“Glittering Metropolis: Renewable Energy, Smart Grids, and Life beyond Oil in Jordan”
ACOR-CAORC Predoctoral Fellowship, 2021–2022
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (U.S.A.)
Kendra Kintzi is a doctoral candidate in development sociology at Cornell University in New York, where her dissertation examines the material politics of renewable and smart energy development in the Middle East. Questions of resource governance, urbanization, and the political economy of infrastructure development drive her research. She draws on ethnographic, archival, and digital methods, and she centers intersectional feminist approaches by asking how urban communities in Jordan experience and shape processes of environmental and infrastructural change. Prior to coming to Cornell, Kendra worked as a federal evaluator on renewable energy and smart-grid development projects across the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Originally from California, Kendra earned dual BA degrees in development studies and comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated with highest honors in the major.
The transition to renewable energy is a material fact, as cities around the world begin to decarbonize in the face of mounting climate concerns, the COVID-19 pandemic, and swiftly changing energy economics. In the Middle East, a region long seen as central to the global political economy of oil and gas, decarbonization is linked to social and political transformations that challenge prevailing models of power provisioning. Jordan’s ambitious renewable energy program is often held up by investors as a model for global clean energy growth, as it successfully mobilized over $1 billion in private investment for the development of 2,000 megawatts of renewable power and the modernization of the country’s electricity grid using “smart” digital technologies. But the technical challenges of materializing the smart grid have proven daunting, and, for many of Jordan’s residents, the gleaming solar estates in the deserts of Ma’an and the project of transforming Jordan into a beacon of smart energy are increasingly divorced from quotidian urban realities, rising living costs, and the dream of a better life. Focusing on Jordan, Kendra Kintzi’s dissertation research asks how renewable energy transition shapes the terrain of political action and vice versa. To address this, she asks three interrelated research questions: 1) Who is mobilizing around energy access and why? 2) How is distributed energy infrastructure reshaping landscapes and livelihoods? 3) How is Jordan’s smart grid envisioned, built, and used? She approaches the electricity grid ethnographically, as a fragile achievement that gathers and distributes flows of data, capital, electrons, and visions about how to live. Her preliminary research demonstrates the growing significance of access and equity as pivotal components of sustainable energy transition. Building from this experience, Kintzi is confident that this research can contribute specifically to ACOR’s goals of advancing knowledge and engaging Jordanian institutions and, more broadly, to scholarship in Middle Eastern studies on the political possibilities and limitations entangled with renewable and smart energy development.