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Energy Practices and Psychosocial Research: The Energy Biographies Study


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Paper given by Prof. Karen Henwood at Birkbeck College on 24 Oct 2015 at the event 'Psychosocial research on human engagement with climate change'.

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Energy Practices and Psychosocial Research: The Energy Biographies Study

  1. 1. Energy Practices and Psychosocial Research: The Energy Biographies Study Presentation at Birkbeck College, 24th October, 2015 “Psychosocial research on human engagement with climate change” Professor Karen Henwood Cardiff School of Social Sciences & energy biographies team (
  2. 2. Energy Biographies (ESRC/EPSRC 2011-15) • 4 year empirical study of the dynamics of everyday energy use for demand reduction • Key assumption – current levels of energy use are unsustainable – but it is far from obvious how to respond to this individually or collectively – hence the need to open 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, if changed, will 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 • Practice theory and psychosocial research : resources for argumentation - as ‘critical friends’
  3. 3. Energy Biographies: Multiple Orienting Lenses
  4. 4. Practice Theory and Psychosocial Concerns Practice Theory Psychosocial concerns • Social theory/STS/sociology of everyday practice • Draws on theoretical work on social practices (Reckwitz, 2002, Schatzki, 1996) • Wider energy systems made up of interlocking elements of practice (materials, knowledge, meaning) • Change in one element provokes change in other elements & the practice itself (Shove et al, 2012) • Addresses questions of individual agency as emergent property of particular sets of practices • Brings into focus analytically distinct foci (elements) to behaviours & practice theory: • - biographically constituted attachments, investments • - fragmented, multiple, contradictory, identities- reflecting self-other relations (difference & connection) • - identifications, introjected cultural ideals; splitting, projection • - shared meanings, commitments, beliefs & values, world-views • - what is not expressed/unspoken/difficult to put into words - the non-cognitive - feelings, emotions, affect (eg anxiety, shame, loss) • - libidinal forces – wishes, wants and desires • - intangible aspects of subjectivity –but gaining meaning through sense-making & take up of subject positions, as part of cultural discourses
  5. 5. Click to add title • Longitudinal Biographical Interviews ▫ Four sites: Ely, Peterston (Cardiff), Lammas (West Wales), Royal Free Hospital (London) ▫ 3 longitudinal interviews (original group of 74 in first round narrowed down to 36 for rounds 2 & 3) ▫ Multimedia component ▫ 6 months between interviews EB’s Study Design See: Royal Free Hospital, London Lammas, West Wales
  6. 6. Case Sites
  7. 7. 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 Structure of empirical phases More information on each stage available at /our-project/project-design/
  8. 8. Energy biographies’ as a QLL study: a temporal and biographical approach • QLL facilitates an exploration of change through time and an accumulation of qualitative data, which provides depth and detail • How past experiences and anticipated futures come to have an impact – both enabling & constraining – on people’s present lives, routines and habits • Individual biographical accounts can • shed light on wider social trends and changes
  9. 9. Wave 1 interviews – themes 1. Community and Context • Talk through how they came to live in their current home/area, how they characterise their community(s) • Connections – e.g. who they live with/is in their family • Discussion points specific to the particular case area 2. Daily routine • Talk through in detail to get an understanding of energy use and practices • Discuss how this varies for atypical times/events e.g. Christmas, weekends 3. Life transitions • What have been the key events/turning points that have resulted in a lifestyle change? • How might lifestyles and transitions differ for future generations?
  10. 10. Activity 1 – participant-generated photos 1. Activity 1 – participant-generated photos • Participants were asked to take photographs of things they felt were related to energy use around four themes • Two week period for each theme. Participants were sent texts to remind them of the theme • Pictures then formed the basis for discussion in interview 2 Jack: That’s a tumble dryer timer so you can control the heat and the time, I’m very aware of using the tumble dryer, I don’t use it very often, in fact just lately I’ve hardly used it at all … I just put the stuff over the clothes horse and then the ambient temperature of the house dries the clothes or I put them outside on the line and I love pegging washing out, it’s one of my favourite things … Int: And what is it about pegging washing out? Jack: I don’t know but my mum has it so maybe it’s something I’ve picked up off her … just the ease, the ease and the ability to just have such an easy, to create clean washing is such a hard task and it’s just fantastic to do it, maybe, maybe in the distant past my relatives were in domestic service and had to struggle, washing is a real struggle if you don’t have modern gadgets so every time I do it I really appreciate it.
  11. 11. Wave 2 interviews - themes Example: There are a few themes emerging from the first interviews which I would like to ask your views on: Wasting energy – what is seen as wasteful? Is it only seen as wasteful in a financial sense? Have you noticed anything around the home/workplace/out and about that you consider wasteful? Is there anything you would do to change this? Second interview – a detailed focus on everyday energy use • Discussion of important life changes since interview 1 • Exploring everyday energy use through participant- generated photographs • Following up emerging themes from interview 1: e.g. waste, frugality and guilt
  12. 12. Activity 2 – text-prompted photos Activity 2 – text-prompted photos • Text messages sent to participants at 10 intervals between August-November 2012 asking them to take a picture of what they were doing at the time • From these pictures we created photo narratives, to be discussed with participants in interview 3
  13. 13. Wave 3 interviews - themes Third interview – looking to energy futures • Discussion of important life changes since interview 2 • Exploring everyday routines through text-prompted photos and using these to facilitate discussions of pasts and futures • Using videos to discuss visions of the future Example: Since last time we spoke (in August) have you experienced any changes/anything happened that has led to change in your life? (Prompt impact for lifestyle changes) Have there been any alterations in your day-to- day life/routine? (Follow up on specific issues from interview 1/2). Has this resulted in any changes to your energy use?
  14. 14. Activity 3 - videos Activity 3 – video clips • During interview 3 participants are shown clips from a 1950s and 2010s version of what a home of the future might look like • The clips facilitate talk about the future, which can otherwise be difficult to discuss
  15. 15. 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)
  16. 16. Eb’s data –enhancing reflections on everyday energy use (practices) “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,
  17. 17. Investing in Unsustainability: On the Psychosocial Patterning of Engagement in Practices (Environmental Values, in press) Transitioning towards socio-environmental sustainability involves practice change Understanding how potential for practice change is opened up or obstructed Eb’s analysis - one way of elucidating this potential – by explaining biographical patterning of investments in our ways of living unsustainably
  18. 18. Data Extract 1 – Heating the Outdoors (Lucy, Peterson SuperEly) • … 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.
  19. 19. Analytic narrative • Psycho-biographical connection to practice : • - involves renewal of identity tied to family connections • - desire for ideal home – centring on surroundings and possibilities afforded for hosting family and friends • Participation in the practice derives from internal rewards contributed to identity - constituted by emotional investments & by evaluations of how life is going for them and for people who matter to them (relational rewards) • Expansion into psychosocial – ie emotional & symbolic - space : one where engagement in unsustainable practice nonetheless plays a sustaining role
  20. 20. Data Extract 2 – Cycling to Work (Sara, London – Royal Free) • So I cycle there and back…. when my daughter was young I had a seat on the back for her and cycled as much as I could…. It’s just quicker to get to work, it’s so much quicker…. So it was convenience as well and obviously I wanted to try and get fit and yes, it just seemed like, they’ve introduced an underground sort of cage where you use your pass to get in. So it’s quite a secure bike lock up. So once I knew they had that I was more inclined to… And my mum always cycled when I was young, I always remember being on the back of her bike in Dublin. So yes, and when we lived in the countryside in Ireland, I cycled to school two miles each way because there were no buses. So yes, it’s just something that’s always been there. • I cycled to Hampstead yeah in my old job which was a lot nicer because you cycle through Hampstead Heath but here it’s Central London, it’s Euston, it’s really really busy and I’m quite scared about because we don’t have decent cycle lanes at all. So just have to be really careful.
  21. 21. Analytic narrative • Cycling has practical advantages for commuting - but deeper value lies in connecting it to her environment, especially the community in which she lives, her mother, connections between home & workplace • Internal rewards come from attachment to practice and to objects with shared/community meaning and private meanings • Such meanings are tangibly linked through biographical narrative to negotiating issues of vulnerability, identity and self-efficacy • Cycling’s psychosocial value derives from attachments to practices that, even while going through transitions, can afford connection and relational rewards
  22. 22. Extract 3 – 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
  23. 23. 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
  24. 24. Extract 4 – Home freezing (Lucy, Peterson SuperEly) • I think they’re necessary but I think we’re all a bit obsessed, like I think when people have two freezers like my mother-in-law has a chest freezer and she doesn’t know what half the stuff in there is and I was talking about this with a friend and they said they cleared out their grandmother’s freezer once with her and there were things that had been in there for like eight years that she’s like made and dated, … I think it also results in a way of wasting more food because you go oh I’ll just shove it in the freezer but actually you never end up using it or you end up chucking it out because it’s been in there too long or whatever so. I think it’s a necessary thing that we’ve taken, we’ve become a bit over the top obsessed with you know.
  25. 25. Analytic narrative • Food freezing practices allows management of conflicting time pressures, but unspoken valuing of household security hinted at as constitutive of identity • Early biographical experiences made sense of home freezers as enabling ‘escape’ from known times of generational hardship – giving emotional & symbolic & identity significance to participation in batch cooking & quick meals • Obsession defensively evokes seeking security through practice & its inherently unsustainable dynamic – increasing waste & energy use to maintain full freezers
  26. 26. Psychosocial theory as a perspective on everyday energy use and practice change Analytically distinct elements (e.g. biographies of attachments) and other psychosocial investments (e.g. shared affective patterning) need to be better integrated into social scientifific inquiries The embeddedness of practices/ensembles within ‘wider’ social relations, understood psychosocially, can be considered as emergent & dynamic properties of lived experience, situated in time and place Sense making activities (e.g. about biographical patterning of experiences and connections/attachments in and through time) contribute to cultural shaping of forms of subjectivity Better equips us to understand embedding of psychosocial elements/subjects within particular cultural formations (knowledge regimes/discourses) in specific ways?
  27. 27. Theorising the Practice-Psychosocial Interface in the Energy Biographies Study • Patterns of practices in and of themselves cannot be viewed as responsible for the continuance of unsustainability; getting things done is important in going on living but only one part of practical, embodied consciousness – multiple forms make up the fabric of everyday life • Need to go deeper and broader in thinking about people as carriers of practice: & ask is it enough to theorise becoming recruited to such practices, remaining loyal to – or defecting from practices, as a result of the internal rewards from participation in practice • Internal rewards in practice theory are competences afforded by doing something well, or by performing a practice in accordance with social norms & cultural distinctions • But, a psychosocial perspective offers complex views of the various other elements that lock in, or fail to lock in, subjects as carriers of particular practices – and opens up possibilities of change in and through time
  28. 28. Over-optimism of policy narrative about change potential afforded by moments of lifecourse transition • Transformative moments – viewed in policy as opportunities for intervention, BUT they involve experiences and effects of unresolved transitions • Thicker analysis required of lifecourse disruption - liminal and liminoid identity forms of such transitions • 3 x Eb’s analysis of personal narratives of change : disavowal, active silencing & acknowledgement • Cultural constraints of dominant (e.g. linear progress) narrative genre & need for ‘reintegration’ of identities on the other side of transition • Analysis centred on study participants different ways of living with –ivity
  29. 29. Energy Biographies – Concluding remarks • Reflecting on the usually hidden dynamic ways of using energy in everyday life has required methodological innovation • Focus and attention has been directed at issues generally not regarded as important in contemporary studies of energy demand & change trajectories (psychosocial investments) • Changes in energy use and demand are unlikely to be possible if they create concerns about everyday dependences on energy and a resultant sense of not being able to live a worthwhile life (LAWL) • LAWL means keeping alive valued identities, desires and sustaining relationships with others • Also important are mediations via emotional investments in material objects, devices, everyday practices; entanglements with wider infrastructure • But is studying the ‘emotional labour of meaning making’ still in its infancy?
  30. 30. There is effort involved when people are seeking to work out: • what is the best thing to do? • how to resolve moral tensions over long-established and/or contemporary values? • • how difficult it can be to think about a longer-term future based on contemporary ideals of what counts as a life worth living? • how to resolve personal uncertainties magnified during key life-course transitions? Energy Biographies – Researchfish “Key Findings”
  31. 31. EB’s Psychosocial Publications • Groves, C., Henwood, K., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Parkhill, K. and Pidgeon, N. (2015) “Invested in unsustainability? On the psychosocial patterning of engagement in practices” Environmental Values . For pre-publication copy go to • Groves. C., Henwood, K., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Parkhill, K., and Pidgeon, N. “Energy biographies: narrative genres, lifecourse transitions and practice change”, Science, Technology and Human Values For pre-publication copy go to 9116.refs
  32. 32. Eb’s Other Publications – Accepted & In press •Parkhill, K., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Groves, C., Henwood, K. and Pidgeon, N. (in press) “We are a community [but] it takes a certain amount of energy? Exploring shared visions, social action and resilience in place-based community-led initiatives. Environmental Science and Policy. •Shirani, F., Butler, C., Groves. C., Parkhill, K., Henwood, K. and Pidgeon, N. (in press) “Living in the future? Environmental concerns, parenting and low-impact lifestyles”. Handbook of Childhood Geographies, Springer (accepted January, 2015). •Shirani, F., Parkhill, K., Butler, C., Groves, C., Pidgeon, N .and Henwood, K. (2015) “Asking about the future: Methodological insights from energy biographies”, International Journal of Social Research Methodologies. •Shirani,F., Butler, C., Henwood, K., Parkhill, K. & Pidgeon, N. (2014) “‘I’m not a tree hugger, I’m just like you’: changing perceptions of sustainable lifestyles”, Environmental Politics, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2014.959247 •Butler, C., Parkhill, K., Shirani, F., Henwood, K. and Pidgeon, N. (2014) “Examining the dynamics of energy demand through a biographical Lens”, Nature and Culture, 9(2), 164-182.
  33. 33. Other team Members: Professor Nick Pidgeon, Dr Chris Groves & Dr Fiona Shirani (Cardiff) Dr Karen Parkhill (now York) Dr Catherine Butler (now Exeter)
  34. 34.