Aerial view of the roundabout in Finland © Lev Karavanov -
© Lev Karavanov -

RGS Conference 2024

Call for Papers- RGS-IBG Conference 28th-30th August 2024

‘Futures of Coal’: Mapping the Geographies, Materialities and Rhythms of Coal

Session Organisers
Felix Schiedlowski (Social Anthropology, The Centre for Interdisciplinary Regional Studies, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg)
Amy Walker (Human Geography, Department of Geography and Geosciences and The Centre for Interdisciplinary Regional Studies, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg)

Key words
Coal, Materiality, Extractivism, Energy Transitions, Occupational Community, Fossil Fuels

Coal is inextricably entangled with the past. Coal, amongst all other fossil resources, fueled the world’s hunger for progress and modernity. As the world prepares to become post-fossil, the era of coal is set to end. Economies across Europe and Northern America signal their intentions to move in earnest towards a variety of post-fossil fuel-futures, and so the associated resources are repositioned in collective imaginaries to reflect their polluting essence and catastrophic potential. In December 2023, at the World Climate Conference COP 23, all states agreed to end coal and all other fossil resources. However, even as a resource associated with the past, coal still defines our present. The International Energy Agency stated that in 2023, as much coal was produced as never before. In contrast to dominant readings, we do not understand coal as a pre-condition for the oil age. Instead, we argue, coal was phased-out and re-invented multiple times and forms part of the fossil past, present, and future equally. Coal remains the backbone of fossil modernity, be it a blessing or curse. Therefore, we emphasise the importance of taking coal seriously and of putting coal at the centre of our thinking about fossil and post-fossil futures.

In the ongoing efforts of energy transition of societal change, this panel asks: How is coal still a thing of the present, or how is it even activated for the future? How will coal remain important as a memory, an antidote to green future, an energy resource, and a reference to the old order of life? This session aims to understand the world of the energy transition, de- and re-industrialisation, place and future making through coal. Coal shall turn into a research partner for the three days of this workshop. Rather than understanding coal as a passive material on the ground, we want to focus on the human-coal interaction, which, in our understanding, is based on reciprocity. Coal is both rupture and normality, ‘Coal is King’ is often heard in mining sites and communities. Coal gives – power, labour, identity, wealth – and takes – landscapes, peace, nature, orientation. Given coal’s social, material, environmental, political and cultural influence, we see the need to think about, with, and through coal.

We welcome geographical, interdisciplinary, artistic and novel contributions addressing questions and concerns in the fields of:

• Geologies of coal
• Genealogies of coal
• Temporalities of coal
• Materialities of coal
• Folklore of coal

If interested in joining the session, please send a short (up to 250 words) abstract along with your name, email address, and affiliation by 16th February 2024 to and . As the panel at the RGS shall enable further communication about futures of coal, we therefore welcome abstracts for active participation at the RGS, as well as any expressions of interest for establishing a wider network around these themes.