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Talk, text and inventive methods: Insights from studying energy biographies, everyday energy use, and (energy) systems change


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Presentation at BSA annual conference

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Talk, text and inventive methods: Insights from studying energy biographies, everyday energy use, and (energy) systems change

  1. 1. Talk, text and inventive methods: Insights from studying energy biographies, everyday energy use, and (energy) systems change Prof Karen Henwood, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University British Sociological Society Conference: Recovering the Social: Personal Troubles and Public Issues, 4th April 2017; Manchester University, UK
  2. 2. Energy Biographies: Research Report • biographies-final-report-available/
  3. 3. Risk and Everyday Life
  4. 4. Stratosphere (15-50km) Large scale environmental risk issues…
  5. 5. Flexis work packages • WP1 – Flexible Systems and Expert Visions – viz. risk, responsible innovation and energy systems • WP2 –Energy and everyday life - tracking interventions within family & community settings • WP3 - Energy Controversies and Governance - deliberative work (communities and stakeholders) WP3 •Communities, Energy Controversies and Risk Governance WP2 •Energy System Change and Everyday Life WP1 •Flexible Systems and Expert Visions
  6. 6. Why methodological invention (MI)? • Science & technology studies (Lury & Wakeford (2012) (eds) The Happening of the Social Routledge) - new empiricism of sensation - expand portfolio of materially innovative methods - address limits of the phenomenological (???) • Object related ontology (see e.g. development of “object interviewing”, Woodward, S. Qualitative Research, DOI: 10.1177/1468794115589647) - displace conventional understandings of what QR methods set out to achieve & how they are practiced, to develop such methods - increase the methodological capacity of social science for understanding objects as agents, materials and material culture - the material turn – away from discourse analysis (???) • Science & the shift to participatory culture - Modelling/mapping participatory methods to engage emergent publics & incite "open-ended ecologies of participation” (Chilvers & Kearns, Eds, Re-making Participation, 2016)
  7. 7. Social science & the arts • Strategies have been devised for conducting mobile, sensory & object focussed research to focus less exclusively on meanings within language, text or discourses alone where the study focus may be non-representational within language, and bringing potential for collaboration with the arts • see e.g. work/exhibition-2/
  8. 8. Woodward cont’d …. Methods for understanding what people do with, and say about, things.. • Use ethnographic methods for exploring how things are framed in everyday life • Observe what people do with things by using visual methods such as photography • Use video capture to explore material practices as interactive and embodied • Use photo-elicitation techniques in qualitative interviews to explore facets of the material • Adopt object elicitation methods as a route into people’s narratives and memories • Explore how people provide a narrative context for objects in order to interrogate the relationships between what people say and what people do with things
  9. 9. …So, although words may not be enough, they still matter …. “Whilst words may not be enough in themselves to allow us to understand material practices they are still part of how people articulate their relationships to things. Given how many social science methods centre upon people’s verbal accounts, it is important to think critically about what these accounts allow us to understand about material practices…..[for example] the ways in which words can evoke the materiality of things.” (Woodward, 2016, p4)
  10. 10. Energy Biographies Project (ESRC/EPSRC) Understanding the dynamics of everyday energy use for demand reduction • Study design involved intensive methodological and conceptual work to harness cross disciplinary insights and develop understanding • Creating data through new ways of enabling talk about everyday practices would open up spaces for reflection offering possible opportunities for change • Harnessing new/interesting kinds of data offered analytic potential • “Bespoke” approach to data analysis using data and theory to promote exploration and generate insights • ie Not an instrumental approach to identifying the specific behaviours that, if changed, will reduce energy consumption
  11. 11. Energy Biographies –study design (case sites & methodology) • Funded by RCUK from 2011-2016 • EBs approach uses qualitative longitudinal interviews (3 over 18 months) and visual methods (participant photos/films) • Can biographical stories of lifecourse change make tangible hidden aspects of how and why people use energy in particular ways? ▫ Past experiences ▫ Anticipated futures
  12. 12. Energy biographies as a QLL study: its temporal and biographical methodological 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
  13. 13. 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/
  14. 14. 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?
  15. 15. Participant photography 1. Participant-prompted photos ▫ Two week period for each of four themes ▫ Used as basis of discussion in interview 2 2. SMS-prompted photos ▫ Used as basis of discussion in interview 3 alongside film clips
  16. 16. 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.
  17. 17. 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
  18. 18. 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
  19. 19. 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?
  20. 20. 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
  21. 21. 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)
  22. 22. Eb’s data –enhancing reflections on everyday energy use (space, lighting, materials, design) “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, London)
  23. 23. Practices and meaning “The capability to ‘go on’ through the flow of largely routinized social life depends on forms of practical knowledge, guided by structural features – rules and resources – of the social systems which shape daily conduct”1 “This constructed world of predictable relationships is the context of our actions. But it is subject to constant revision, and always more or less vulnerable to loss, self-doubts, experiences which make no sense to us. Then we no longer know what to do.”2 1. Shove, E., M. Pantzar and M. Watson 2012. The Dynamics of Social Practice. London, SAGE Publications 2. Marris, P. 1996. The politics of uncertainty: attachment in private and public life. London; New York, Routledge
  24. 24. Investing in Unsustainability: On the Psychosocial Patterning of Engagement in Practices (Environmental Values, 2016) Transitioning towards socio-environmental sustainability involves practice change Thicker understanding needed of 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
  25. 25. ‘Heating the outdoors’: practices and identity “Cos we love being outside, we just love that you can you know go, we were sitting out there one evening I can’t remember when it would have been, with friends, and 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 ” Lucy, Peterston
  26. 26. Psychosocial 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 of psychosocial – ie emotional & symbolic - space : one where engagement in unsustainable practice nonetheless plays a sustaining role
  27. 27. 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 - forms of such transitions (liminal and liminoid identity) • 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 negativity
  28. 28. The lived future: initial interviews “[…] I do kind of look at the world and see the trends and think, shit (Laughter), what kind of my life are my kids going to have? I kind of worry a bit about my kids’ future and quite what will be available to them, and their expectations because, you know, they don’t know all this stuff about houses with coal fires and coal range cooking and all of that. They have a very different set of aspirations and expectations and could be very, very bitter and betrayed about it if all of that goes.” (Jeremy, Peterston)
  29. 29. “I think it was looking at a kind of increased convenience and it had just come out of the war hadn’t it? […] And it was I mean the 50’s was that the hoover, the vote, the automobile you know all those things like washing machines, dryers that all kind of came at that time so it was sort of life was going to be easier because of it.” (Vanessa, Lammas) “And I think we lost common sense on things like energy and material usage, in perhaps the Sixties and Seventies, where the standard of living went up.” (Jonathan, Peterston) Film clips: critiques of futures past
  30. 30. Energy Biographies – Concluding remarks (see e.g. energy biographies final research report) • We have prompted reflections on the usually intangible ways of using energy in everyday life using methodological innovation • Directing attention at psychosocial issues generally not regarded as important in contemporary studies of energy demand & change trajectories • Reported findings concern emotional attachments/investments -in material objects, devices, everyday practices, entanglements with wider infrastructure - & how they are biographically, narratively & culturally mediated
  31. 31. Energy Biographies – Concluding remarks (see e.g. energy biographies final research report) • But studying the ‘emotional labour of meaning making’ is still in its infancy? - Changes in energy use and demand 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
  32. 32. Other team Members: Professor Nick Pidgeon, Dr Chris Groves & Dr Fiona Shirani (Cardiff)
  33. 33. EB’s Psychosocial Publications • Groves, C., Henwood, K., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Parkhill, K. and Pidgeon, N. (2016) “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. (2015) “Energy biographies: narrative genres, lifecourse transitions and practice change”, Science, Technology and Human Values, DOI:10.1177/0162243915609116 • Henwood, K. , Groves, C., Shirani, F and Pidgeon, N. (2016) “Relationality, entangled practices, and psychosocial exploration of family dynamics in sustainable energy studies”, Families, Relationship and Society. DOI:10.1332/204674316X147584383416945
  34. 34. EB’s Methodological publications • 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. • Henwood, K. Shirani, F. and Pidgeon, N. (forthcoming) “Using photographs in interviews: When we lack the words to say what practice means” in U. Flick (ed) Sage Handbook of Qualitative Data Collection.
  35. 35. Eb’s Other Publications • Thomas, G., Groves, C., Henwood, K., Shirani, F and Pidgeon, N. (2016) “Texturing waste: attachment and identity in everyday consumption and waste practices”, Environmental Values • Shirani, F., Butler, C., Groves. C., Parkhill, K., Henwood, K. and Pidgeon, N. (2016) “Living in the future? Environmental concerns, parenting and low-impact lifestyles”. Geographies of Global Issues, Eds N. Ansell and N. Klocker. Singapore: Springer • Parkhill, K., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Groves, C., Henwood, K. and Pidgeon, N. (2015) “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, 53, Part A:60-69. • Shirani, F., Butler, C., Henwood, K., Parkhill, K. & Pidgeon, N. (2015) “‘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.