Elihu Katz Colloquium: Colin Jerolmack, New York University

"Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an Appalachian Town"
27 Sep 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Annenberg School for Communication, Room 500
ASC Only

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About the Talk

Fracking is one of today’s most consequential and contentious land uses. As energy analysts note, the frenetic pace and vast scale of the fracking boom constitutes an “energy revolution” that is transforming geopolitics and the world economy. Yet the “big picture” overlooks how personal fracking is. The U.S. is the only country in the world where private property rights extend to all subsurface minerals; the fracking boom depends on the millions of people residing over shale deposits privately agreeing to lease their land’s subsurface mineral rights to petroleum companies. This means that this momentous and far-reaching decision about the planet—to frack or not to frack—is largely a series of individual choices rather than the result of collective deliberation. Many of the spillover effects of fracking are felt close to home: one’s decision to lease may impact neighbors’ air, water, or property. While resource dilemmas are usually experienced in the abstract (e.g., lab simulations, or considering future generations), shale communities must confront the conflict between self-interest and the commonwealth at the fencepost, the general store, and town halls. Based on ethnographic research in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, Jerolmack will discuss how, on the one hand, support for land leasing and fracking cannot be reduced to self-interest and how, on the other hand, the legally protected freedom to exploit one’s mineral rights had the ironic effect of eroding the freedom of others--their right to be left alone, and their sovereignty over their estate. These findings offer lessons for overcoming the greatest collective action problem of all: climate change.

About the Speaker

Colin Jerolmack is an associate professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at NYU, where he is also the chair of the Environmental Studies Department. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the City University of New York in 2009; before arriving at NYU, he was a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy at Harvard. Jerolmack's first book, The Global Pigeon (University of Chicago Press), is a comparative ethnography of how relations with animals shape our experience of urban life. He is currently completing his next book, Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town (Princeton University Press), on which today's talk is based. He also writes about ethnographic methods, including the volume he recently co-edited with Shamus Khan, Approaches to Ethnography (Oxford University Press).

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