Graudate Program Board Member

Gretchen Bakke became a Guest Professor at IRI THESys in January 2018. 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. 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.
In addition to writing The Grid, which has been very well received, Bakke has significant experience writing in both academic and non-academic styles: her recent output includes an essay published in the New Yorker (2016) on Venezuela’s reliance on hydroelectricity despite predictably frequent droughts; an essay as a part of Public Books series called “The Big Picture” on President Trump’s relationship to coal; and an academic book on changing practices and conceptualizations of the self, stemming from her doctoral research (under review). She has also co-edited two volumes with Marina Peterson at the University of Texas: a new reader in the anthropology of art (Bloomsbury 2016) and sharply-written volume on experimental methods in anthropology entitled Between Matter and Method: Encounters in Anthropology and the Arts (Bloomsbury 2017). She is a core member of a burgeoning and fascinating group of anthropologists based at UC-Irvine on the adoption of virtual currencies (e.g. Bitcoin) and distributed ledgers (blockchains) and a member of the Anthropocene working group at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

Research Interests

  • Changing forms and imaginaries of electrical grids with the mass-integration of renewables
  • Decarbonization (in its failures mostly)
  • The imagination and its rhetorics, temporal folding and future dreaming, building and dismantling, collapse and renewal, discomfort and all that remains unrecoupable



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

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

Book Chapters

“Electricity is not a Noun” in Anthropology and Electricity, Abram, S., T. Yarrow and B.R. Winthereik eds. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, Forthcoming 2018.

“Crude Thinking,” in The Rhetoric of Oil in the Twenty-First Century: Government, Corporate and Activist Discourses. Graves,, H. and J. Gordon. eds. London: Routledge, Forthcoming 2018.

“The Comparative Method: A Novella” in Between Matter and Method: Encounters in Anthropology and Art. Bakke, G. and M. Peterson eds. London: Bloomsbury 2017: 171-189.


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

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