So what I’m going to do on behalf of the project for today’s talk is introduce the Energy Biographies project, the point of which is in part captured in the second part of my title today – exploring energy demand reduction through a biographical lens - and then I’m going to talk through how the project aims to open up and explore some of these big themes that are introduced in my main title – social change, climate change and social reproduction – and I’m going to do that by talking through just a little bit of our data - so this will be relatively tentative because as you’ll see we are still in our first data collection phase and have not really embarked on analysis just yet…so what I’m gong to present will really be just to give an indication of how our analysis as it begins to unfold could take forward some the objectives of the project…
So the Energy Biographies project has the aims outlined here at its core – so we’re aiming to develop understanding of how we use energy in order to think through how reductions in energy consumption might be supported – rather than focussing on one particular space, such as the home, our aim is to trace energy practices across the everyday spaces of home, transport, recreation, work and so forth to understand the challenges in and opportunities for transitioning toward lower energy intensive ways of living – So to gain access to this dynamism inherent in our lives – this movement across different linked spaces but also across time we are pursuing the topic of energy demand through a biographical approach –So this is rooted in a set of theoretical ideas which I’ll come to shortly and involves a biographical methodology that we’re taking forward across three distinct case sites
The case sites were selected along what we see as a continuum running from the niche to the mainstream- As you can see our case sites are located across the Uk- Tir Y Gafel which is a low impact development is in Pembrokeshire in rural Wales (niche), Moving more toward the mainstream – we have Cardiff city where are working with communities in two different areas- Ely Caerau (Kairah) which is an inner city socio-economically disadvantaged area, and Peterston which is an affluent commuter village on the outskirts of Cardiff – though this is obviously more mainstream both areas have different community schemes in place – mostly centred around solar PV but also involving other interventions related to energy. And finally moving further again toward the mainstream - we have one case site where we are sampling from a workplace because we are interested, as I’ve said, to trace energy practices across different spaces – which is the royal free hospital which is in London.
Ok – so though the case sites are all very different we are undertaking the same design in terms of research across them- so we have already undertaken initial scoping work and interviews – And we are taking forward the biographical data collection through an initial phase of biographical narrative interviews- which involve our participants in talk about their communities, their routines and their life course- with a diverse sample across each of our case sites – Then we’ll be conducting longitudinal work with a subset of participants from the first sample over approximately a year – for those selected this will involve a further two interviews along with multi-modal methods – for example we are providing participants with camera phones which we will ask them to use to take pictures when we text them of what they are doing at that moment in time, this will allow us to build up a picture of different people daily routines across the sample. There are a number of other tasks we’re using all designed to generate reflection on energy usage as part of daily life and through the life course…. So at present we’re about half way through this first phase- phase a- of biographical interviews- having completed first round biographical interviews across two of our case sites- TirYGafel and Cardiff. So those are the methods we’re using… In terms of theory- we are seeking to bring together ideas from across three key areas of thought with the sociology….
So we are taking up three interrelated theoretical strands to as a basis for the ‘energy biographies theoretical framework’ that we’ve been developing – practice theory which orients us toward a particular understanding of social action and entails a recognition that acts often thought of as deeply personal (for example, raising children) are relationally, culturally and socially rooted. Biographical and lifecourse research which takes up this idea about connections between the personal and social but roots in the realities and strategies of everyday life, and particular ideas about temporality about space. – Given time constraints today I’m not going to go into anymore detail but just to say that these theoretical ideas in combination orient us toward an approach that puts lived lives at the centre of our analysis rather than energy usage per se – for today’s purposes I just want to draw out in a bit more detail just one aspect of these ideas that are underpinning our work- that’s this bullet here about social change and continuity as social reproduction…
So the concept of social reproduction leads us to see change – either as a form of continuity involving the gradual development of socially reproduced ways of doing OR as a form of more eruptive social change that arises out of challenges that form in relation to socially reproduced ways of doing. Though I’ve focused on drawing out the concept of social reproduction for the purposes of today hopefully you can see how the other theoretical concepts that are informing the project are very much live in this small piece analysis – so temporal theory- theories of space and, of course, concepts from biographical and life course research. As we’re only part way through our first round interviews we haven’t yet begun our analysis proper (although we’ve obviously been reflecting as we go along) for the purposes of today I’m going to use examples from just one of our first round biographical interviews - an interview with Mary who was a participant in the more affluent commuter area in Cardiff- to just give a flavour of the ways that our theory and data can be bought together to provide a basis for answering the questions we are posing ourselves in our research So in what follows – I’m going to talk through Mary’s narrative to open up insight into how biographical accounts can tell us something about the social and about wider processes of social change that are important in the formation of energy demand…
I’m going to start by focusing on what Mary’s narrative can tell us about mobilities and about processes of continuity – so this kind of gradual development of socially reproduced ways of doing - which in terms of energy using practices at the moment are developing in ways that serve to increase energy consumption- So as we know mobilities are not just about modes of travel but are tied to decisions we take about where we live – where we work, where our families are located and so forth – mobilities are about where we want to get to and from and what possibilities are available and desirable for making those journeys. [CLICK] So these first extracts give insight into the account Mary gave of how she and her husband first decided to live the area in which she now lives – I use “then” to signify that this was in the past before moving forward to talk about how this past decision has fed into her subsequent mobilities. Their initial move was a move for work – they decided to job move and this meant a relocation in terms of where they lived- but their decision about where to live in terms of the specific area hinged on factors other than convenience for work – their decision not to live in the city at the time meant they would commute to their work in the city every day by car – their was in contrast to living in the city within walking distance and a short train journey from their respective work places. The bigger factor in their decision about where to live however was that in their past they had grown up and lived rural areas and this played a major role in the decision to live somewhere rural again when they moved. So though this process of moving might seem very personal but I want to point to the ways in which it is bound up with the changing nature of employment – how wider sets of socio-political changes in labour markets- away from notions of a job for life and toward ideas of ‘flexible’ workers and “moving on” to “move up” - have played a significant role in the creation and reproduction of Mary’s mobilities. So the movement depicted through Mary’s biographical account can be seen not only as a consequence of personal biographical circumstance but as forming an integral part of contemporary labour markets and the emergence of expectations for workers to be mobile.
So we’ve seen how the movement described in Mary’s account of their past moves gives insight into wider labour markets as a major set of practices that contribute to the social reproduction of particular mobilities but Mary’s past movements also flow into the “now” and “next”– [CLICK] So these extracts are Mary’s account of her current mobilities. Since the time depicted in the previous extracts her husband has died and she has retired. In this first extract Mary talks about close relatives that live in geographically distant and dispersed locations which is testament to the earlier life mobilities of her and her husband and the new relationships she forged (with her mother-in-law) through her husband. She also takes 130 mile round trip about four or five times a week to see her horse which she keeps in special facility due to a period of illness when she couldn’t care for him and where she now has friends and firm connections. The connections to relatives make travel in some sense an inevitability as she has relationships to be sustained in very different parts of the UK (Essex being in the South of England and Durham being in North)- but as we can see from the second extract Mary also has strong connections with the place and the home in which she lives even though it is a house she feels is too large for her… John Urry talks about the growing imperatives to sustain everyday lives that are lived ‘at a distance’ - through Mary’s narrative we can see these imperatives and how they manifest through interwoven personal and socio-political developments – We can see how practice is contingent upon and produced within and through these historical personal and social processes that then provide the conditions of possibility for future continuities and changes. Mary has connections to the area and her community but also to her home – meaning she would find it difficult to change her present mobilities or to change living in a smaller house – this is despite the environmental concern to which she refers and that she no longer needs to be in the area for work. So through these extracts I’ve tried to just give an indication of how we can see through biographical accounts that particular forms of practice which rely on energy usage get made up in and through our lives and that to change these things we are talking about making change to lives that are bound up with and reproduced in and through wider historical and social processes - in this case I’ve drawn out processes of labour market change
This kind of analysis leads us to think about challenges to travel practices beyond addressing modes of travel themselves - it directs our attention toward thinking about the roles of the businesses, organisations and institutions in which we work in contributing to the constitution of long term continuities toward increased mobilities and more lives lived ‘at a distance’ – We can think of the ways movement is encouraged and incentivised through work (e.g. some funding schemes explicitly favour movement, easier to get promotion through moving job than within same company) and we can consider finding ways of, at the very least, not de-incentivising staying put because every time we move we create new connections and new mobilties, and we generate new expectations around what is a ‘normal’ distance to travel (for work, to visit family and so on). This is not to say we remove the option to move but that we also aim to provide opportunities for staying. We could see the development of these opportunities and approaches within work places as forms of challenging to the existing patterns of continuity toward increased mobilities both in terms of distance of journeys and their frequency.
Ok - So that was to give an example of how we can use biographical accounts to think about how routines and patterns of energy usage in relation to mobilities get made up, reproduced and maintained, giving insight into change as social continuity and into how we might imagine differently forms of challenging… I want to move now to talk about social change and transitions in the context of the home space and conventions and habits of energy usage around the home to open up thinking around how we can see challenges to existing ways of doing already developing in this domain. [CLICK] So staying with the same participant- Mary installed solar panels in her home – this can be seen as one part of a fairly significant challenge to existing systems of centralised energy production and provisioning that distances the person using energy from its production- as Elizabeth Shove amongst others has highlighted, energy, and particularly electricity, is invisible in that it enters our homes through hidden wired networks and is consumed as part of inconspicuous routines and habits making it difficult to connect practice with the energy consumption involved. This invisibility and disconnection (excuse the pun) is built into our existing centralised systems of provision that require ever less engagement with where the energy to support the services we use comes from. Installing solar PV can thus be seen as entailing a challenge to these centralised systems of provisioning as well as to reliance on hydrocarbon dependent technologies- [CLICK] This form of challenging is again connected to wider historical, social and socio-political processes at different scales - from the first quote here we can see the significance of the national policy level at play - this personal change to a home was supported by the UK feed-in tariff which offered a financial return on the investment- it is also clearly connected to the global markets of solar PV production and development, as well as to the wider patterns of economic turbulence that have resulted in a low rate of return within other investment areas. In the second quote we can see (at the more local level) the importance of collectives, familiarity and forms of ‘community’ support that can provide a sense of security in enacting change – All these elements become visible through Mary’s narrative and we see how they combine to form the pieces of the wider social puzzle that bring forms of challenging like this into being – In a more general sense then we can perhaps suggest that the development of forms of challenging and change requires support through policies which offer opportunities for implementation at community level, amongst collectives and suggest that targeting schemes at neighbourhood or community (not necessarily geographical community) level rather than individual level is likely to be more successful than approaches that have greater potential to leave people feeling isolated in the challenges and changes they are adopting.
Ok so moving on to the now and next – [CLICK] Since installing the solar PV Mary has made changes to how she uses energy. Though she does not necessarily do things less often she is more aware of her energy usage and the panels have served to instigate a kind of informal, active demand management… Solar PV, then, not only entails a challenge to centralised systems of provision but it creates the imperatives for a greater awareness of electricity usage. This narrative acts then to highlight the interaction between technology, types of energy systems (e.g. decentralised, centralised) or forms of energy provisioning, and our habits and routines with regard to energy use in the home – we can see how wider systems of provision have implications for and shape our daily routines and practices, and how changing and challenging these systems and the technologies involved can have effects in terms of changing and challenging forms of practice. The installation of solar PV by Mary also again takes us forward into futures, to the realm of “next” – as though you can make a return within (a contested) relatively short time period with the FiT for solar PV, it has a 25 year life span – installing solar PV thus involves extension into the future and in some senses into the long term future. The installation of solar PV has then been connected to Mary’s attachment to her current dwelling and her sense that she would be staying there for the foreseeable future- giving insight to a further important piece of this puzzle. So in working for change we need to be alert to the kinds of complex interconnections I’ve tried to illustrate today through extracts from this one biographical account-
So through my talk today I’ve tried to open up some insight into how the energy biography’s approach can help us to: 1) Better understand the formation of energy and what it is that we are seeking to change- so in the example today I tried to point to the importance of viewing mobility practices as embedded in the wider social and personal interconnected histories through which they manifest- without an understanding of which we might miss the whole picture and limit our understanding of both the problem we are faced with and therefore what the solutions might be 2) It can help us to get insights into “interventions” in energy demand BUT we take this analysis forward in ways that recognise that lives are always already subject to interventions – be it through the pressures to fit in to the new flexible labour market and be successful labour market actors, through the development of road infrastructure above other forms of travel infrastructure or through the creation of centralised energy systems that minimise awareness and active engagement with energy provisioning and usage. And 3) it can give a route to understanding the connections between wider social policies and processes, the communities and connections we have, and the instigation of challenges that can help in changing practices in ways that move us toward reductions in energy consumption – so in the example today I pointed to the interlinking roles of policy, wider social processes, community support and a sense of collective action, as important in developing the kinds of challenges to move us toward energy system transition. I haven’t had time to illustrate all of these aspects fully today but hopefully I’ve been able to give a broad sense of the project and the kinds of work we’ll be taking forward over the next few years And if you’re interested to find about more about the project we have a website you can visit– energybiographies.org [CLICK]
Social Change, Climate Change and Social Reproduction, Dr Catherine Butler, Cardiff University, UK
Social Change, Climate Change and Social Reproduction: Exploring energy demand reduction through a biographical lens Dr Catherine Butler Cardiff University, UK Prof. Karen Henwood Dr Karen Parkhill Dr Fiona Shirani Prof. Nick Pidgeon
Energy Biographies ResearchObjectives1. Develop understanding of energy use by investigating and comparing peoples different ‘energy biographies’ across a range of social settings 2. Examine how existing demand reduction interventions interact with peoples personal biographies and histories. 3. Develop improved understanding of how different community types can support reductions in energy consumption …We will also be exploring the usefulness of innovative (narrative, longitudinal and visual) research methods for helping people reflect on the ways they use energy
Case Site LocationsPeterston and ElyCaerau, Cardiff Royal Free Hospital, LondonTir Y Gafel Eco-village,Pembrokeshire
Social Reproduction and SocialChangeSocial reproduction as way of thinking about change (Bourdieu 1998) Social continuity through the gradual development of socially reproduced ways of doing (e.g. development of idea of cleanliness and change from bathing weekly to showering daily). Social change occurs in challenges that form in relation to socially reproduced ways of doing (e.g. breaking down of the idea of staying married, separation and divorce)
Social Reproduction and Continuity Making-up Mobilities – “Then”… “We had previously lived in the Midlands…and had decided that we were both ready to job move and Roger was head-hunted… Well we needed to be close enough to Roger’s place of work and I got a job…” “…I would have liked to have lived in the City… I had never lived in a city, so I was quite keen to try… but Roger very much didnt want to live in the City and he was right… we made some good friends here and Im quite involved in some of the activities, it was a good decision.” Mary – Cardiff
Social Reproduction and Continuity Making-up Mobilities –“Now” & “Next”… “That is my one, yeah, if you asked me what was the one thing where mypreference to be environmentally friendly goes out of the window then it is travel for a number of reasons. My Mum-in-Law is ninetyand lives in Essex. My Mum is eighty three and lives in Durham and both of them need regular visits so I do do a lot of miles and my horse is not close, so I also do a fair amount of miles more frequently to him” “Roger died in 2005 and I stopped work two years ago now… because weve got lots of friends here and because it was the house that we sort of created together I suppose, I would find it difficult to move…. But eventually… the house is big and the garden is big… My brother and his wife live in the US, so its great when they come over…” Mary – Cardiff
Social Reproduction and ChangeMaking Changes at Home – “Then”… “I had been weighing up the possibility of solar panels for some time and looking at costs and looking at different firms…I had been interested but the feed-in tariff was really the bit that said, and particularly at the moment, when it was the March 31st deadline andinterest rates on savings were so low so it really, the two things combined and it just looked a decider to say, Do it now, dont hang around and put the decision off and look for more information …in terms of decision-making, I tend to like to talk to people who havehad something done or have had a personal recommendation of a firm ora supplier or an organisation. So once Peterston Connect had done that, there were people who had had the work done then it just made it very easy to go ahead then and make the decision and take the action rather than just think, Oh well, maybe I will just get a bit more information”. Mary – Cardiff
Social Reproduction and ChangeMaking Changes at Home – “Now”& “Next”… “…I think what the solar panels have done has made me think about when I do washing, when I should have put gadgets on in a way that Iprobably hadnt. Previously I might well have put the washing machine on in theevening because I was around and I could put things in and out, now I put it on during the day, and to a certain extent thinking about sort of sequencing things so if the washing machine is on then maybe wait to dosomething else or leave that until another day, so sequencing things rather than thinking, Oh Ill blitz everything at once”. Mary – Cardiff
Concluding Thoughts…• Biography as a lens on the social that can help us to: ▫ Better understand energy use and what we are seeking to change ▫ Get insights into ‘interventions’ – both new and already existing ▫ Understand connections between communities and energy demand reduction