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Stability rather than change is the order of the day: the case of second-generation biofuels
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Department of Water and Environmental Studies. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8110-4538
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This paper takes a critical look at the conceptualization of second-generation bioenergy based on the institutional discourse pursued by food and agriculture-, energy security-, and climate change-focused international organizations. Set against the backdrop of two distinct perspectives on the understanding and role of innovation, progress, and the future in contemporary capitalist societies, the paper explores how advanced biofuels are distinguished from their conventional predecessors, how the intention to shift from first- to second-generation production patterns is facilitated and justified, and the role of innovation in pursuing this shift. I argue that the notions of “new” and “innovative” put forward in the advanced biofuel project not only exemplify the illusion of an emptied and decontextualized future, but also express an ideological view devoid of utopian potential.

Keyword [en]
bioenergy, second-generation, international organizations, future, innovation, progress, ideology
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-80829OAI: diva2:548456
Available from: 2012-08-30 Created: 2012-08-30 Last updated: 2014-10-08Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Fields of Gold: The Bioenergy Debate in International Organizations
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Fields of Gold: The Bioenergy Debate in International Organizations
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Fält av guld : Debatten om bioenergi i internationella organisationer
Abstract [en]

The concept of producing energy from biomass has, for the last two decades, occupied attention of policy-makers, private industries, researchers and civil societies around the world. The highly contested and contingent character of the biofuel production, its entanglement in the nexus of three problematic issues of energy, climate and agriculture, as well as its injection into the current socioeconomic arrangements, is what makes it timely to analyse.

The thesis sheds light on the state of international debate on bioenergy by looking at deliberations of three major global institutions: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), International Energy Agency (IEA) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The primary aim is to trace and analyse how the concept of bioenergy is conceptualized and contextualized in assessments, reports, policy papers and other documents issued by FAO, IEA and IPCC in the 1990-2010 period. The secondary aim of the thesis, based on results derived from the primary objective, is set to problematize and reflect upon currently dominating socioeconomic arrangements that the concept of biomass-derived energy is inserted into. The research questions are organized around four distinctively contentious issues in the debate: biofuel production in developing countries, the food vs. fuel dilemma, bioenergy as a win-win-win solution and the future role of the second-generation bioenergy technology. The research questions are operationalized by applying four theoretical perspectives: the world-economy, Michel Foucault’s genealogy, discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, and Fredric Jameson’s critical approach.

The institutional debate illustrates that, while bioenergy appears to be an easy, plausible and thus attractive patch able to temporarily fix societal challenges of energy insecurity, climate change and agricultural crisis without changing much in the socioeconomic structure, its implementation exposes internal discrepancies of the hegemonic capitalist system. Whether bioenergy could actually function as a feasible win-win-win solution is of secondary importance. It is its economic feasibility expressed in the pressure on cost-effectiveness that matters the most but, at the same time, causes serious internal discrepancies in conceptualizations pursued by the organizations. The results point to two main conclusions. On the one hand, bioenergy is inevitably entrapped by the rules and arrangements of the hegemonic system that, in turn, cause internal contradictions. On the other hand, the institutional debate attempts to stabilize the shaky conceptualization of bioenergy, so that it can appear consistent and plausible, even if the possibility of reaching the closure of meaning fades away, with more conflicts on the rise. Furthermore, the results also show that the three international organizations exhibit uniform patterns of argumentations and the way they similarly discuss biomass-derived energy illustrates the objective to stabilize the meaning and adjust the concept of bioenergy to the hegemonic system.

Abstract [sv]

Under de senaste två decennierna har idén om att producera energi av biomassa rönt stor uppmärksamhet bland forskare, företagare, beslutsfattare och i samhället i övrigt. De förhållandevis många kontroverser och alternativ som är förbundna med produktion av biobränslen, deras koppling till de tre problemområdena energi, klimat och jordbruk, samt deras etablering inom samtida geopolitiska, socioekonomiska och miljömässiga sammanhang, gör dem till en aktuell fråga att analysera.

Avhandlingen belyser den internationella debatten genom att fokusera överväganden och ståndpunkter inom tre globala institutioner: FN:s mat- och jordbruksorgan (FAO), Internationella Energiorganet (IEA) och FN:s klimatpanel (IPCC). Huvudsyftet är spåra och analysera hur begreppet bioenergi formas och kontextualiseras i bedömningsrapporter och policydokument producerade av FAO, IEA och IPCC under perioden 1990-2010. Ett ytterligare syfte är att problematisera och reflektera över de socioekonomiska förhållanden som bioenergibegreppet ingår i.

Forskningsfrågorna är formulerade utifrån fyra kontroversiella områden i debatten: biobränsleproduktion i utvecklingsländer, dilemmat mat kontra biobränsle, bioenergi som en ”win-win-win-lösning” och den framtida roll som tillskrivs andra generationens bioteknologi. Forskningsfrågorna operationaliseras genom att var och en knyts till ett av fyra teoretiska perspektiv: världssystemteori, Michel Foucaults genealogi, Ernesto Laclaus och Chantal Mouffes diskursteori respektive Fredric Jamesons kritiska ansats.

I debatten framställs ofta bioenergi som ett enkelt och rimligt alternativ med kapacitet att tillfälligt lösa samhälleliga utmaningar som energi-osäkerhet, klimatförändringar och jordbrukskrisen, dock utan att den socioekonomiska strukturen ändras nämnvärt. Analysen visar emellertid att begreppsliggörandet istället påvisar interna diskrepanser i det hegemoniska, kapitalistiska systemet. Huruvida bioenergi verkligen kan fungera som en sådan ”win-win-win”- lösning framstår som sekundärt i dessa texter. Det är kostnadseffektiviteten som har störst betydelse, men samtidigt skapar man här allvarliga begreppsliga diskrepanser inom organisationerna.

Utfallet av analysen pekar på två huvudslutsatser. Å ena sidan är bioenergin oundvikligen låst av det hegemoniska systemets struktur och de motsägelser som det rymmer. Å andra sidan tycks debatten inom organisationerna söka efter en stabilisering av det instabila begreppsliggörandet av bioenergin så att den framstår som konsistent och möjlig. Vidare visar analysen också att de tre organisationerna har liknande argumentationsmönster, och det likartade sätt på vilket de diskuterar energi från biomassa illustrerar en stabilisering av mening inom diskursen där bioenergibegreppet anpassas till det hegemoniska systemet.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2012. 97 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 557
bioenergy, biofuels, debate, discourse, concept, international organizations, international relations, FAO, IEA, IPCC, energy security, climate change, food security, food vs. fuel, bioenergi, biobränsle, debatt, diskurs, begrepp, internationella organisationer, internationella relationer, FAO, IEA, IPCC, energisäkerhet, klimatförändringar, livsmedelssäkerhet
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-80858 (URN)978-91-7519-811-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-09-28, TEMCAS, T House, Campus Valla, Linköping University, Linköping, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2012-09-07 Created: 2012-08-31 Last updated: 2014-10-08Bibliographically approved

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Kuchler, Magdalena
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