Combustion and Society:A Fire-Centred History of Energy Use

Clark, Nigel and Yusoff, Kathryn (2014) Combustion and Society:A Fire-Centred History of Energy Use. Theory, Culture and Society, 31 (5). pp. 203-226. ISSN 1460-3616

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Fire is a force that links everyday human activities to some of the most powerful energetic movements of the Earth. Drawing together the energy-centred social theory of Georges Bataille, the fire-centred environmental history of Stephen Pyne, and the work of a number of ‘pyrotechnology’ scholars, the paper proposes that the generalized study of combustion is a key to contextualizing human energetic practices within a broader ‘economy’ of terrestrial and cosmic energy flows. We examine the relatively recent turn towards fossil-fuelled ‘internal combustion’ in the light of a much longer human history of ‘broadcast’ burning of vegetation and of artisanal pyrotechnologies – the use of heat to transform diverse materials. A combustion-centred analysis, it is argued, brings human collective life into closer contact with the geochemical and geologic conditions of earthly existence, while also pointing to the significance of explorative, experimental and even playful dispositions towards energy and matter.

Item Type: Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title: Theory, Culture and Society
Additional Information: The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Theory, Culture and Society 31 (5), 2014, © SAGE Publications Ltd, 2014 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the Theory, Culture and Society page: on SAGE Journals Online:
Uncontrolled Keywords: /dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/aacsb/disciplinebasedresearch
Departments: Faculty of Science and Technology > Lancaster Environment Centre
ID Code: 86373
Deposited By: ep_importer_pure
Deposited On: 22 May 2017 08:16
Refereed?: Yes
Published?: Published
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2020 01:46

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