Connecting poor populations to electricity is generally thought to lead to reductions in poverty-induced vulnerabilities and is considered a primary strategy for meeting development goals. Indeed the main push for electrification projects in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) rests on the connection between the lack of electricity connections in SSA, and the prevalence of poverty. However, this vision rests on an understanding of services built on abundance, and interactions with electricity services are relatively obsolete. In contrast, constrained systems are dynamic, varying spatially and temporally, and carry a diverse set of agents. Furthermore, the nature of such varied services, which can literally leave people in the dark, compounds existing vulnerabilities by increasing uncertainty for already precarious populations. Still, the benchmark for access, its reliability, and its intended use, emerges from specific political, economic, and social conditions, namely, that of the Global North. This talk seeks to question a Global North vision of access by exploring the following: when benchmarks for electricity services are unrecognizable locally, what becomes invisible? The following research presents ethnographic work on the island of Unguja, Tanzania – where semi-structured, open ended interviews were conducted between 2014 and 2016, combined with detailed electricity systems monitoring. By combining an extensive understanding of the physical system, together with qualitative semi-structured interviews, this work establishes a unique notion of the social and material conditions capable of heightening and adapting to everyday uncertainties.
Veronica Jacome is a PhD candidate in the Energy and Resources Group (ERG), and holds a BS in Engineering Physics from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At ERG, Veronica focuses her research on terms of access that underpin “modern” energy for all, namely, rates and reliability. Her recent work centers on pre– versus post– payment practices and the variance of electricity services in the Global South, investing how these aspects enable or hinder access to modern and affordable energy for all (Sustainable Development Goal 7). The study site for this research is Tanzania. Veronica is also a PhD student in the Program in Critical Theory, which enables her to engage with broader social, political, and economic conditions embedded within energy infrastructure.
Rocco Fellow, Chateaubriand Fellow, Art Rosenfeld Fellow, NSF Graduate Fellow, Foreign Language Academic Scholarship