2018 Gil-Chin Limm Best Dissertation
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A Closer Look with Dr. Sean Kennedy
Winner of the Gill-Chin Lim Best Dissertation in Planning Award

In recognition of the commitment of the late Gill-Chin Lim to the study of humanistic aspects of globalization, the ACSP Global Planners Educators Interest Group (GPEIG) established the "Gill-Chin Lim Award for the Best Dissertation on International Planning" in his name. This award is funded annually by the Consortium of Development Studies (CODS), which was founded by Lim in 1982. This award recognizes superior scholarship in a doctoral dissertation completed by a student enrolled in an ACSP-member school.

The 2018 winner of the Gill-Chin Lim Best Dissertation in Planning Award is Dr. Sean Kennedy, University of California, Los Angeles.

Dr. Kennedy was a doctoral candidate at UCLA when completing this winning dissertation and is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the California Center for Sustainable Communities (CCSC) at the University of California, Los Angeles. Kennedy has wide-ranging environmental policy experience across public, private and nonprofit sectors, including policy and research positions at the Australian Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency in Canberra, Australia, and the World Agroforestry Centre in Bogor, Indonesia.

Kennedy’s research examines the political-ecological geographies of sustainability transitions, both domestically and abroad. During his time with the World Agroforestry Centre in Bogor, Indonesia, Dr. Kennedy examined the relatively slow uptake of natural rubber eco-certification through a comparison of three case studies in Jambi (Indonesia), Xishuangbanna (China) and Kerala (India). Drawing on qualitative fieldwork and policy analysis, Kennedy’s dissertation research examines the influence of finance and financial institutions over the control, ownership, and geographical organization of the solar energy industry in Indonesia and California. This work demonstrates that the growing influence of private investment results in a preference for larger land- and capital-intensive renewable energy projects, which often do little to deliver energy access and local economic development benefits associated with smaller locally-owned projects.

Kennedy’s current role at the California Center for Sustainable Communities involves compiling and analyzing building greenhouse gas emissions data as part of the Los Angeles County Sustainability Plan. In addition, Dr. Kennedy’s work continues to examine the political economy and land use implications of large-scale renewable energy development, with a particular emphasis on periurban landscapes in California and Indonesia.

The award selection committee has this to say about Sean's award winning work on his paper, "Global Energy Transition and Their Contradictions: Emerging Geographies in Energy and Finance in Indonesia and California,"

"Sean Kennedy’s dissertation is an important global topic that is wide-ranging and relevant. Within a global framework, he examines energy transition from carbon-intensive to low-carbon-intensity energy production, and from energy monopoly to energy democracy worldwide through two cases in Indonesia and California. He investigates energy transition, focused on local-to-national energy and finance sectors. His research is grounded in an extensive theoretical foundation and strong, applied mixed methods in empirical work. He looks at the emerging geographies of the impacts of large-scale energy infrastructure on energy democracy and energy justice in rural, less populated areas of marginalized people in Indonesia. The research scrutinizes closely issues of energy justice, ethics and global social responsibility.

Sean’s dissertation provides important findings and recommendations. He notes the existing ways of energy production and process and proposes new alternatives. He finds that the prevailing preference for and impact of large-scale projects of energy production and provision may result in improvements in urbanized geographies but these are simultaneously contradicted by reduced or failing systems of energy provision in rural areas."

Here's "A Closer Look" at Dr. Sean Kennedy:

Q: How did you feel when you learned you won? 
A: To be honest, I was very surprised. The scholarship produced by ACSP member institutions is obviously of the highest caliber. To be recognized at this level is extremely humbling.

Q: Who do you want to thank, if anyone? 
A: I would like to thank my dissertation committee chair, Susanna Hecht, for her guidance and for nominating me for the award. I would also like to thank Leo Estrada for his subtle but persistent pressure during the early phases of the program, and Kian Goh, for providing valuable feedback at a number of key junctures throughout the writing process. Finally, I would like to thank Stephanie Pincetl, who has been a consistent source of insight and encouragement and has opened doors to a wealth of personal and professional development opportunities, including my current role at the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA.

Q: What inspired you about this project?
A: I have been working on issues relating to land use change and so-called ‘green development’ in Indonesia since 2013. My dissertation allowed me to meet with a wide range of participants actively engaged in Indonesia’s nascent renewable energy sector, ranging from international financiers and national policymakers to local residents whose lives have been directly impacted by renewable energy projects. Renewable energy is often viewed favorably due to its potential environmental and economic benefits, yet my research demonstrates the need for caution when promoting large-scale projects, particularly as the distribution of costs and benefits can be extremely uneven. On a positive note, however, I believe highlighting the limitations of current renewable energy development serves to inform a more nuanced approach to renewable energy development, and one that may ultimately deliver on the local benefits and opportunities such projects are intended to produce.

Q: What's next?
A: Following my current postdoc appointment, I am hoping to secure a tenure-track position that would allow me to continue my research on the social and ecological implications of energy transitions, both in California and abroad. My future research will examine the land use and livelihoods implications of the recent expansion of "cheap" utility-scale solar in former agricultural regions of northern Los Angeles County and parts of the Californian Central Valley. I am also continuing my international work through a collaboration with a colleague from the University of South Carolina that compares the influence of renewable energy finance on the geography of renewable energy projects in the Caribbean and Indonesia.

Dr. Kennedy will be presenting his paper at the ACSP Annual Conference, which will be held from October 25-28, in Buffalo, New York. Click here for more information about #ACSP2018. 

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