Dr Jon Phillips
Postdoctoral Research Associate


Research interests

My research interests are in understanding relationships between nature, society and space. This approach frames my research into who benefits from the production of resources and the governance of energy in the developing world. I have drawn heavily on fieldwork in sub-Saharan Africa to understand energy as a social relation and the production of resources as a social and material process.

The first aspect of this research has focused on the political economy of renewable energy technologies and finance in Africa. This has been developed through several collaborative projects, including analysis of how global climate finance schemes are governed in the developing countries that host carbon reduction projects (at UEA); how renewable energy technologies gain traction (or don’t) with domestic elites in the South (at IDS); and how developing country cities might overcome considerable obstacles to create cleaner, more equitable energy services for urban citizens (at Exeter).

The second aspect of my research is concerned with the production of fossil fuel economies. My doctoral thesis argued that oil politics is spatial politics, employing concepts of territory and materiality to explain where and why oil may become contested at modern resource frontiers. I provide spatial explanations for several controversies over oil in Ghana, including a battle over the terms of oil contracts, the impacts of oil production on fishing livelihoods, and whether Ghanaian elites have exercised agency in their new development partnerships with China, the US and the World Bank. The resolution of these controversies has been an inherently spatial business - one that shapes who benefits from oil and who does not.

Whether it is concerned with solar power or oil, my research aims to demonstrate the contingency of inequitable systems of energy governance, which are at least partially open to change through alternative systems of technology, knowledge and power.

Research projects

I currently work as a Postdoctoral Research Associate for an ESRC-NRF funded project, Urban Transformation in South Africa Through Co-Designing Energy Services Provision (Urbatrans). The project is a collaboration between the University of Cape Town and several UK universities, working with South African NGO Sustainable Energy Africa and engaging closely with selected South African municipal governments.

The project asks how municipal governments might contribute to a transition to low carbon and equitable energy services in South Africa. To do so will mean changes in technical, social and political systems, which the project aims to foster through co-design with practitioners. More information is available at www.urbanenergytransformations.co.za

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