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Andrew Sanchez

This special issue of the Cambridge Journal of Anthropology entitled ‘Capture, Autonomy, Dependence: Theorising Global Energy Futures from Africa’ is guest edited by Michael Degani, Brenda Chalfin and Jamie Cross.

Open access

Experiments in Excreta to Energy

Sustainability Science and Bio-Necro Collaboration in Urban Ghana

Brenda Chalfin

In the quest for alternatives to energy extraversion and carbon-heavy extraction, transformation of waste to energy is growing worldwide. In Ghana’s working-class city of Ashaiman, an international NGO converts faecal waste into electricity through a massive biodigester. Fed by public toilets, the power is sold back to residents. Touted as an exemplar of sustainable development, Ashaiman’s case demonstrates that when power comes from human waste, the entanglement of energopolitics and biopolitics, but also energopower and necropower – the political uses of death and decay – is undeniable. Premised on such ‘bio-necro collaborations’ and enabled by sustainability science, these interventions activate state monopolies of waste while assimilating bodily excesses of urban dwellers. Marking the intimate exploitations of internal energy frontiers, an ever-tightening circuitry of energy production and political-economic incorporation results.

Free access

Katrin Röder and Christoph Singer

OH happiness! our being’s end and aim! Good, pleasure, ease, content! whate’er thy name: That something still which prompts th’ eternal sigh, For which we bear to live, or dare to die … Fix’d to no spot is happiness sincere, ’Tis no where to be found, or ev’ry where: ’Tis never to be bought, but always free, And fled from monarchs, St. John! dwells with thee. … Some place the bliss in action, some in ease, Those call it pleasure, and contentment these … Who thus define it, say they more or less Than this, that happiness is happiness? …

Alexander Pope’s lines from the Essay on Man (1734) suggest the richness, diversity and overwhelming, transgressive nature of the concept of happiness. In the above quotation, happiness seems to be curiously self-evident and inconclusive at the same time. It is the central motivation for any action or non-action, all-pervasive, omnipresent and elusive. The obviousness with which Pope uses the word ‘happiness’ for so many different states of existence (material wealth, flourishing, bliss, the good life, the common good) is, however, the result of a long process of semantic change that is convincingly described by Phil Withington: being ‘derived from the Old Norse noun hap, meaning luck or fortune’, the word ‘happiness’ was, according to Withington’s findings, first used by William Caxton in his translation of Raoul Lefèvre’s French History of Troy. The addition of the English suffix ‘ness’ to the adjective ‘happy’ denotes ‘the quality and state of hap (i.e. fortune) or the circumstances and phenomena that exemplified such a condition’. The word changed its meaning from denoting good luck and favourable external (providential) conditions to signifying ‘the active pursuit of virtue and the common good’. Happiness became an umbrella term referring to a ‘commonplace mixture of physical well-being and psychological content’, to the individual and collective desire for and pursuit of ‘public improvement’, autonomy, liberty, ‘consumer self-interest and national aggrandisement’.

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Happiness Against All Odds

Incestuous Desires in John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore

Christoph Ehland

John Ford’s play ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore offers a compelling rendering of the state of happiness. Its scandalous plot, which revolves around the incestuous relationship between the two siblings Giovanni and Annabella, confronts the audience with an intricate discussion of early modern notions of happiness. Situated in the ambiguous sphere between a secular and a theological reading of what it means to be happy, Ford’s play stages the conflicts and the calamities that derive from its protagonists’ eager attempt to attain and to live their own version of happiness.

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Joachim Frenk

Sir Philip Sidney is not commonly associated with a search for happiness or the use he made of concepts of happiness in his works. Yet, as this article seeks to show, he employed a rhetoric of happiness throughout. In particular, Sidney’s Arcadias – the Old Arcadia, which he finished in 1581, and the New Arcadia, the substantial rewriting which remained unfinished – are markedly different in their representations of and their reflections on happiness. While happiness is associated with the Arcadian state as a – potentially fatal – aim in the Old Arcadia from its very beginning, it is subordinated to a sterner and more violent discourse in the New Arcadia, for which after Sidney’s death other writers wrote diverse happy endings. This different treatment of happiness in the Arcadias is also discussed with a view to different manuscripts and print editions as well as to the power play at the Elizabethan court.

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John Storey

Contrary to dominant debates about Utopia, I do not think it matters whether Thomas More actually believed that ‘communism’ was the solution to social inequality and injustice; what I think is important is that the book raises the question of a different type of society. As I argue in the second part of my article, the power of Utopia, like all radical utopianism, derives not from the production of blueprints; rather, it comes from the stimulation of desire for a ‘happy place’, which can reflect negatively on, and produce discontent within, the here and now. Understood in this way, radical utopianism offers a form of resistance to dominant constructions of reality and our complicity, conscious and unconscious, with them.

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Graham Holderness

For two millennia the heart was considered to be the seat of intelligence, motion and sensation. Thomas Hobbes’s friend William Harvey revolutionised the understanding of the heart by demonstrating how blood circulates, and correctly identifying the function of the heart as propulsion. Soon after the publication of De Motu Cordis, Descartes redefined the heart as a ‘pump’, and Hobbes as a ‘spring’. In these mechanistic and rationalist systems the heart lost its prestige, and could no longer be considered the source of sensation and emotion. Harvey did not, however, seek to displace the heart from its traditional position in metaphysical anatomy, but by retaining an Aristotelean interest in causes, continued to promote the centrality of the heart in ways that have persisted in philosophy, theology and literature even to the present day. A fresh look at Harvey’s writings will help us to understand why.

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In Fortune Fair and Foul

Happiness and Care of the Self in Sir Kenelm Digby’s Letter-Book In Praise of Venetia

Paula Barros

This article focuses on the idiosyncratic conception of happiness Sir Kenelm Digby develops in the letters he wrote after the death of his wife in 1633. It contextualises Digby’s vision of happiness through an examination of the different traditions he revisits and appropriates to develop his personal and subjective ethics of self-care, mainly Renaissance Neoplatonism, the idealisation of conjugal love, the idealism of Italian poetry, and an ascetic model of widowhood linked to the tradition of spiritual mourning. It analyses how Digby’s conception of happiness, through its vindication of subjectivity and excess, challenges the early modern ethos of consolation and speculates on the reasons that may have led Digby to present his readers with such an extraordinary self-portrait.

Open access


Fuelling Capture: Africa’s Energy Frontiers

Michael Degani, Brenda Chalfin and Jamie Cross

The introduction to this special issue begins by surveying the significance of what we call Africa’s internal energy frontiers for understanding a global energy realignment marked by experiments in renewable technologies as well as revanchist investments in fossil fuels. It then discusses capture as a concept rooted in both Marxist informed accounts of global energy regimes as well as the political histories and practices of African populations. Finally, it discusses the articles as spanning three economies of capture along Africa’s energy frontier: resurgent extractivism, post-carbon development and consumer renewables.

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Pascal on Happiness

Diversion, Pleasure and the Good

Michael Moriarty

Pascal sees happiness (bonheur) as the ultimate goal of all human activity, but argues that experience shows it to be unattainable; our underlying condition is unhappiness. In the immediate, he argues, human activities are forms of diversion or distraction, by which we seek to screen from ourselves our unhappiness and mortality and to gratify our vanity. This analysis omits the role of pleasure, which he elsewhere identifies as the motive force of all volition. In order to reconcile this anomaly, we need to distinguish between the motive of our actions, the ultimate end they have in view, and the Supreme Good. The motive of our actions is pleasure, their ultimate end happiness, and the Supreme Good God, in union with whom authentic happiness consists.