The Dark Side of Immaterial World: Geography of Physical Resources and Infrastructures for Energy Transition

The expensive energy bills, that the current prices of raw materials are triggering in different parts of the world, have quickly made us rediscover how important the physical dimension of a world that now seemed only virtual is still important. The mainstream media narrative in recent decades has emphasized paradigms of immateriality deriving from the exponential growth of digital technologies and has heralded the slogan of the death of physical distance replaced by digital one. The pandemic has reopened the eyes of society to the existence, instead, of global supply chains that once interrupted have deprived us of those products necessary for survival, such as masks. Now, in a different key, the theme of the need to confront new dynamics that seem distant in time, relating to raw materials, energy transmission and distribution networks, is again re-proposed.

Indeed, if the consumer citizen, of course, is interested in the extra outlay, the question is, however, much broader and unfolds along the path of the energy transformation mechanisms whose implications are of a geopolitical nature. Technological advances make transformations possible in the energy sector, as in other fields, but it is the political will to be independent of economic vulnerability that pushes towards change. This has also been the case in the past in the transition from the coal to the oil age. In the same way today, albeit under technology leverage, advanced countries are trying to converge towards alternative sources rather than oil and fossil fuels, also in order to become independent from foreign supplies.

The scenario still sees us far from a sustainable planet considering that in 2019 oil and coal still covered more than 60% of global energy consumption.

As it happened at the dawn of the use of the Microsoft Windows operating system, where everything seemed user friendly, scenographic and accessible only to than discover that the support remained the unattractive DOS system, even now we realize a physical world under the virtual one, in which the digital-induced transformations that have changed its political and economic geography turn out to be only one side of the coin. The other half of the global phenomenon in which we are immersed is still firmly anchored and heavily dependent on primary resources and their geopolitical management.

As Saskia Sassen said, hyper-globalization that emphasizes immateriality induces, however, dynamics of hyper-concentration of the physical resources necessary for the functioning and management of global a-spatial processes. Without this collective awareness, the individual increase in the bill will be only the wind that anticipates a large approaching wave.

This session aims to investigate these critical aspects from different perspectives in a holistic form. We welcome paper submissions on geographic and geopolitical aspects of the following topics, amongst others: