Nature, Society, History

My research deals with the relationship between nature, culture and society in historical perspective. Drawing on such diverse thinkers as Georges Bataille, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Alfred Schmidt, and Theodor Adorno, I understand my work in the tradition of a Critical Theory of Nature broadly conceived. I am particularly interested in the role of economic and scientific knowledge in the appropriation of nature and in the changing relation between scientific concepts, objects, and technologies.

My historical studies focus mostly on the making of the global energy economy from the 19th century until today. Rather than as a principle in nature, I conceive of energy as a historically specific social relation to nature. This relation is rooted in capitalist industrialization, where what was then called ’natural forces’––water and heat––were first tamed and made into a fabricated product, mechanical work or mechanical effect. From then on, nature entered production in two different ways: as raw material and free labour power. Even though today’s energy economy looks very different from the steam economy, it is a continuation of this social relation to nature.

by Daniela Russ.