photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The Ministry of Energy and Minerals building in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Professor of Anthropology Erin Dean recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to expand her research in energy development in Tanzania. The grant will allow Dean to spend three summers researching the implications of alternative forms of energy in the country.

“I have been working in Tanzania and Zanzibar for 15 years, and this research will build on and expand that work,” Dean said in an email interview.

Dean situates her anthropological work within the interdisciplinary subfield of political ecology and is particularly interested in how gender, age, ethnicity, class, political affiliation and institutional status affect how control of land and resources is negotiated.

With this grant, Dean and her research collaborator, Emory University Senior Lecturer Kristin Phillips, plan to look at renewable energy and its effect on social, economic and political relationships in Tanzania.

“We are particularly interested in conducting ethnographic research at the household level because there is not much ethnographic work on renewable energy at that scale in Africa yet,” Dean said. “So, for example, we are asking questions like: do people understand and use energy differently when it does not come from the grid, does not connect them to a utility or to the state? And how do renewable forms of energy like wind or solar fit within local cosmologies, such as those which give special significance to the wind or the sun?”

The grant itself is particularly prestigious. NSF receives approximately 40,000 proposals each year for research, education and training projects, of which approximately 11,000 are funded.

“Our final application with all the included material was over 50 pages long,” Dean said. “We applied for a senior research award, which means it is for mid-career researchers as opposed to graduate students or post-doctoral students (recent Ph.D.s).”

The experience that Dean gains from this opportunity could potentially lead to the development of an Anthropology of Energy course for students in the future.

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