University of Illinois at Chicago

The Politics of Circumvention: The Off-Grid Eco-Housing Movement of Earthships

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posted on 2018-11-27, 00:00 authored by Ryan Alan Sporer
Through an ethnographic approach this research examines the off-grid housing movement of Earthships. Earthships are buildings designed and built to provide modern necessities with little to no connection to material infrastructures and markets. Individuals and small groups of the off-grid movement are extracting themselves from the grid, which they broadly define as including physical components of the utility grids and associated economic relations, formal political activities and identities, commodity chains of food production, government agencies, corporations, popular consumer culture, and other features of modern society. By connecting with off-grid enthusiasts they are able to disconnect. By learning the knowledge and skills to live off-grid they are overcoming labor specialization. In order to realize their distance to prevalent socio-material assemblages off-gridders terraform alternatives through their building of the Earthship or other off-grid home. The Earthship heats/cools itself through passive solar and thermal processes, collects/reuses rainwater through rooftop catchment and grey/black water systems, treats waste onsite, generates, stores, and distributes electricity, provides year-round food production, and utilizes garbage as building materials. Those that live off-grid express a greater connection and attentiveness to nature, practice various amounts of voluntary simplicity lifestyles, embrace more responsibility for taking care of themselves, and enjoyment in greater autonomy and freedom. I argue that the Earthship case study is an example of what I term a Politics of Circumvention, whereby undesirable situations are responded to not by political projects of reform or revolution, but by self-extrication and terraformation. Furthermore, I argue that this is a recurring process dating back to the earliest of physical infrastructures, such as horticulture, artificial irrigation, urbanization, and other durable structures. Archeological and historical research supports that it has been common for groups of discontents to leave various “grids” and build alternative subsistence practices. Modern circumvention episodes I review include back-to-the-land, homesteading, communes, ecovillages, the Amish, maroon societies, and the Zapatistas. Given the role of nonhumans in the grid and off-grid movements, I develop a theoretical approach termed Object-Friendly Sociology, which recognizes the agentic capacities of nonhumans. This allows for the examination of conjunctural features of the Earthship case study and larger theoretical claims.



McInerney, Paul-Brian


McInerney, Paul-Brian



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Committee Member

Bielby, William T Clarno, Andy Decoteau, Claire L Bryant, Levi

Submitted date

August 2018

Issue date


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