School of International and Public Affairs, 420 West 118th Street, Room 918, New York, NY 10027
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Speaker: Victor Seow, Assistant Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University
Moderator: Paul Kreitman, Assistant Professor of 20th Century Japanese History, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University
How might a focus on the state deepen our understanding of the origins and challenges of the ongoing climate crisis? In this talk, I will introduce my recent book, Carbon Technocracy: Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia (Chicago, 2021), which explores that question through the history of what was once the region’s largest coal mine, the Fushun colliery. Across the twentieth century, Fushun changed hands between various Chinese and Japanese states, each of which endeavored to unearth its purportedly “inexhaustible” carbon resources and employed a range of technoscientific means toward that end. By following the experiences of Chinese and Japanese bureaucrats and planners, geologists and mining engineers, and labor contractors and miners, I uncover the deep links between the raw materiality of the coal face and the corridors of power in Tokyo, Nanjing, Beijing, and beyond and chart how the carbon economy emerged in tandem with the rise of the modern technocratic state. In Fushun’s history, one is further confronted with hubristic attempts to tame and transform nature through technology, the misplaced valorization of machines over human beings, and productivist pursuits that strained both the environment from which coal was extracted and the many workers on whom that extractive process so deeply depended. These were all defining features of the energy regime of what I refer to as “carbon technocracy” and the wider industrial modern world that it helped create.
This event is sponsored by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and cosponsored by the APEC Study Center.