Board Member

Gretchen Bakke became a member of IRI THESys in January 2018. Here she was a Guest Professor from 2018 to 2020 and is currently Senior Fellow at IASS Potsdam and Visiting Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, within the research theme Anthropocene Formations.

Her training is as a cultural anthropologist (University of Chicago, 2007) and she maintains a strong methodological attachment to extended research with local communities. This work often involves formal and informal interviews but is premised primarily upon being there, learning from locals, listening, watching, and coming to understand what matters to a community. For her dissertation she conducted three years of ethnographic research in Eastern Europe (Slovenia) on the political and economic transitions attendant to the end of communism, work that resulted in the ebullient ethnography The Likeness: Semblance and Self in Slovene Society (University of California Press 2020).

This interest in socio-political transition brought her to present day transformations of energy systems and, eventually to the grid in the United States as a particularly delightful (because messy) instance of what has since become global system’s change. The book which resulted from this research, The Grid: The Fraying Wires between Americans and our Energy Future (Bloomsbury 2016) was written for the general public, largely because there was significant uninformed intervention into the electricity system in the United States and she felt it would be good to provide a readable, entertaining primer on the history and good functioning of the grid.

Bakke’s current project Slow Migrations of the North Sea is an ethnographic study of the end of the age of oil. As oil dependency declines globally much of the world is grappling with interrelated challenges and changes in economic structures, transportation infrastructures, the shifting natural world, while attempting to imagine and engineer of new realities. What differentiates the Scottish communities of the North Sea where this research is conducted is that there the effects of the end of oil are both intensified and already pressing, for residents, for climate stressed marine species, and for the fading oil industry. Fieldwork will be conducted in the rural communities of the Shetland Islands in their engagements with the sea and with oil and in the former oil boomtown of Aberdeen and its offshore assets. Care is taken to understand the interconnected well-being of sea creatures, offshore infrastructures, oil workers, and regular folks as each contends with changing environments that force movement upon even the most recalcitrant entities (from mollusks to Shell). Gretchen Bakke’s goal is to understand how this change is happening as a mode of investigating the pragmatics of a life no-longer premised upon oil as both adaptative and proactive responses come to characterize to the end of this long historical epoch.

Research Interests

  • Changes to electricity systems with the mass-integration of renewables
  • Ethnographic investigations of the end of fossil fuel dominance in the energy sector and beyond
  • The imagination and its rhetorics, temporal folding and future dreaming, building and dismantling, collapse and renewal, discomfort and all that remains unrecoupable



The Likeness: Semblance and Self in Slovene Society. University of California Press 2020

The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between America and Our Energy Future. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Edited Volumes

Anthropology of the Arts: A Reader. ed. with Marina Peterson, London: Bloomsbury, 2016

Between Matter and Method: Encounters in Anthropology and Art. ed. with Marina Peterson, London: Bloomsbury, 2017


“Pivoting toward Energy Transition 2.0: Learning from Electricity,” Research Handbook on Energy and Society, Webb, Tingey, and Wade eds., Cheltenham UK: Edward Elgar Publishing (forthcoming Dec 2021).

2019     “Electricity is not a Noun,” Electrifying Anthropology: Explorations in Electric Practices and Infrastructures, Abram, Yarrow and Winthereik eds. New York: Bloomsbury: 25-42.

2019     “Crude Thinking,” The Rhetoric of Oil in the Twenty-First Century: Government, Corporate and Activist Discourses. Graves and Gordon. eds. London: Routledge: 34-55.


2021    “What Fuels You?” in Solarities: Inflections and Refractions, A. Moore, C. Howe and J. Diamanti eds. New York: Punctum Books (forthcoming)

2019     “Inland Tide Tables,” “Raining Red Wisconsin, or, The Weather Takes Over,” and “Steam Power” in Almanac for the Beyond, J. Faris ed. Honolulu: Tropic Editions: 45; 48-53; 86.

“Coalthink,” The Big Picture: Infrastructure, Public Books. October 17, 2017. Link here

“Venezuela’s Electricity Crises: A Cautionary Tale,” The New Yorker, May 17, 2016. Link here

Social Media

Find Gretchen on her personal website and on YouTube talking about “awkward adapters” (and other small things forgotton) at the Institute for Design @ IIT.