Viral Solarity: Solar Humanitarianism and Infectious Disease

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How are we to engage with the forms of solarity that emerge in response to humanitarian crises, like those created by a highly virulent infectious disease? As we struggle to respond to the worldwide SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic and begin to envisage the role of solar energy in a green recovery, this article draws on long term ethnographic research in the global off grid solar industry to lay the grounds for an anthropology of humanitarianism and solar power. For over half a century, white engineers and entrepreneurs in the Global North have presented solar photovoltaics as a harbinger of radical change for distant others across the Global South. Tracking the interventions of one solar company in the West African Ebola crisis and reflecting on the industry’s response to COVID-19, this paper explores the politics, ethics, and possibility of solarity in the context of these historic relations of power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123
Number of pages136
JournalSouth Atlantic Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • humanitarianism
  • ethics
  • markets
  • solar

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