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Elena Apostoli Cappello

As a political anthropologist, Elena uses ethnographic research to analyse emerging political issues in Europe: Activism, public participation and the redefinition of citizenship, eco-socialist movements and the environment, and political relationships with the land. Her latest research focuses on local opposition to European public policies about ecological transitions and local demands for energy democracy.

Host University: Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium

Host research group or department: Architecture & Sciences Humaines - SASHA

Co-host University: Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy

Secondment institution: Legambiente, Italy (Legambiente)

Advisor: Professor Christine Schaut

Co-advisor: Dr. Julian Bogdani

Secondment mentor: Katiuscia Eroe, National Energy Referent

Elena Cappello
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My research

Insularity, Sustainability and Local Energy

ISLE examines the link between ecological transition and the bottom-up resistance that it arouses, together with demands for socio-economic justice. Mounting popular protests against large- scale renewable plants will deepen the climate crisis. The political and identity-based nature of such opposition challenges SHS to elucidate a phenomenon that concerns Europe and beyond, hybridizing with socio-political mechanisms often classified as populist or anti-élite, or creating conflict between the world of work and the environment. ISLE combines the use of theory with methods drawn from political anthropology, sociology of space and cartographic techniques (GIS). ISLE will examine the Italian region of Sulcis in Southern Sardinia (a Just Transition Fund beneficiary) focusing on the island of San Pietro, just off the coast. This island is considered a key context inasmuch as it is marginal, but nonetheless involved in complex socio-productive systems, and such islands are seen as symbols and experimental arenas of energy transition. By taking an ethnographic stance in a place in profound industrial, social and environmental crisis, ISLE aims to examine the identity factors that hinder or contribute to the processes of transition towards genuinely more sustainable resource extraction, exploitation and management organizations, going beyond any simplistic explanations based on NIMBY or top-down normative models. It will explore the cultural and symbolic factors typical of areas at high risk of depopulation and unemployment. The local dimension of the territory will be examined as a resource for situated mobilizations, questioning how this resource is mobilized, and who by. ISLE moves towards a theoretical innovation by drawing on the literature on energy, power, the environment and identity.

Date started – Date End

01.10.2023 - 30.09.2025