Gretchen Bakke

Associate Member

Assistant Professor
Ph.D University of Chicago, 2007

Institute for the Public Life of Art and Ideas 
3610 McTavish Street, 16-4, Montreal, H3A 1Y2

Contact via gretchen.bakke [at] (Email).



Office Hours

By appointment.

Research Interests

Social and Technological Change, Post-Socialism, Human-Machine Interactions, Men and Masculinity, Anthropology of Science and Technology, Anthropology of Art and Aesthetics, Infrastructure and the Built Environment, Energy, Bureaucracy. Former Soviet Union, Ex-Yugoslavia, Europe, North America.

My research pursues two distinct but related lines of inquiry: the first concerns the arts (more on which below) and the second, the current form and functioning of the North American electric grid. I argue that the grid, in its current form, is a significant bottleneck in the struggle to effect a continent-wide transition to renewable power. If renewable energy goals are to be met, and eventually superseded, it is not only how we make electricity that needs to be reformed, but also how we manage, imagine, cobble, dream, invest, transmit, distribute, use and learn to conserve electric power. The energy transition is thus not simply a problem of fuels or technological fixes, but of changing minds, of learning new habits, of inventing new business models, of navigating long antinomies, and of altering the very patterns of thought. Of the many interviews I have done about this project NPRs Fresh Air and the Podcast Curious Minds are the most representative.

I maintain a strong secondary interest in the arts. My dissertation was on Contemporary Slovene Art including the collective Neue Sloweniche Kunst. In the arts we have the eddies of culture – unsure, slippery, and shortlived things – that allow for a movement (in thought, emotion, or body) beyond easy or recognizable storylines. At the present, work in the arts – from literature and theater to dance, photography, and performance – is where the dynamism of alternative approaches to late-capitalism and the anthroposcene flourish. This is important to me in my own work because it provides me with alternate modes in which to work on and think about how systems function and also how they collapse. 

Representative Publications

Books and Edited Volumes

The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Written for the general public this book brings anthropological sensibilities to a study of the immense infrastructural, historical, technological, legislative, and fiscal complexity of the US electric grid. The grid is currently being reworked and reimagined to incorporate renewable forms of generation (wind, solar) it has rarely been more fragile or more ripe for the creative possibilities attendant to repair. 

Anthropology of the Arts: A Reader. ed. with M. Peterson, London: Bloomsbury 2016.

A course text incorporating classic and much newer works on the arts (including sound, performance, dance, media and visual arts) by anthropologists, this tome is designed as a teaching tool for anthropologists working to bring the social contexts of arts production, reception and circulation to bear upon how students understanding and approach the arts.

Toward an Artful Anthropology. ed. with M. Peterson. London: Bloomsbury 2017. 

A companion volume to the course text above, this book gathers new work on aesthetics, performance, sound, design, film, craftwork and sensory experience from some of anthropology’s most engaging scholars including Kathleen Stewart, Joseph Dumit, Stuart McLean, Natasha Myers and others (forthcoming).


2010. “Dead White Men: An Essay on the Changing Dynamics of Race in American Action Cinema.” Anthropology Quarterly 83(2): 400-428.