In this article, I seek to offer a story of how an industrialized East Asian country, Taiwan, transformed itself into not only a producer of solar photovoltaic (PV) products but also a user of such technology. By highlighting redesignable artifacts, sociotechnical rearrangement, and local government translators, I apply actor-network theory to describe and analyze the emerging phenomenon of solar farms in Ping-Tung County in southern Taiwan, which simultaneously involves human and nonhuman actors. During the postdisaster reconstruction after Typhoon Morakot, 23.481 MW of solar panels were installed in the flood-damaged orchards and fish ponds in central Ping-Tung. The sites of the solar farms are neither the rooftops of buildings nor industrial wastelands. Solar PV products transferred from Western countries to Taiwan are called “redesignable artifacts.” If a certain technological artifact can be redesigned in a certain society, there are a certain number of people who are familiar with such technology and are skilled in its use. In other words, a variety of industrial local knowledge and technological supporting networks are deployed evenly and densely in Taiwan. Artifacts that are “black-boxed” by solar PV manufacturers can have some agency to make new sociotechnical networks, but only through certain “translators.” In my case study, the most important translators are the magistrate of the county government and his green energy team. By connecting local knowledge with expert knowledge and by connecting sites of agriculture and aquaculture with PV equipment workshops, these translators make heterogeneous human and nonhuman actors work in the same sociotechnical network, a symbiotic network of PV technologies, agriculture, and aquaculture. With the black-boxed objects, the solar PV products, in hand, these translators can break up the traditional connections between local farmers and their lands and make new connections among solar PV manufacturers, local landlords, and their lands. In the process of connecting heterogeneous sites, every group redefines its interests and begins an agenda of group formation. Every actor is displaced and seeks a “sociotechnical rearrangement” with other actors.
Reassembling Solar Farms, Reassembling the Social: A Case Study of Ping-Tung County in Southern Taiwan
Hung-Jen Yang is currently associate professor in the Institute of Science, Technology and Society, National Yang-Ming University, Taiwan. He received his PhD in sociology from National Taiwan University. His research interests include STS, renewable and sustainable energy studies, community studies, sociology of religion, modernity, and social theory.
Hung-Jen Yang; Reassembling Solar Farms, Reassembling the Social: A Case Study of Ping-Tung County in Southern Taiwan. East Asian Science, Technology and Society 1 December 2015; 9 (4): 359–379. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/18752160-3112042
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