Experimenting for change? : The politics of accomplishing environmental governance through smart energy pilot projects

Abstract: This thesis investigates how smart energy experimentation arranges environmental governance in Sweden, focusing on the politics of such processes, against the background of an escalating environmental and climate crisis that necessitates urgent energy transformation. Empirically the thesis includes case studies of pilot projects in Stockholm, Malmö, Västerås, and on Gotland, and analysis of the policy landscape, mainly through text analysis and interviews. Theoretically the study takes a critical approach based on a Foucauldian understanding of governance. Concepts are derived from “governmentality studies” and science and technology studies. This approach aims to unpack experimentation as governance arrangement through asking questions about how governance is arranged beyond singular experiments, such as ideas and practices of achieving broader change beyond isolated experiments. The thesis shows how smart energy experimentation is incorporated into an existing governmental apparatus and underpinned by a broader political rationality, a “rationale of governance” crystallized in institutional arrangements and policy instruments. This political rationality underpins governance arrangements shaped through experimentation both across governmental agencies and policy networks and on a local level. The investigation also highlights contingencies of arranging governance across cases as ambitions are materialized, as well as the significance of different local contexts and the import of infrastructures on how governance is produced. The main contribution is a theoretical conceptualization of “experimentation” as arranging environmental governance, and empirically uncovering how governance is shaped beyond singular experiments in a contemporary Swedish context. Such analysis is currently lacking in the literature on environmental politics and energy transitions. The thesis thus elucidates how power relations are shaped through smart energy experimentation, contributing to shaping knowledge generation and interpretation of environmental issues, thus institutionalizing particular ways of handling environmental issues and improving the environmental condition.   

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