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“Some people are really poor and some of them are lazy”: the role of (mis)recognition in the experience and reproduction of energy poverty


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Presentation by Neil Simcock at 2017 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, in the session 'Governance, energy and injustice'

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“Some people are really poor and some of them are lazy”: the role of (mis)recognition in the experience and reproduction of energy poverty

  1. 1. “Some people are really poor and some of them are lazy”: the role of (mis)recognition in the experience and reproduction of energy poverty Neil Simcock University of Manchester With thanks to Jan Frankowski, Sergio Tirado Herrero, Stefan Bouzarovski, Saska Petrova, Harriet Thomson
  2. 2. Misrecognition: Lack of due respect for persons’ identities, circumstances and dignity in socio-cultural systems of meaning and value
  3. 3. Misrecognition as a form of injustice – Psychological and emotional harm “The integrity of human subjects … depends on their receiving of approval or respect from others”1 – Impairment of participation in society Misrecognition as “the foundation of distributive injustice”2 1 Honneth, A (1992) Integrity and disrespect: Principles of morality based on the theory of recognition. Political Theory, 2(2), p.188 2 Schlosberg, D (2007) Defining Environmental Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.14
  4. 4. Mechanisms of misrecognition Rooted in language and images; everyday interactions; state policies, definitions and categorisations 3 Fraser, N (1995) From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a 'Post-Socialist' Age. New Left Review, 212, p.71. Image: Bunnyfrosch / CC-BY-SA-3.0; Non-recognition: “being rendered invisible”3 Disrespect: “being routinely maligned or disparaged in stereotypic public cultural representations and/or in everyday life interactions”3
  5. 5. Aims and Method Aim: to understand the role of misrecognition in the production and experience of energy poverty • How are energy poor households represented and valued in the policy arena and wider society? Poland case study: • 30 ‘elite’ interviews with decision-makers & experts • Repeat interviews with 25 households in Gdansk, Poland
  6. 6. Energy poverty: an ‘invisible’ problem among policy actors In my view, energy poverty is a matter for social policy rather than energy policy Official in Polish Ministry of Economy [Energy poverty] is only considered a real problem in the medium to long term Expert at Institute for Structural Research [Political parties] don’t understand … They like direct solutions and do not apply complex solutions Representative at Polish Climate Coalition
  7. 7. Disrespect: the political stigmatisation of (energy) poverty in Poland Economic transformation to capitalism has proceeded along neoliberal lines4 Stigmatisation as a tool of neoliberal governance:5 • Poverty as an individual failing; ‘deserving’ v. ‘undeserving’ Direct impact on energy poverty amelioration policies: • Stringent means-testing of ‘energy benefits’ • Measures to “avoid cheating” by households 4 Stenning, A., Smith, A., Rochovská, A., Świątek, D., 2010. Domesticating Neo-Liberalism: Spaces of Economic Practice and Social Reproduction in Post-Socialist Cities. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester. 5 Tyler, I. (2013) Revolting Subjects. Zed Books
  8. 8. Household discourses of misrecognition Non-recognition • Energy poverty not a term that resonated • Limited understanding of causes of energy bill struggles Disrespect • Stigmatisation of the ‘undeserving’ poor – and thus of energy poverty • Stigmatisation of welfare There are people who do not pay [their energy bills], but because of laziness, omission GD019, Single female, early 40s, 2 children People are ashamed [of welfare], because it somehow proves helplessness GD009, Male, early 60s
  9. 9. Household responses to misrecognition • No ‘self-recognition’ of hardship • Avoidance of welfare • Shame • Legitimisation of inequality and austerity I don’t apply [for welfare benefits] … I prefer not to have than to ask for help GD019, Single female , mid-50s I feel like a pauper Why should the government support those who have trouble paying bills? GD016, Male, ~40 GD020, Single male, early-30s
  10. 10. Concluding thoughts (1) • The energy poor face a double misrecognition in Poland – Non-recognition: their situation is largely invisible in policy and wider society – Disrespect: stigmatised as lazy and wasteful If local governments do not recognize [energy poverty], ‘regular people’ do not recognize [it] as a separate problem – they see it as ‘general poverty’ Representative at the Institute of Public Affairs • The way policy-makers talk and act has impacted on public awareness, attitudes and discourses
  11. 11. Distributional injustice Misrecognition Energy poverty a target of misrecognition • Non-recognition means policies are simplistic and poorly targeted • Disrespect legitimises inequality & reduces household inclination seek support Unequal attainment of energy services Non-recognition & disrespect of energy poor Concluding thoughts (2)
  12. 12. Thank you for listening @neilnds @curemanchester