Tojo

Peer review of The Energy Walk: Experimenting with Aesthetic Methods in STS?

The Energy Walk is a guided tour of Hanstholm, one of three major focal points for the alternative energy research project Alien Energy. The walk is meant to be an artistic introduction to the often unseen energy infrastructure of our modern world, as well as an educational look at future energy sources.

Thorsen’s paper argues that the Energy Walk is a prime case study of the importance of aesthetics in STS (Science, Technology and Society) research. The walk invokes John Dewey’s “aesthetic experience”, Thorsen argues, making it an example of aesthetics’ crucial role when science and art is merged.

The first issue I find in Thorsen’s text is an overuse of repetitions. Repetition might be used to tie a text together or emphasize an argument. Unfortunately Thorsen’s excessive use of repetition has the opposite effect, making the text homogenous, less engaging and harder to navigate. For example:

[The walk] guides the participant through the tensions of knowing and not-knowing, seeing and not-seeing, the energy topographies of Hanstholm harbour.

… but by offering the tensions and frictions between the visible and the invisible, the known and the unknown, the close and the faraway, as a momentarily coherent experience.

Though the exact phrasing has been changed, the two sentences (which are part of one paragraph) are so alike that the repetition feels needless. An easy fix would be to omit or change the word “tension” and the phrase “the known and the unknown” in the second paragraph.

The second critique is Thorsen’s needlessly detailed description of the Energy Walk. The objective of the text is not an introduction or overview of the walk, nor a detailed analysis of its design. As such the following seems overly detailed:

…one of four walking sticks, each fitted with a small round wooden shell from where a long cord stretches out, attached at the other end to a set of headphones. The wooden shell conceals a device that plays the audio guiding the participant. […]

This citation exemplifies a large part of the text describing the walk. These descriptions, though interesting and thorough, do not seem to inform the analysis of the walk. I would advice Thorsen to shorten her description of the walk, or present Dewey’s theory earlier in the text and use it to reflect on the walk throughout.

The final critique I will bring up concerns anecdotes and anecdotal descriptions. Anecdotes can have their place in an academic text. E.g. the introduction to the text helps to ground it in something concrete, evocative and relatable. Unfortunately, not all of Thorsen’s anecdotes manage to strike an academic tone. For example:

The four walking sticks are mounted on a wall behind the ice-cream counter…

Though this is an evocative image, the emotional response an ice cream counter elicits weakens the scientific validity of Thorsen’s argument. I would urge Thorsen to avoid descriptions that serve only to garner an emotional response, unless said descriptions are crucial to her analysis.

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