Electricity is a quirky commodity: more often than not, it cannot be stored, easily transported, or imported from overseas. Before lighting up our homes, it changes hands through specialized electricity markets that rely on engineering expertise to trade competitively while respecting the physical requirements of the electric grid. The Current Economy is an ethnography of electricity markets in the United States that shows the heterogenous and technologically inflected nature of economic expertise today. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among market data analysts, electric grid engineers, and citizen activists, this book provides a deep dive into the convoluted economy of electricity and its reverberations throughout daily life.
Canay Özden-Schilling argues that many of the economic formations in everyday life come from work cultures rarely suspected of doing economic work: cultures of science, technology, and engineering that often do not have a claim to economic theory or practice, yet nonetheless dictate forms of economic activity. Contributing to economic anthropology, science and technology studies, energy studies, and the anthropology of expertise, this book is a map of the everyday infrastructures of economy and energy into which we are plugged as denizens of a technological world.
About the author
Canay Özden-Schilling is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the National University of Singapore.
"With incredible ethnographic skill and formidable theoretical insight,The Current Economy shows how things that we presume to be singular, such as electric grids, can be multiplied, recast as sources of profits, resisted as intrusions into middle class lives, and much more. This is essential reading for all interested in discovering how the dominant economic imagination is much more than market orthodoxy."
—Andrea Ballestero, Rice University
"Electricity is ordinary. Electricity is extraordinary. In this extraordinary ethnography, Canay Özden-Schilling re-introduces us to this mundane form of energy through its recent marketization process. At the cutting edge of anthropological approaches to capitalism and infrastructure, this is a masterful account of a commodity that kicks back."
—Hannah Appel, University of California, Los Angeles
"Özden-Schilling provides a fresh take on the ways in which technological and economic expertise shape and change contemporary capitalist markets while purposefully refraining from 'taking neo-liberalism as an allencompassing context' (p. 112)."
—Darren Sierhuis, Urbanities
"[The Current Economy] is a great book with much to engage with in it. For anthropologists interested in expertise, energy, and the making of markets, it makes a timely contribution to these topics and is essential reading. Accessibly written, it will appeal to undergraduates, postgraduates, and seasoned researchers alike."
—Sean Field, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
"Özden-Schilling's ethnography of US electricity markets is a compelling example of issue-oriented anthropology, as she navigates different sites to convey the state of market-making in wholesale electricity. ... Coming out in the wake of 2021 Texas electricity infrastructure failure, which demonstrated the importance of designing resilient and embedded electricity markets,The Current Economy: Electricity Markets and Techno-Economicsis a good resource for anyone who is interested market-building practices in general and electricity markets in particular."
—Hikment Nazli Azergun, Journal for the Anthropology of North America