Dr Kari Dahlgren


By Ms Nancy Van Nieuwenhove | March 2021

Dr Kari Dahlgren

Research Fellow, Emerging Technologies Research Lab

Research interests: automation, energy futures, digital technologies, mining, ethnography, communities, energy transition

Dr Kari Dahlgren

Dr Kari Dahlgren is a social anthropologist interested in the social and ethical aspects of energy production and consumption. She has always had an interest in the extractive industry. “Initially, I had been looking into oil extraction in Tanzania, and from there I did my PhD at the London School of Economics in Anthropology about Australian coal mining communities. I did two years of ethnographic research, living in coal mining communities, one year in Moranbah (town founded in 1971 in central Queensland), and a second year in the Upper Hunter Valley. As an anthropologist, I was studying the local impact of the energy transition for the metallurgic and thermal coal mining communities. Thinking about the growing awareness of the human impact on the environment but also the crisis of livelihoods and labour; what coal miners are facing with the future of coal increasingly in question. Living in these mining towns, you see the complexity of the issue... My PhD really got me interested in the complexity of the energy transition and what it means for those communities”.

Dr Kari Dahlgren joined Monash at the end of November 2019 as a Research Fellow in the Emerging Technologies Research Lab. She currently works on the Digital Energy Futures Project, where she applies anthropological theory, ethnographic and design methods to conduct interdisciplinary research into the socio-cultural aspects and futures of emerging technologies and the energy transition. “Most of my time at Monash has been through covid19. But I did have at least a bit of time to get to know my colleagues before lockdown. Getting into the energy sector was possible through mentors I work with Professor Sarah Pink, A/ Professor Yolande Strengers and Dr Larissa Nicholls. It’s a very supportive environment. They really showed me the way. We use qualitative research methods and ethnography to inform energy forecasting, to think about what the future of energy might look like, particularly how people use every day energy and digital technologies. We also have really great industry partners; Ausgrid, Ausnet Services and Energy Consumer Australia.”

For Kari, the energy sector has a lot of room for social science to inform the energy sector but also to increase its gender diversity. “For me what’s more important is how bigger scale issues are made by every day decision making. There is a growing awareness and recognition that the social sciences have a lot to offer. It benefits the sector to have more interdisciplinary perspectives to energy issues.When you talk about energy, you are talking about people, and how they use energy to do things. Everyday things like laundry or cooking, which are really about taking care of oneself and one’s family, and they rely on social relations and cultural expectations. Anyone could think there might only be one path into the energy sector, but as my story, and also many other women I know who work in the energy sector, stories’ show, we can take unusual paths. I would say to any woman to not be intimidated by the STEMM focus of the sector, if that isn’t your approach. You still have a valuable insight to offer.

What really motivates her work in the energy sector is thinking about opening possibilities for different futures. “Long term, I’d like to see a more consumer-centric sustainable energy future in Australia and more broadly. And I think my work is contributing to that. I am also really interested in automated decision making and the future of AI in energy and in mining. I’d like the energy transition to consider the way people live in their everyday lives and what they want from the future”.

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