  • JC Gaillard, PhD, Associate Professor & Associate Dean (Postgraduate Taught and Masters), Faculty of Science, The University of Auckland / Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau, New Zealand/Aotearoa

  • Stéphane Gal, Maître de conférences en histoire moderne, Laboratoire de recherche historique Rhône-Alpes (LARHRA), Université Lumière Lyon 2

  • Franck Giazzi, enseignant-chercheur au laboratoire PACTE territoires (UJF/CNRS) et à l’Institut de Géographie alpine, Grenoble, France

  • Emmanuelle George-Marcelpoil, Directrice de l’unité de recherche Développement des territoires Montagnards, Irstea Grenoble, Saint Martin d’Hères

  • Luc Gwiazdzinski, Université Grenoble Alpes / Institut de Géographie Alpine / UMR PACTE, Grenoble (France)

  • Stéphane Héritier, Maître de Conférences, Université Jean Monnet (Saint-Etienne) COMUE de Lyon / UMR Environnement, Ville, Société (5600), équipe ISTHME, France

  • Lauranne Jacob, Labex ITEM, PACTE, University of Grenoble-Alps, Department of Geography and environment, IGEDT, University of Geneva

  • Martin Price, Professor of Mountain Studies, Director of the Centre for Mountain Studies, Chairholder, UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Mountain Development, Perth College, University of the Highlands and Islands, Royaume-Uni

  • Manfred Perlik, Associated professor, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern (Switzerland) ; associated at Laboratoire PACTE, UMR 5194 CNRS, Grenoble (France)

  • Thomas Scheurer, Directeur de l’ISCAR (International Scientific Committee on Alpine Research) et de l’ICAS (Commission interacadémique recherche alpine des Académies Suisses des Sciences), Suisse

  • Anne Sgard, professeure à l’Université de Genève, Suisse 

  • Marina Soubirou, UMR PACTE - LabEx ITEM, Université Grenoble Alpesmarina.soubirou@umrpacte.fr

  • Gian Paolo Torricelli, Professeur (Géographie urbaine et  Développement territorial), Responsable de l’Observatoire du développement territorial du Canton du Tessin, Accademia di Architettura, Università della Svizzera italiana, Mendrisio, Suisse


  • Thursday, October 15, 2020


  • Transition énergétique, énergies renouvelables, matérialité, territoires de montagne, extraction


  • Sylvie Duvillard
    courriel : sylvie [dot] duvillard [at] univ-grenoble-alpes [dot] fr
  • Olivier Vallade
    courriel : olivier [dot] vallade [at] msh-alpes [dot] fr
  • Marie Forget
    courriel : marie [dot] forget [at] univ-smb [dot] fr

Information source

  • Christine Hoyon
    courriel : christine [dot] hoyon [at] orange [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« The Materialities of the Energy Transition in Mountain Regions: for a Critical Approach », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, June 29, 2020, https://calenda.org/787378

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