Tensions in the Installation of a Smart Electric Grid: Parasitic Mediations and Short Circuiting Environmental Justice
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Many geographic questions can be asked of smart grids and the sociotechnical networks in which they are embedded. This thesis primarily asks two sets of questions: the first examines the limits and contingencies of automation, and the second examines the contradictions of choice, participation, and capacity-building in context of possibilities for environmental justice. Each chapter was written as a stand-alone article. Chapter one is intended for submission to a new interdisciplinary journal, Big Data and Society. Chapter two is intended for submission to one of three possible journals: Science, Technology, and Human Values, a special issue of Technology Analysis and Strategic Management on smart metering technology and society, or a special issue of Interface on Theorizing the Web, a conference in late April 2014 at which I have presented some of this material. Both chapters bridge scholarship in human geography and science and technology studies, and are based on a case study of the installation, contestation, and modifications of/to a municipal smart grid project, the Naperville Smart Grid Initiative. The research for this thesis included over 50 semi-structured interviews, archival research, and participant observation in summer 2012. Research subjects included employees of the municipality involved with the smart grid project, including managers, engineers, Geographic Information Systems specialists, technicians, financial specialists, and a union representative. I also interviewed other municipal employees who were involved with the project – city council members and public relations specialists. Besides official utility and city employees, I interviewed smart grid volunteer advocates, known as 'Ambassadors'. And finally, I interviewed several leaders and members of Naperville Smart Meter Awareness (NSMA), a group that opposed parts of the smart grid project. Archival research included examining documents such as meeting minutes, logo competition records, local and federal reports, and documents created by the NSMA. I also sat in on public meetings associated with the smart grid, attended open houses, and observed software and equipment demonstrations.