Diary of a summer scholar: Danielle Newton

02 February 2017
Danielle Newton

Danielle completed a Summer Research Scholarship on energy and infrastructures with Dr Steve Matthewman.

I have been lucky enough to engage in a project that combines my interdisciplinary interests from both my Arts (Sociology and Politics) and Science (Geography and Environmental Science) degrees. My primary role has been to conduct a mapping exercise of social science writing on energy and infrastructures.

Put simply, I have read and reviewed everything I could find on this topic. In the heat of the sun, I have no complaints, merely an enriched appreciation for the huge potential of solar power.

I have always been interested in questions of world-making and the possibility of living differently. It is clear that modern society exists at a historic crossroads, with issues of climate change, growing inequalities, overconsumption and 'peak everything' calling to attention the radical system-wide transformations required to transition away from fossil fuels towards a clean energy future.

Theoretically, the shift towards total reliance on renewable energy in New Zealand is entirely possible. My research has examined social science interventions as to why this transition has yet to occur.

My enquiry has also provided insight into the Christchurch earthquakes, and the ways in which disasters provide opportunities for a city to re-imagine and transform itself.

There is great potential for renewable energy generation in Christchurch, particularly given the unique possibilities and collaborative learning environments that have arisen as a consequence of the Christchurch recovery and rebuild. Ensuring the social sustainability and representativeness of energy projects by way of participatory, community-led prioritisation and decision-making is absolutely critical.

This research also recognizes the distinct role of Māori in regional and national decision-making, embracing the contribution of indigenous Māori knowledge (mātauranga Māori), culture, and experience, as well as enduring kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship) over New Zealand’s natural resources.

My Summer Research Scholarship has enhanced my awareness and understanding of social theory in relation to recent debates around energy security and equity, urban life and sustainability. Alongside gaining valuable skills in conceptual and methodological research, this project has inspired me to reflect on my own environmental awareness and energy consumption practices, re-evaluating my role in promoting the uptake of renewable energy in the face of an uncertain future.

The knowledge I have gained through this research has been useful for engaging in more informed discussions with others around our current energy behaviors and the responsibility we all have in making this transition.

The best part about undertaking a Summer Research Scholarship is that it hasn’t felt like a job, because the research has been in an area that I am genuinely passionate about and want to make a difference in, both through further postgraduate research and advocacy.

Find out more about Summer Research Scholarships