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Energy Biographies: Everyday Life and Socio-Technical Change in Energy Systems

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In the wake of COP21, it is timely to reconnect strategic visions and policy interventions with research-led understandings of how and why people use energy. A key relevant research focus in STS has been on the socio-technical entanglements of practices and technologies over time, and their influence on trajectories of demand (Shove, Pantzar, and Watson, 2012). The Energy Biographies study (2011-2015, http://energybiographies.org) has developed innovative methodologies for rendering visible sociologically and psychologically intangible aspects of our ways of living in resource-intensive ways. It has developed psychosocially-nuanced understandings of the ways in which relational subjects are essential for understanding energy-using practices. It has also opened creative spaces where energy usage across the lifecourse creates opportunities for exploring continuity and change dynamics. This presentation will bring into relief theoretical and methodological issues involved in experimental ways of working that have been taken forward by this project, and in connection with three substantive concerns: the dynamics of participation in sustainable or unsustainable patterns of everyday energy use; the embedding and entanglements of energy usage and social practices in everyday life, wider systems, and cultural conditions of late modernity; the role of psychosocial intangibles (relationships, emotional attachments and investments) in the dynamics of everyday energy use and systems change. In doing this, we will show how it is possible to bring STS scholarship relating to sustainability transitions, everyday energy use, and sociotechnical systems change together with social scientific research investigating articulations between sociotechnical change in the everyday and lifecourse or psychosocial (including narrative) perspectives.

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Energy Biographies: Everyday Life and Socio-Technical Change in Energy Systems

  1. 1. Energy Biographies: Everyday Life and Socio-Technical Change in Energy Systems Prof. Karen Henwood 4S-EASST Barcelona, 31st August-4th September 2016
  2. 2. A few introductory remarks •Experimentation – from natural science method to social intervention •A science in & for society problematic - rapidly changing science-tech-society relations (have effects in) in everyday life, affecting diverse publics •Risk social science: - a well developed lens taking on different guises (see e.g. Royal Society Report, 1992, Henwood and Pidgeon UK Government Foresight Report “Risk and Identity Futures”, 2013) •Methodological issues are at heart of social science projects taking the form of empirical and analytical experiments
  3. 3. Energy Experiments – what are they are what are they good for? • Real world energy projects/interventions/social experiments as ways of putting into practice socio-technical transitions • But also something epistemically divergent about them “as alternative forms of engagement” “We are in an unavoidably experimental state. Yet this is usually deleted from public view and public negotiation. If citizens are routinely being enrolled without negotiation as experimental subjects, in experiments which are not called by name, then some serious ethical and social issues would have to be addressed” (see e.g. van de Poel, 2015 – reporting on EU expert group on science and governance)
  4. 4. Background : experimental ways of working through methodological innovation • Deliberative methods & stakeholder engagement & extensive empirical work on responsible development/innovation (see e.g. Pidgeon et al, 2016) [NB For theoretical discussions of social & ethical issues appear see Owen and Macnaghten, 2013] • Developing interest in “morally responsible” innovation (Groves, 2015) & experimentation (ie “sit together with stakeholders and see whether it is acceptable to continue the experiment” (van de Poel, 2015) • Researching riskful social practices and assemblages (see editorial, 2016, in QRJ 16 (1) • Also collaborative links outside STS: Carbon Conversations workshops enabling people to change by dealing with challenges in non-threatening ways
  5. 5. Energy Biographies (ESRC/EPSRC 2011-15) • 4 year empirical study of the dynamics of everyday energy use for demand reduction • Key assumptions – current levels of energy use are unsustainable – it is far from obvious how to respond to this individually or collectively – hence a twin approach is needed - focussed on understanding both why change is difficult and opening up spaces for reflection offering possible opportunities for change • Innovative study design to harness cross disciplinary insights and develop understanding; so intensive methodological and analytical work • Identifying the specific behaviours and/or practices that need to change to reduce energy consumption is NOT our focus. • Rather new/interesting kinds of data - offering analytic potential • “Bespoke” approach to data analysis using data and theory to promote exploration and generate insights
  6. 6. Energy Biographies as a Qualitative Longitudinal Study (QLL) : why temporality and biography? • QLL approaches explore change through time and accumulate qualitative data that provides depth and detail • Explores impact of past experiences and anticipated futures in enabling & constraining people’s present routines and habits • Individual biographical accounts can shed light on broader patterns of social change
  7. 7. Case Sites Cardiff Case sites: Ely and Caerau Peterston-Super-Ely Lammas Ecovillage Niche case site Royal Free Hospital Workplace case site
  8. 8. Interview 1 Themes: community and context, daily routine, life transitions Activity 1 Participant-generated photos Interview 2 Themes: changes since interview 1, discussion of pictures generated in activity 1, follow up on emergent themes from interview 1 Activity 2 Text-prompted photos Interview 3 Themes: changes since interview 2, discussion of pictures generated in activity 2 discussion of video clips provided by researcher Energy Biographies: Structure of empirical work More information on each stage available at http://energybiographies.org/our-project/project-design/
  9. 9. EB’s data–enhancing reflections on everyday energy use (practices) “Right more gadgets. TV, PVR, video player, digi-box, daughter using laptop whilst watching television. Yeah just the penetration of electronics into our lives which kind of we all know but when you actually put the spotlight on and take some photographs it just brings the impact up. (Jeremy, 62, Cardiff)
  10. 10. EB’s data –everyday reflections on infrastructure “it gives this sense that you’re in an open space so its airy, its well lit and you can see outside, it feels bigger so I think this is great. And it saves them a lot of energy consumption as well because they, I noticed that they do have artificial lights but they’d need to use a lot more if instead of glass panels they had brick walls. But on the other side I don’t know how they keep the insulation with the glass, I don’t know how good all these windows are for insulation so it might be that they’re saving on one side but spending a lot on the other side. (Suzanna, 34,
  11. 11. EB’s data – practices and identities “… we do love our patio heater when it’s a sunny evening but it gets a bit cold and dark and you can sit out and they’re like probably the worst things aren’t they? But we love it well we only use it about five times a year so it’s OK.” “Cos we love being outside, we just love that you can you know go, we were sitting out there one evening … it was like midnight and you could have a drink outside still and it’s so lovely here cos it’s so quiet and everything so but you wouldn’t have been able to do it without that so or you would have been freezing. So that’s our kind of, we know it’s really bad but we’re still going to use it.” “Heating the Outdoors” (Lucy, Peterson- Super-Ely)
  12. 12. EB’s data: – Driving Souped Up Old Cars (Ronald, Peterson) •I would have no wish to rally in a modern in a modern car, whichever engine it was propelled by, no wish at all. It would be quite good fun to drive balls out in the most recent Mini, just to see what it was like through a forest, I would enjoy that yes please! … but that would be a novelty; it wouldn't be what turns me on. What turns me on is a piece of old kit that you've put together and you've developed and, you know, the cars I have are not just reconstructed but I've developed them as you would have developed them from original. They are not an original but they do stuff that they couldn't do when they were first built. ... That's the appeal for me; you've done this, you've put it together, you and your chum, its adventure, more than motorsport in a sense … the adventure bit is every much as important as the mechanical bit but both are important…. so I wouldn't want to do that in a battery-powered car or a hydrogen car or a modern car, wouldn't want to do it and it wouldn't turn me on
  13. 13. Analytic Narrative • Driving, central to identity, centring on cars as specific material objects • Car-care an activity of comradeship, autonomy connected with risk experience • Oil depleted/imagined future unable to support shared meanings of adventure – an internal reward of participation in risk practice • Imaginatively, loss of attachment through leisure driving is anticipated for multiple generations
  14. 14. How did methodological strategies work? • Multiple affordances of social sciences data • Elucidating the lived everydayness & lifecourse dynamics of change • Visual methods –make discussable core concerns about what matters to people • Elicits psychosocial issues via focal attentiveness and creation of spaces for reflection
  15. 15. Published analyses • Biographical patterning of investments in practices • Prior embodied perceptions of environmental values: I’m not a tree hugger, I’m just like you • Identity challenges & narratives of transitions (disavowal, silencing & acknowledgement) • Texturing waste • Intergenerational dynamics holding together practices & identities; historically embedded, major step changes in energy infrastructure • Environmental Values, 2016 • Environmental Politics, 2015 • Science, Technology & Human Values, 2015 • Environmental Values, in press • Family, Relationships & Society, in press
  16. 16. Energy Biographies – Overarching Insights • Energy often intangible and invisible in everyday life – but brought into view here through methodological innovation • Focus and attention was re-directed at issues generally not regarded as important in contemporary studies of energy demand (psychosocial investments and identities) ▫ Changes in energy use can create concerns about everyday dependences on energy and about not being able to live a worthwhile life (LAWL) ▫ LAWL means keeping alive valued identities, desires and relationships with others ▫ Identities are shaped by emotional investments in devices, everyday practices and also by entanglements with wider infrastructure • But studying the ‘emotional labour of meaning making’ still in its infancy?
  17. 17. To read end of award report: • http://energybiographies.org/newsblog/energy-biog
  18. 18. FLEXIS - Whole Energy System Transformation
  19. 19. From Energy Biographies to FLEXIS Further programme of empirical work with aims to: •Generate understanding of the complex implications of proposed FLEXIS technological developments for everyday lives of diverse communities and publics •Enable policy-shaping in ways responsive to community and societal concerns, aspirations and desires •Develop a responsible research and innovation (RRI) framework for future energy systems
  20. 20. Flexis: A methological experiment in “recursive surprise” • Hope and anxiety envelopes: an energy experiment in producing imaginaries data across professional & identity domains • Kinship between eb’s photo-elicitation for reflecting on practice & surprise experiment in interviews • Subject positioning – enabling multiple, different sources of associations; creating tangibility & mediating encounters; eliciting personal inscriptions, traces of cultural memories, making absences present
  21. 21. Mapping our methodological space… • Interviews & images in qualitative research • Not emotive texts and circuits & how they travel or ethnographic performance • But people & their role in sense-making in sets of relations • And affective investments in subject positions • Cf a flat ontology of practice
  22. 22. Back to energy experiments… • Everyday energy use as “more than human entanglements” • Yes and no • Devices, artifacts & infrastructure are part of everyday assemblages BUT • Psychosocial matters also implicated in dynamics of use & change
  23. 23. Our Publications and Presentations • Henwood, K. Groves, C. and Shirani, F. (in press) Relationality, entanglement and psychosocial exploration of intergenerational dynamics in sustainable energy studies, Family Relationships and Society • Thomas, G., Groves, C., Henwood, K., and Pidgeon, N. (in press) Texturing waste: Attachment and identity in everyday consumption and waste practices”, Environmental Values • Groves, C., Henwood, K.L., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Parkhill, K.A., and Pidgeon, N. (2016). "The grit in the oyster: questioning socio-technical imaginaries through biographical narratives of engagement with energy." Journal of Responsible Innovation, DOI: 10.1080/23299460.2016.1178897 • Groves, C., Henwood, K.L., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Parkhill, K.A., and Pidgeon, N. (2016) Invested in unsustainability? On the psychosocial patterning of engagement in practices.’ Environmental Values 25(3): 309-328. • Groves, C., Henwood, K.L., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Parkhill, K.A., and Pidgeon, N. (2015) Energy biographies: narrative genres, lifecourse transitions and practice change, Science, Technology and Human Values, DOI: 10.1177/0162243915609116. • Shirani, F., Parkhill, K., Butler, C., Groves, C., Henwood, K., Pidgeon, N. (2015) Asking about the future: methodological insights from energy biographies." International Journal of Social Research Methodology, DOI: 10.1080/13645579.2015.1029208 • Recent presentations ▫ ‘Energy, Biographies and Demand Reduction’, Hubnet Smart Grid Symposium 2015: The Future of Network Infrastructure, September 19th 2015 ▫ ‘How Energy Matters’, St Andrews Energy and Ethics conference, 17-18 March 2016 ▫ ‘Energy biographies, psychosocial research and sustainable living’, British Sociological Association Annual Conference, Aston University, Birmingham, April 6-8th 2016 ▫ ‘The grit in the oyster: questioning socio-technical imaginaries’, DEMAND Centre Conference, Lancaster University, 13-15 April 2016 ▫ “Interpretive risk research”, Society for Risk Analysis Europe, Bath 20-22 June 2016
  24. 24. Citations •Dicks, B., Henwood, K. and Housley, W. (2016) Editorial, QRJ, 16 (1), 3-8 •Van de Poel (2015) “New Technologies and social experiments: Conditions for morally responsible experimentation”, Power point slides, TUDelft •Henwood, k. and Pidgeon, N. (2013) Risk and Identity Futures. Commissioned UK Government Report, Foresight Future of Identities Project: DR18 http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/foresight/docs/identity/13-519-identity-and-change-through-a% •Pidgeon, N. et al (2016) “Creating a national citizen engagement process for energy policy” PNAS, 1317512111 •Groves, C. (2015) “The bomb in my backyard, the serpent in my house: Environmental justice, Risk and the colonisation of attachment” Environmental Politics, 24 (6). •http://www.carbonconversations.org/
  25. 25. henwoodk@cardiff.ac.uk Energybiographies.org Other team Members: Professor Nick Pidgeon, Dr Chris Groves & Dr Fiona Shirani (Cardiff)

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