Georgetown Qatar’s Global Energy Cultures Forum sparks dialogue on energy’s role in shaping a sustainable future

The connection between energy infrastructure, the environment, and lived experiences in the region was the focus of the closing plenary of Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q)’s “Global Energy Cultures” forum in collaboration with Msheireb Museums from December 9-10.

“Global Energy Cultures” captivated a diverse international audience with two days of scholarly discussions, art exhibitions, musical performances, and film screenings, providing a vibrant platform for academic and artistic exploration of energy themes.

The forum builds on the work of the Energy Humanities Research Initiative at the Center for Regional and International Studies (CIRS) at GU-Q. The initiative aims to facilitate a new focus on energy as an everyday lived experience to identify new multidisciplinary directions for the global energy humanities.

“This [forum] has aimed to turn GU-Q and Doha into a hub for global energy studies with a particular focus on historical and humanistic approaches that reorient the field away from its historic emphasis on the North Atlantic,” said Dr. Safwan Masri, dean of GU-Q. “Taking a global perspective, the conversations highlighted various forms of knowledge and practice enabled by and resulting from the culture of energy production and consumption. While we have always emphasized the importance of academic conversations, this forum has taken a unique approach by not only stimulating ideas through scholarly discussions but also instigating thought-provoking art exhibits and conversations with talented artists.”

Artistic expressions

The forum included an exhibit of an original artwork titled For Those Who Slept in the Dark with Identifiable Ghosts created by Victor Ehikhamenor, the first artist-in-residence at GU-Q, following his engagement with the Energy Humanities Research Initiative at CIRS.

Dean Masri highlighted that the artist-in-residence program was driven by the need to foster meaningful connections between art and the humanities in the curriculum, research, and practice, as well as to create opportunities for the community to engage in art on a daily basis.

Among the notable artistic events was a talk by the award-winning Egyptian-Canadian writer, Omar El Akkad, whose novel The American War explores a future ravaged by climate change. Also part of the forum was The Search For Power which delves into the intricate history of power outages in Lebanon. The experiential exhibition tells a transnational story of electricity, the impact of colonial history, and the actions of political leaders, but also the everyday acts of resistance, sabotage, and survival.

The art program included “Energy on Screen” with filmmakers and a music performance that presented a “sonification” of the global temperature series to present the scope, geography, and urgency of climate change through music rather than maps or charts.

Visitors to Msheireb Museums can continue to engage with the artworks curated by GU-Q for the Global Energy Cultures forum until January 27, 2024.

Academic insights 

Several key themes emerged from the academic panels, including the connection between architecture and energy, which highlighted efforts by practitioners to design built environments shaping day-to-day relationships with energy. Sessions also considered the relationship between energy and democracy, and such themes as how energy has shaped economic transformations as well as energy and urban infrastructure, the role of workers in imagining fair energy practices, especially those in fossil fuel industries, and globalizing the Anthropocene – the epoch in which the extractive energy practices of human beings determine the fate of the planet.

Offering a unique perspective on contemporary geopolitics, the closing plenary featured regional experts considering the long-term impacts of both weaponizing access to energy and the human and environmental costs of destroying energy infrastructure in Gaza. The panel, featuring Dr. Sami Hermez, Northwestern Qatar, Dr. Noura Alkhalili, Radboud Universiteit, Dr. Muna Dajani, London School of Economics, and Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, Palestine Natural History Museum, revealed the historical ties between energy and power dynamics across the world.

Zahra Babar, Associate Director of Research at CIRS said: “This forum in particular has pushed us way beyond our traditional academic conference, reflecting our long-term commitment to engaging through truly transformative collaboration.” She went on to remark, “The choice of Msheireb heritage houses has added a profound cultural and historical backdrop to our discussions. We are very grateful to our colleagues at Mshreireb Museums for providing us with this magnificent space.”

Looking ahead: continuing the dialogue

The forum concluded GU-Q’s signature Hiwaraat Conference Series for the fall term. Since its launch in September, the series has facilitated multidisciplinary, regionally-embedded dialogue and community engagement on such themes as the 20-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Islamophobia, the future challenges facing Afghanistan, and the future of water security in the Gulf region. The conferences brought to the forefront perspectives from within the region and across the globe. The next Hiwaraat conference is expected to be held in early 2024.

As GU-Q prepares for the upcoming season of the Hiwaraat Conference Series, the university remains dedicated to fostering an inclusive platform for addressing pressing global issues through dialogue, with the aim of analyzing and discussing challenges but also inspiring actionable solutions that contribute to positive change.

To view all the conference highlights, please visit the Hiwaraat Series website at https://hiwaraat.qatar.georgetown.edu/

Global Energy Cultures Forum December 9-10, 2023: 

The Global Energy Cultures forum goes beyond the conventional confines of science and technology, delving into the nuanced exploration of energy through the lenses of humanities and social sciences. Energy is not just about geopolitics, economics, or even science.

Energy is part of our identities. It helps us know and make sense of the world. It is part of the relationships that hold us together and the conflicts that drive us apart. By adopting an interdisciplinary approach, the forum illuminates the intricate relationships between energy and the fabric of society, delving into the narratives, values, and ethical considerations that underpin our everyday interactions with energy. The academic panel discussions, together with our collection of artworks, musical compositions, films, and art practices, center the cultural lives of energy, inviting us to see and think in new ways about our energy pasts, presents, and futures.

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