Alice Chen

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Irvine, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10211

Approve Date

October 7, 2021

Project Title

Chen, Alice (California, Irvine, U. of) "Cosmologies of Promise: An Ethnography of Fusion Research"

ALICE CHEN, then a graduate student at University of California, Irvine, California, was awarded funding in October 2021 to aid research on “Cosmologies of Promise: An Ethnography of Fusion Research,” supervised by Dr. Mei Zhan. Can investment into clean energy be both ethical and profitable? Fusion, the most powerful and cleanest form of energy known to humans, is at the center of changing investment dynamics within financial capitalism. With $5 billion of private capital invested into fusion as of 2022, investors are increasingly interested in technologies that promise not only profit, but also impact by tackling global challenges. This research studies what many scholars have long deemed to be a contradictory practice’forgoing profit-making as the singular motivation for investment and instead tailoring investment practices to simultaneously address growing ethical concerns over climate change. Through fieldwork in the United States with plasma physicists, venture capital firms, and officials from the Department of Energy, this dissertation centers the relationship between the physicists’ and investors’ sense of ethics and their profit making motives as they attempt to navigate a funding landscape in fusion energy that is increasingly defined not by government funding, but by private capital that prioritizes ethical investments. This dissertation explores how fusion’s particular ability to provide limitless energy is transformed into an ethical virtue through which movements of capital are brokered, human futures are imagined, and capitalism itself is reimagined as a moral pursuit.