The dark side of care? Wayward participants in Samsø’s renewable energy transition

Irina Papazu


I only ever saw him in overalls and clogs, but the Samsø farmer named Henrik1 is a rich man. As the Danish island of Samsø’s renewable energy transition took shape between 1997 and 2007, Henrik invested in one 1-megawatt land-based wind turbine out of a total of eleven such turbines established on Samsø. He also owns half of a 2.3-megawatt offshore turbine. In fact, Henrik was a key player in the establishment of Samsø’s offshore wind farm of ten turbines, which is a central brick in Samsø’s path toward becoming ‘CO2-negative’ by 2007. He was the chairman of the project, and together with a few other locals whose experience with large wind energy projects was also limited, he raised and managed the many millions the wind turbines cost and, as the chairman, bore the responsibility in case the project failed. He lived with the risks of the project. ‘I had red wine running in my veins in those years’, he told me. ‘I suffered from stress, couldn’t remember names or anything, it was terrible’ (interview, November 2013).

For over ten years now, Samsø has been ‘Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island’ (REI), and the on- and offshore wind turbines are still spinning and making money; some for farmers like Henrik, others for Samsø Municipality, which bought five offshore turbines, thus running the risk of bankrupting the island due to the uncertainty of the investment (interview with the mayor at the time, Nov 2013). Still others are owned by cooperatives of islanders who invested from as little as one thousand Danish kroner up to hundreds of thousands to become co-owners of a wind turbine and a formal part of the island’s transition. I studied this transition ethnographically from 2013 to 2015. For six months, I was located at the Samsø Energy Academy, a local organisation pursuing renewable energy projects on Samsø and beyond. In the remainder of the period, I visited Samsø regularly to participate in and observe different events organised by the Energy Academy (see Watts 2019 for another ethnographic retelling of an island-based RE project).

Despite his central role in Samsø’s biggest project to date, Henrik, the wind farmer, is not used to being the protagonist of stories about Samsø’s RE transition. The ‘hero’ (Time Magazine 2008) of Samsø’s transition is, to most people as well as to the press, Søren Hermansen, the master communicator of the REI project and current CEO of Samsø Energy Academy. The main narrative of Samsø’s transition is one of ‘energy democracy’ (see Chilvers and Pallett 2018; Mitchell 2011; Watts, Winthereik and Maguire 2021 for other academic engagements with this concept). According to this narrative, when the islanders realised they stood on the ‘burning platform’ (fieldnotes, Hermansen, Nov 2013) of a deteriorating, increasingly marginalised rural community, they embarked on a collaborative effort to save their community through the daunting project of making Samsø self-sufficient with renewable energy over the course of ten years. The official narrative prioritises community organising and emphasises public acceptance of RE technologies over the technical-material efforts related to the project. As the daily manager of the aforementioned Energy Academy explained to me:

Our visitors don’t come to see the world’s newest, fanciest plant. Our offshore wind farm may have been among the largest in the world when we built it, but today it’s probably the smallest. That’s not how we sell tickets. Instead, it’s about ‘how on earth we got people to accept it’? It’s about the social processes, not the technologies (fieldnotes, September 2013).

This quote is telling of two important tendencies I want to highlight with regard to how Samsø’s RE transition is represented to the island’s spectators and visitors eager to learn from and copy the islanders’ experiences. First, the technical (including legal and financial) dimensions and challenges of the project have been downplayed at the expense of ‘the social processes’, which according to the Academy manager constitute a better, more interesting story about the transition. It is not for nothing that the public ‘hero’ of the story is the communicator, Hermansen. In reality, Hermansen led the REI project together with the engineer Aage Johnsen, whose name few people remember today.

The story, as it is usually told, stresses the importance of good communication for the successful realisation of the RE transition. You often see locals opposing new RE installations (the so-called ‘not in my backyard’, or NIMBY, reaction), but, according to the narrative, on Samsø, everyone chipped in and participated in the comprehensive RE transition (see Papazu 2016a). This supports a distinctly Danish ideal of democracy, which centres around consensus (Horst and Irwin 2010). In contrast, the major local investors, the farmers and the local landlord, have not been granted central roles in the stories about the transition. Apparently, they do not have much to offer the Energy Academy’s narrative about energy democracy – a story that, despite the fact that only three out of 21 wind turbines are collaboratively owned, centres on communally owned energy infrastructures (Papazu 2017b).

This last point brings us to the second tendency worth highlighting in relation to the above quote, namely that Samsø’s transition story has been made a story about ‘participatory democracy’. As Hermansen told me, the most important lesson he learned when faced with the challenge of fundamentally transforming the island’s energy systems had nothing to do with technicalities or technologies. It was, rather, that ‘we had to establish a quorum of citizens willing to take responsibility for their community; we had to learn how to cooperate. “What we can agree on” became our mantra’ (Hermansen, interview, Nov 2013).

This preference for the social and participatory dimensions of the project is not exclusive to the Energy Academy actors. Some of my own renderings of the REI project display the same tendency to focus on the ‘social’ aspects of the project: communication, collaboration and participation (Papazu 2016a, 2017a). This tendency, I believe, has its origins in the field of STS. First, I was ‘following the actors’ (Latour 2005a) and letting them make their own theories about their actions and activities. As part of tracing these associations in the field, I reconstructed and extended the stories I encountered, rather than challenging them. Secondly, while in STS there is a strong scholarly concern with participation as an uncertain, empirically traceable and materially composed practice (Barry 2013; Marres 2012; Papazu 2016b), the notion of participation is often deployed normatively. As articulated by Moore, a ‘participatory paradigm’ has been prevalent in STS as ‘the principal heuristic guiding analyses’ (Moore 2010: 798; see also Soneryd and Sundqvist, this volume). I will therefore take my cue from Irwin, Elgaard and Jones, who contend that ‘the (often implicit) evocation of the highest principles that engagement might ideally fulfil can make it difficult to acknowledge and pay serious attention to the varieties of engagement that are very much less than perfect but still somehow “good”’ (2012: 120).

In the remainder of this chapter, I will turn my attention to Henrik, the farmer whose part in the story at first sight fits rather poorly with the participatory paradigm of the Samsø narrative, as well as that of some STS approaches. As a big private investor and a wilful capitalist made rich by the REI project, he may seem to represent the problem rather than the solution. It is easy to present Henrik in a critical light, and he is often portrayed as a dominating, disruptive figure by other actors in my fieldwork. In my interview with him, he even seems to intentionally present himself in a negative light, as I will detail in the following. Indeed, I had first written off my interview with him as failed or, at least, unsuccessful. It was not until I came upon the STS concept of care that Henrik became visible to me. Applying the lens of care made me aware of Henrik’s central position in the REI project, as this lens allows the actors’ affects and passions, together with their socio-material investments, to guide the researcher’s attention (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011). By encouraging an ‘ethos of care’ (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2011: 85) – even if such an ethos cannot be uncritically extended but must be considered as at least potentially exclusionary in itself (see Murphy 2015) – I will attempt to reinsert the farmer into Samsø’s transition story – a place that I believe he earned through his undervalued care practices. This also involves attempting to add some nuance to the Samsø narrative, and thus tell a more down-to-earth story about this democratic situation, through a shift in focus away from the ‘social processes’ towards the more technical aspects that become visible when questions of financing, risk, legality and responsibility enter the stage to complicate, but not replace (see Winthereik and Verran 2012), hitherto prioritised stories about participatory processes and practices.

Interview with a farmer

It is difficult to care about Henrik. Not only is he a proud, successful capitalist, a big investor who insists on ‘the business case’ of his involvement in the REI project; that there was not an ounce of green idealism in his RE investments and that he, in fact, does not really care about climate change: ‘A poor bugger doesn’t invest 20 million DKR for the sake of idealism’ (interview, Nov 2013)! Some of the stories he tells me on this chilly November afternoon, as the sun sets over his newly built house overlooking his fields with the land-based wind turbines, ooze bitterness and cynicism, despite being recounted with a touch of humour. In one of the anecdotes that has stayed with me, during the building of his house, a builder working for him pointed at one of his turbines that had for some reason stopped spinning and gleefully exclaimed: ‘Ha, Henrik, you’re not making any money today’! To this Henrik replied, dryly: ‘I had to turn it off because my bank account is full’. Recounting this incident to me, Henrik still seems angry: this man had been employed by Henrik; who was he to take pleasure in the fact that there was a problem with one of Henrik’s turbines? With a bitter smirk, he adds, ‘I usually say that I only get to keep 46% of the value produced by the turbines, the rest is taxes. Taxes also benefit my neighbours, so actually everyone should be happy when my windmills are spinning’.

Henrik’s tendency to boast about his wealth and complain about other people’s envy has been the cause of some bad media experiences. He complains to me about how, while he has been interviewed by international TV stations ‘34 times’, the Danish media interest has been limited. One of the rare headlines in a Danish newspaper read: ‘I’m laughing all the way to the bank’. After that, he and his wife, who also attended the interview, agreed that he would stop making that kind of statement – humorous, but bitter – to the press. On the afternoon of my visit, his wife, who he had met seven years earlier on the dating site Farmer Dating, worked hard to moderate his crude presence and statements and create a pleasant atmosphere, serving biscuits and tea in the spacious open-plan kitchen with wall-to-ceiling windows, and rolling her eyes or interjecting small objections to signal to me when Henrik’s responses became too obstinate, that – as she later explained – ‘I had caught him on the wrong day’.

When I asked Henrik who the central actors in the REI project had been, he responded ‘no one’, followed by a long silence during which his wife sent him several annoyed glances, trying to alert me to the fact that he is not always that uncooperative. I tried to probe him further about the trajectory of the REI project as he remembered it but did not get much out of him. ‘Hermansen’, the communicator and main coordinator of the project, ‘did nothing. I also don’t recall any public meetings. But Aage Johnsen’, the engineer of the REI project, ‘he worked hard’. Henrik also names other farmers who took upon themselves the responsibility to coordinate projects. These men, he admits, were central to the REI project.

In the thirty-something formal interviews I conducted on Samsø, I heard Hermansen’s name mentioned and emphasised over and over again when I asked my interviewees to sketch the REI project network as they saw it. But Henrik challenges this network, just as he denies the significance of the participatory processes – the ‘energy democracy’ that the popular Samsø story is based on. My first reaction to Henrik’s remarks and his wayward attitude was to disregard him. A moody farmer, yet powerful and well-known on Samsø, his stubborn conduct and rejection of the version of the Samsø story that nearly everyone else was conveying to me made him seem irrelevant, a distraction or outlier. On closer examination, however, the interview data did convey something more; something that perhaps should not be ignored. Three things in particular puzzled me, as they did not fit with the image Henrik was trying to convey of himself as a contrarian loner.

First, Henrik claimed not to be planning any new green investments (‘I don’t wanna be part of something that probably won’t pay off’), but after the interview, when I was alone with his wife, she corrected his answer, adding that he was in fact planning to buy an electric car. This was not a very profitable investment in Denmark in 2013, but Samsø was at the time very focused on extending the use of electric vehicles, and Henrik apparently wanted to support that agenda. ‘But he says that I’m the one who should drive it, because it looks so politically correct’. Henrik, it seems, works hard to portray himself as an outsider when in practice he might be more of an active fellow player.2

Second, Henrik’s reluctance to provide elaborate answers to my questions, and his demeanour bordering on unfriendliness, were counterbalanced by his eagerness to help me when it turned out, just as I was leaving, that my bike lock was stuck. You might imagine my dismay, caught in the early evening between an unfriendly farmer and the dark November road. It would have taken me at least 45 minutes to walk home along unlit roads, leaving my bike chained to a place I was not planning to return to. But Henrik immediately offered to drive back to his farm on the other side of the island to get the angle grinder he needed to open my lock. Meanwhile I was asked to keep his wife company grocery shopping. This was not the Henrik he had worked hard to convey to me during the interview. Something changed in our relation when I concluded the interview, put away my recorder and became just a regular visitor chatting with him and his friendly wife.

Third, there were a few emotional outbursts during the interview, especially when I asked about the offshore windfarm for which he, as the chairman of the project, had had the main responsibility.

Whether the offshore windfarm was risky? Hell yes! We simply couldn’t cope with it, so we had a lawyer draw up a document with all the risks associated with the project. It was two pages long; no one had the guts to read it, we all just signed. That lifted some of the responsibility from my shoulders. Sometimes, when it all became too much and I thought I couldn’t handle it anymore, I had a beer with Ole, Arne and Erik [fellow businessmen and farmers]. Then things would fall back into place.

In these three instances, Henrik discloses that he cares. About the environment and the community in the first instance, about me in the second, and about the offshore wind project in the third instance.

What sort of care?

The concept of care in STS is associated with Annemarie Mol and her colleagues’ studies of medical practices (Mol 2008; Mol, Moser and Pols 2010). In Mol’s ‘logic of care’, care describes a practice of ‘persistent tinkering in a world full of complex ambivalence and shifting tensions’ (Mol, Moser and Pols 2010: 14). Mol and others’ concept of care aims to be ‘attentive to tinkering practices and technologies’ (Martin et al. 2015, 626); a deliberately flexible concept fit for studying empirical cases not strictly limited to those of the nursing home or hospital (see, for example, Birkbak 2016). This concept of care does, however, lean toward the empirical fields in which the concept was developed, and in which care figures (or should figure) as a key part of care practices, that is, in ‘clinics, homes and farms’ (Mol, Moser and Pols 2010). While this work aims to ‘revis[e] and revalue mundane practices of tinkering and experimentation as characteristic of good care’ (Gill, Singleton and Waterton 2017: 8; emphasis added), later developments in feminist technoscience studies have attempted to foreground the political dimensions of care, ‘privileging themes of power in specific on-the-ground sites of care’ (Martin 2015: 626) – an approach that can be termed critical care (Gill, Singleton and Waterton 2017, 9). Critical questions formulated on this basis do not just ask ‘how and for whom to care?’, as Mol and others might, but also, more critically, ‘“Who cares?” “What for?” “Why do ‘we’ care?”’ (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011: 96). These studies of care, moreover, tend to veer further from the classic arenas of care to explore, for instance, empirical sites of late industrialism (Puig de la Bellacasa 2015), modern warfare (Suchman 2015) and new technologies of sustainability (Arora et al. 2020).

Puig de la Bellacasa contrasts Latour’s concept ‘matters of concern’ – by which Latour turned what used to be ‘matters of fact’ into open, empirical questions about the intricate agencies and entanglements of humans and nonhumans (2004, 2005a) – with the notion of ‘matters of care’ (2011). Puig de la Bellacasa argues that concern ‘call[s] upon our ability to respect each other’s issues’. Matters of concern ‘translates the political life of things into a language compatible with contemporary majoritarian democracies dealing with “issues” of “public concern”’ (2011: 88). She hereby implies that, compared to care, the notion of concern contains an element of distance: ‘Understood as affective states, concern and care are […] related. Care, however, has stronger affective and ethical connotations. We can think of the difference between affirming: “I am concerned” and “I care”. The first denotes worry and thoughtfulness about an issue […]; the second adds a strong sense of attachment and commitment to something’ (2011: 89–90). Puig de la Bellacasa’s concept helps foreground the concerns of the less articulate actors in my field, thereby enhancing my own capacity for intervention, understood as the difference I can make in and on the world with my storytelling (Law and Singleton 2013; see also Winthereik and Verran 2012). The concept of matters of care prompted me to reconsider my data – to reanalyse interviews I had first written off as failed or, at least, unsuccessful.

For Puig de la Bellacasa, to care signifies ‘an affective state, a material vital doing, and an ethico-political obligation’ (2011: 89_90). To apply care as an analytical lens is to become aware that for Hermansen, the REI project communicator, the project was a matter of concern. He was concerned with ‘selling’ the project to the islanders (interview, Nov 2013). The project was his job; one that he was and still is deeply engaged in. It is also to become aware of the farmer, Henrik’s, attachments, his worries and care: remember how he described his ‘terrible’ feelings of stress and the sense of having red wine running in his veins. What he describes can be interpreted as ‘an affective state, a material vital doing, and an ethico-political obligation’; he is invested in the project with his whole being. To apply the lens of care rather than that of concern is to become aware of Henrik’s central position in the REI project, as this lens allows the actors’ affects and passions, together with their socio-material investments, to guide the researcher’s attention (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011). This lens, in turn, brings out a competing version of the REI project network to the one that places participatory methods and communication at the heart of the project – a version that renders the local workers and investors visible by finally bringing them into focus. The analytical task here becomes to assemble ‘oft-neglected voices, objects, and interests, while staying accountable to the politics, power, and privilege involved in such work’ (Martin et al. 2015: 630).

In this view, the recalcitrant farmer, Henrik, displays an ‘ethico-political obligation’ (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011: 90) that tied him to the project despite the risks and that he attempted to cope with both through legal means and, simply, by drinking and sharing the burden with friends. ‘An affective state’ and ‘a material vital doing’, Henrik’s care for the project became a practice sustained over several years, involving a range of different activities: meetings (friendly as well as formal), planning, drinking. Viewed as such, the sociotechnical challenge of establishing Samsø’s offshore windfarm becomes a ‘matter of care’ (93) rather than a dry planning exercise, and Henrik’s position in the project, hitherto overlooked, comes into view in a new way through the lens of care.

Hermansen arranged public meetings, he discussed the RE projects with the islanders and managed to create an atmosphere of support rather than opposition, but he was not the one to bear the responsibility and concrete risks involved in the different RE projects. From Henrik’s point of view, because of this, Hermansen did not do anything; he just talked. If we instead try to see the REI project from Henrik’s perspective, we can ‘approach the ethicality involved in sociotechnical assemblages in an ordinary and pragmatic way’ (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011: 100). A surprising alignment with domestic work, ‘the devalued ordinary labors that are crucial for getting us through the day’ (ibid: 93), arises, reminding us of the feminist origins of the concept of care. Henrik’s personal implication in the project alerts us to ‘the hidden labours’ of the local RE transition – the hard work and personal engagement of the people implementing the RE projects in practice. This work has been largely overlooked, as the success of the REI project was translated into an accomplishment of masterful communication, of well-timed and -executed public meetings, of gathering people around ‘the burning platform’ and managing the different politics, interests and goals of the relevant local actors, including Henrik (Hermansen, fieldnotes Nov 2013). If Hermansen’s relation to the project was one of concern, managing ‘the troubled and unsettled ways… by which a gathering… is constructed and holds together’ (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011: 88), Henrik’s was one of care, which, with its ‘stronger affective and ethical connotations’, ‘adds a strong sense of attachment and commitment’ (ibid: 89–90) to the project.

But it is difficult to care about Henrik, and he is painfully aware of this. He knows that the role he plays in the popularised Samsø story is disproportionate to the attachments and commitment he feels toward the project, the investments he has made and the risks he has accepted. He is not just a farmer who struck gold and got rich, as the Danish press tends to portray him. But by feeding the unflattering image (‘I’m laughing all the way to the bank’) and giving people – the press, researchers, local islanders – good reason to discount his efforts, he displays the ‘darker side’ of his care (Martin et al. 2015; Gill, Singleton and Waterton 2017: 10).

Generating care

The point is not only to expose or reveal invisible labours of care, but also to generate care… [G]enerating care means counting in participants and issues who have not managed or are not likely to succeed in articulating their concerns, or whose modes of articulation indicate a politics that is ‘imperceptible’ within prevalent ways of understanding (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011: 94–95).

Henrik is not the prototypical marginalised voice, and he is certainly not overlooked, in the straightforward sense of the term, by other actors in my data. He is treated as someone with power, whose presence at meetings has to be skilfully handled – something an inexperienced municipal planner did not manage to do in the situation described in this quote by Hermansen: ‘A guy like Henrik must be kept on a tight leash, otherwise he’ll act like a loose bull without direction. I can control him, but the planner definitely can’t! Henrik can destroy a meeting in seven seconds’! (Hermansen, fieldnotes Oct 2013). Despite (or rather because of) his central position and reputation as one of the ‘tough boys’ or ‘chiefs’ on the island (fieldnotes Oct 2013), Henrik is generally not referred to in a respectful tone. He is described as ‘an opportunist who only talks about money’ (fieldnotes May 2014) and as someone ‘whose mind is only open to his own world’ (fieldnotes Oct 2013). A local environmentalist and retired politician told me about her resistance to a new wind project off the preserved northern coast of the island, the Mejlflak project, which Henrik was involved in: ‘I’m PRO renewable energy for nature’s sake, and AGAINST the Mejlflak turbines for the same reason – for nature’s sake. They can’t be allowed to come here from the outside, just because Henrik wants to make more money. That’s his only aspiration, and he makes no secret of it’ (interview, Nov 2013).

Henrik is not an easily likeable person, and due to his position as a man of money and power on the island, his fellow islanders feel free to discuss him in critical phrases. But, as I have attempted to demonstrate above, Henrik does care. However, he experiences that his engagement, his personal investments and the risks he has taken – for the island, the REI project and also, certainly, for himself – are being discounted. His care has taken on a wounded, self-willed expression, which Henrik shows by discounting the efforts of the collective (if they do not acknowledge his efforts, why should he acknowledge theirs?) and instead boasting about his bank account. As Puig de la Bellacasa formulates it in the above quote, he has not managed to articulate his concerns; his ‘modes of articulation indicate a politics that is “imperceptible” within prevalent ways of understanding’ (2011: 94–95). Having exposed the ways in which Henrik cares, my desired intervention is to go one step further and attempt to ‘generate care’ for Henrik.

Generating care takes us down the path of what Martin et al. have termed ‘care’s darker side: its lack of innocence and the violence committed in its name’ (2015: 627). As Martin et al. continue, ‘care is a selective mode of attention: it circumscribes and cherishes some things, lives, or phenomena as its objects. In the process, it excludes others. Practices of care are always shot through with asymmetrical power relations: who has the power to care? Who has the power to define what counts as care and how it should be administered’? (2015: 627). On Samsø, as indicated in the critical remarks about Henrik, care can take certain shapes and not others. Caring for nature is, for instance, a legitimate type of care in this local context. The Energy Academy actors’ care tends to be directed, further, towards the local community and the participatory practices of ‘energy democracy’ related to and developed through the REI project: co-ownership, citizen meetings, etc. But in practice, these forms of caring have become, as formulated by Martin et al., selective and exclusionary modes of attention. They leave no room for an actor like Henrik who, as he himself puts it, ‘doesn’t want to be part of something that might not pay off’ – someone who is open about his motivations for joining the REI project being financial rather than environmental or social. The locally dominant modes of caring end up condoning the exclusion of certain actors whose cares are not recognised (‘I’m so sick of him’, an Energy Academy project manager casually states (fieldnotes, May 2014)). And they make his contributions and labour invisible, which leads to the construction of a dominant narrative about the REI project which neglects more complicated, legal-technical – and personal – forms of accomplishment and attachment.

Which, and whose, version of ‘energy democracy’?

In what remains of this chapter, I want to dwell on the problems related to this exclusion and the invisibility of Henrik’s hard work and contributions to the REI project. I understand these as problems of democratic politics. In the introduction of his book about climate change politics, Anthony Giddens states that ‘[t]he book is a prolonged enquiry into a single question: why does anyone, anyone at all, for even a single day longer, continue to drive an SUV? For their drivers have to be aware that they are contributing to a crisis of epic proportions concerning the world’s climate’ (Giddens 2009: 1). According to Puig de la Bellacasa, Latour also addresses the SUV driver, but caringly rather than critically, as he states that we need to ‘love our monsters’, the technologies of our own making – even those as Frankensteinian as the SUV (and their drivers) (for a discussion of Latour’s argument, see Puig de la Bellacasa 2011: 90).

While by no means oblivious to the climate crisis, Latour argues that blind criticism and exclusion of the SUV driver renders the rest of us irresponsible. What we ought to do is engage in a dialogue by which we take on the ethical obligation of caring for the becoming of this hybrid – the driver and his SUV (which also means that Giddens is mistaken when he focuses all his attention on the driver, ignoring the politics of the socio-material world guiding and framing his choices). Where Giddens demonises and writes off SUV drivers (in Giddens’ depiction, specific individuals who are ‘aware’ of the climate crisis and thus act contrary to their knowledge, in bad faith), Latour seeks to include them. If we do not manage to include those with whom we disagree, we run the risk of relegating our own concerns to the margins, ‘a bunch of activists’ agreeing only among ourselves, unable to formulate our cares as the ‘major problem[s] of contemporary participatory democracies’ (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011: 91). This type of political problem formulation requires a collective broad enough to encompass the voices we do not agree with. As Puig de la Bellacasa puts it, ‘to effectively care for a thing we cannot cut off those with whom we disagree from the thing’s political ecology. […] Here, care is mobilised to serve a gathering purpose: to hold together the thing. This has political consequences’ (2011: 90). By choosing an attitude of care as an alternative form of criticism, you avoid creating ‘fundamentalist oppositions’; oppositions that would exclude actors with certain cares from having ‘a say in an assembly of representative democracy’ (2011: 91).

In the Samsø story, Henrik plays the role of the SUV driver. This particular hybrid – the farmer and his lucrative wind turbine – has been generated by the people responsible for the Renewable Energy Island project. Keeping the RE technologies in local hands by encouraging local investors to purchase them and making a strong case for ‘what’s in it for you’ to sell them the idea, has led to the creation of the type of wind farmer (I am reluctant to write ‘the type of monster’), which the same REI storytellers are now trying to dissociate themselves from. It is through the promotion of care for Henrik and his attachments, whether we like them or not, that we may manage ‘to replace excessive critique and the suspicion of socio-political interests with a balanced articulation of the involved concerns’ (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011: 91). As long as Henrik’s cares and attachments are discounted and ridiculed, his major personal investments and achievements in the REI project will go unacknowledged. The emphasis on the participatory and democratic dimensions of the REI project, the weighting of participatory ideals and co-ownership of individual investments, seems, paradoxically, to have made the project less participatory, in the sense of less inclusive.


In this chapter, I have tried to turn Samsø’s renewable energy transition into a matter of care (Puig de la Bellacasa 2011: 93). Applying the lens of care has turned the Samsø project into more of a sociotechnical issue than is perhaps commonly recognised. Recall the Energy Academy manager’s comment that ‘it’s about the social processes, not the technologies’ (fieldnotes, September 2013). I argue that this is only half the picture. Examining Henrik’s role can inform a shift in focus from communication and participation to hitherto devalued labours of care relating to issues of legality, financing, and the heavy burden of personal responsibility of lay islanders suddenly deeply involved in the REI project. Whether this involvement is fuelled by environmental convictions, concerns for the local community’s viability or a desire to boost one’s bank account does not change the experience or the vulnerable position of that person finding himself suddenly responsible for central elements of the island’s transition process.

Samsø is known for its ‘energy democracy’ (see, e.g., Kando, 2014), but this version of democracy suffers – like to some extent the field of STS, as argued earlier – from a participatory bias leading to a blindness to modes of engagement that are more problematic, less innocent, that make for less compelling narratives, but which are, nonetheless, ‘still somehow “good”’ (Irwin et al. 2012: 120). Taking on Puig de la Bellacasa’s reconceptualisation of care means installing an analytical hesitation as to which activities should be considered relevant or valuable. As we have seen, the slightly altered view that this analytical lens produces may challenge some of the STS researcher’s implicit theories and go against the grain of some ‘truths’ of the field, such as the valuation of certain types of participation over others. As such, the figure of the wayward farmer may teach us not just to ‘slow down’ (Stengers 2005) but also to critically interrogate our own reasoning and to be open to where the analysis may take us, even if the new terrain might seem at first unfamiliar and uncomfortable to navigate.

Does Henrik’s kind belong to the past? Not necessarily. Would Samsø’s RE transition – or any community-based energy transition in the future, for that matter – have been possible without financially strong, bullish actors willing to risk it all and sacrifice their sleep for several years straight? Probably not. Would they be willing to do it were it not for a solid ‘what’s in it for me’ argument built into the process? Not likely. There is a need for more realistic transition narratives and for promoting a fuller, more inclusive, but also more problematic story and trajectory for the future.


1 While anonymisation is nearly impossible when writing about a case well-known to the public with a limited number of central actors, I have changed the protagonist’s name in this chapter.

2 The wayward demeanour of Michel Callon and Vololona Rabeharisoa’s interviewee, Gino, comes to mind here as a parallel in the STS literature (2010).


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