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Making energy futures sensible: expert imaginaries and affect


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It is increasingly recognised that, when it comes to energy system transitions, ‘energy policy choices reconfigure societies’ which means that ‘the social-dimensions of energy systems are particularly salient for energy policy choices in the context of large-scale energy transitions’ (Miller, Richter, and O’Leary 2015, 30). Social science has already contributed significantly to understanding how social and technological dynamics have been entangled within past transitions, both through studies of multi-level system change (Geels and Schot 2007) and through longitudinal studies of transformations in energy using practices (Shove 2003). However, the ways in which anticipations of energy futures influence and flow into action in the present is relatively under-investigated by comparison. Work on the sociology of expectations (Borup et al. 2006) has shown how the circulation of images and metaphors through shared future imaginaries shapes action in the present. But anticipation is more than representation, as others have argued (Groves 2016; Alvial-Palavicino 2015), with material aspects of anticipation (practices, affects, emotions, infrastructures) all also being ways of implicitly pre-hending (Michael 2000) futures. The future as such is never therefore simply open, but always latent, virtual – and lived by subjects as a dimension of experience in the present. Energy systems and the dependencies they create shape and influence how the future is anticipated, not only through imaginaries, but also through attachments, routines, habits and disruptive encounters. At the same time, individual and collective sense-making, with its complex temporalities that link pasts, presents and futures may also hold open the possibility of different futures. This panel explores a variety of the ways in which the futures of energy become sensible within sense-making, offering examples of methodological approaches to investigating the lived futures of energy, their connections with inherited pasts and emergent presents, and how to understand the ways in which they contribute to material anticipations of the future.

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Making energy futures sensible: expert imaginaries and affect

  2. 2. “our orientations to the future matter a great deal for how we inhabit the present” Lyon & Carabelli (2015) • How do we create reflexivity towards settled future imaginaries? • Focus on aesthetic reflexivity (Lasch & Urry, 1994)
  3. 3. THE FLEXIS PROJECT FLEXIS WORK PACKAGES WP0 Delivery (Management) WP1 Integrated Energy Supply Systems (Prof N Jenkins) WP2 Flexible Power Plant (Prof P Bowen) WP3 Energy Storage to Power (Prof P Bowen) WP4 CCS-Integrated Power and Alternative Fuels (Prof P Bowen) WP5 Hydrogen Energy Storage (Prof A Guwy) WP6 Sustainable Production and Purification of Hydrogen, Syngas, BioH2 and BioCH4 (Prof A Guwy) WP7 Hydrogen and Syngas: Efficient Use (Prof A Guwy) WP8 Research Development, Engagement and Impact (Management) WP9 Smart Thermal Energy Grid (Prof HR Thomas) WP10 Unconventional Gas (Prof HR Thomas) WP11 Carbon Sequestration in Coal and Soil (Prof HR Thomas) WP12 Geoinformatics and Environmental Monitoring (Prof HR Thomas) WP13 Mitigation of the Environmental Impact of Shale Gas Recovery (Prof A Barron) WP14 Carbon Capture and Utilisation (Prof A Barron) WP15 Energy Vectoring through Hydrogen (Prof A Barron) WP16 Environmentally-Friendly Electrical Power Plant and Insulation (Prof M Haddad) WP17 Social Acceptability and Responsible Development of Energy Systems (Prof N Pidgeon) WP18 Smart Energy Management (Dr P Igic)
  4. 4. FLEXIS SOCIAL SCIENCE • Developing a Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) framework for energy systems transitions • What expectations/anticipations do experts share about the possible futures of energy transition? Workstream 1 • How do people in communities hosting demonstration projects use energy now? How do energy services and infrastructures contribute to ‘lives worth living’? What expectations/ anticipations do they have about local/national/global energy futures? Workstream 2 • How can a variety of inclusive and anticipatory modes of reflexivity be created within the research process? (Chilvers & Kearnes 2016) Workstream 3
  5. 5. PRESENT t=0 t=n POSSIBILITY SPACE ISSUE SPACE FUTURE IMAGINARIES: POSSIBILITY SPACES & ISSUE SPACES • STS work on future imaginaries – focus on expectations (Brown & Webster, 2000) and styles of anticipation (e.g. Anderson, 2010) • Studies how shared expert future imaginaries construct the future by defining • what might happen (possibility space) • what values matter (issue space) • Expert imaginaries draw on disembedded technologies/expertise (forecasts, RCBA, scenarios) to make an intangible future more tangible • Shaped by implicit assumptions about other actors, drivers of socio-technical change, etc. • Risk of reification of futures/exclusion of other interpretations of problems/issues
  6. 6. THE PARTIALITY OF EXPERT FUTURE IMAGINARIES: THE ENERGY TRILEMMA Sustainability (Decarbonisation) Cost Security “[…] the supply side has hi- jacked the ‘energy trilemma’ we use to summarise the energy policy debate. The three issues of affordability, security of supply and sustainability are a useful framework for a policy discussion but it's invariably a supply side discussion with occasional lip service to the demand side.” Marchant 2016
  7. 7. ANALYTIC CONCEPT: LIVED FUTURES “Lived future: The way humans and other living entities experience their world as something in the process of being made, anticipate its changing form and participate in its production. Organisms adjust and adapt to the potentials present within their environments while humans further involve themselves emotionally, imaginatively and cognitively with the near and distant future, thus extending themselves through care from present futures into future presents.” Adam and Groves, 2007 “the future is not (only or so much) a distinct and/or far off temporality, separate to the present (and past), but is (also) experienced and felt ‘in’ and as the present” Coleman, 2017 Can different modalities of anticipating futures help question the assumptions that shape issue spaces and possibility spaces?
  8. 8. METHODOLOGICAL CONCEPT: OBLIQUITY • Interviews or ethnographic work well established as way of mapping shared expert imaginaries • but what about affective dimensions? • concern for futures as direct focus - hard to talk about (Shirani et al. 2016) • Alternative: staging oblique encounters with the lived future • Inspirations: cultural probes (Gaver, Dunne, and Pacent, 1999), aesthetic reflexivity (Lasch and Urry, 1994) • A role for affectively-laden ‘things to think with’
  9. 9. WORKSTREAM 1 EXPERT INTERVIEWS/POSTCARD TASK • October 2016-March 2017: 20 expert interviews with Flexis engineering team, policy actors, SME delivery partners • Postcards & envelopes sent 7-10 days before interview • Task: fill out up to 3 each of ‘hope’ and ‘anxiety’ postcards and seal inside envelope • Use later to ‘interrupt’ interviews, exploiting the ‘souvenir’ (Gordon 1986) quality of the sealed postcards
  10. 10. EXPERT 2 (LOCAL GOVT) I: Energy security. Energy security is what really affecting people. Prices are like, oh god you know, petrol’s gone through the roof. Yeah, you know, lower middle-class people who work in the public sector [chuckles] that sort of thing, that’s what sort of freaks them is energy security actually. […] I: [reading] I was in a corner shop recently and a lady came in wearing pyjamas complaining about her meter to the shop assistant. She was in arrears on a prepayment meter, so couldn’t have a bath. The last time she had a bath she estimated it cost her £7. She needed to buy £5 of energy to keep the lights on. She was considering if it was cheaper to go to the swimming pool to get the family clean. I felt very sad and quite distressed that families live like this, and have to consider choices to be clean or not. […] I just thought, oh my god you know, obviously just, it just made me feel sick, I just, I didn’t like that. Didn’t like that at all. […] this woman lives 20, 30 yards radius of me, and I’m living, you know, I’m not that secure am I? I could lose my job and I could be potentially this poor. I don’t suppose I would be, ‘cause my family, you know, my son’s got a job. My daughter’s gonna get a job. I’ve got people who probably wouldn’t allow me to live like that. Family suppose, but oh god that’s awful [inhale]
  11. 11. EXPERT 2 (LOCAL GOVT) R: OK, so third one? I: Yeah, I suppose, this is also personal [reading] my daughter’s had two interviews for jobs recently but hasn’t been offered one. It’s upsetting for her as the post, she’s a graduate mining engineer, has gone to one of her peers. Someone she knows on the course so it’s worse. It’s more stark, you know? So she’s taken both rejections quite hard but is bottling up her feelings. There, another sad thing. […] I think as my family’ll all move for work, […]. So I think I’ll say to them, look at the energy security, you know. […] Yeah, so for me it’ll be consideration more than, as my children buy houses and move places, that all these things need to play out. I think, my son works in computer science, so he’s into all sorts of new technologies as well, so a bit, not like huge, but certainly energy security’s… and people say things like Glasgow. Before I used to think, bloody hell of a place, I don’t like it, I’ve been there twice and I don’t like it, damn. But now I think, ooh they’re doing some interesting energy, so it does impact on what I feel about places. […] it’s really, it’s really, hit home for me more than any other nonsense about carbon and the flipping o-zones layer and other stuff that’s been bombarding me over the years,
  12. 12. IMPLICATIONS FOR FURTHER WORK • Recap: interviews have used affectively-laden objects worked on by participants as means of encountering lived futures • Inspired by cultural probes: oblique use of ‘things to think with’ • Possible stimulus for aesthetic reflexivity towards the energy transition issue space • example: ideas about energy security • Expert 2’s responses viscerally bring affordability and security of supply together • Open up questions about the ‘supply-side’ bias of the energy trilemma • How else can cultural probes be developed to stage reflexivity?
  13. 13. THANKS FOR LISTENING More on aspects of this approach: Groves et al 2016, ‘The Grit in the Oyster: using energy biographies to question socio-technical imaginaries of “smartness”’, Journal of Responsible Innovation HTTPS://CARDIFF.ACADEMIA.EDU/CHRISTOPHERGROVES GROVESC1@CF.AC.UK TWITTER: @ROCHENKO