RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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110 Individual and collective imaginaries of energy: storying energy in the past, present and future (1)
Affiliation Energy Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Mel Rohse (University of Birmingham, UK)
Rosie Day (University of Birmingham, UK)
Joe Smith (The Open University, UK)
Chair(s) Mel Rohse (University of Birmingham, UK)
Timetable Thursday 03 September 2015, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Forum - Seminar Room 1
Session abstract To date, a high proportion of social research on energy uses has focused on the individual as an energy consumer, with behaviour to be changed through economic enticement and technological intervention. This vision is articulated as a narrative that has come to dominate energy research and policy, effectively overlooking “energy use as a system of social processes” (Moezzi and Janda, 2013: 214), which is embedded in specific localities and temporalities. This runs several risks, such as hindering our understanding of energy practices, disengaging the public from energy conversations and limiting the emergence of new narratives of socio-energy relations. However, opportunity may be offered by narrative research which endeavours to create a space where culturally dominant stories meet counter stories, a contested site where new stories can be imagined (Bamberg and Andrews, 2004). To address this, the authors in this double session present individual and collective narratives of living with energy (session 1) and of framing and producing energy futures (session 2).
Linked Sessions Individual and collective imaginaries of energy: storying energy in the past, present and future (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
Thrifty pleasures: telling energy efficiency narratives of older, lower income households
Gordon Waitt (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Kate Roggeveen (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Ross Gordon (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Katherine Butler (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Paul Cooper (University of Wollongong, Australia)
This paper draws on focus groups and ethnographies completed with people aged 60 years and older in low income households in the Illawarra, Australia. By exploring these marginalised voices, we offer a critical interrogation of the principles and practices of Australian energy efficiency policies. This critique draws on Foucault’s ‘practices of the self’ and discusses the discursive constructions of the body and lived experiences associated with energy efficiency that are rarely acknowledged in contemporary energy policy debates. We examine the discursive links between the pleasures of knowing energy efficiency as thrift and the construction of generational difference. We illustrate the paradoxes of knowing energy efficiency as thrift by discussing participants’ understanding of household consumption, and caring for family and friends. We conclude that Foucault’s ideas of bringing to the fore the narratives of marginalised voices has the potential to rethink energy efficiency policies by empowering lower income older people.
Living with Sellafield: stories of everyday nuclearity
Karen Bickerstaff (University of Exeter, UK)
This paper reports on ethnographic research undertaken in Seascale – a village in West Cumbria that neighbours Sellafield, Europe’s most complex nuclear site. The research was undertaken in 2008 amidst policy debate in the UK on the siting of a deep geological disposal facility for legacy waste. The paper discusses histories and stories of living with nuclear things, through Gabrielle Hecht’s (1998, 2012) techno-political notion of nuclearity. We explore how the nuclearity of place and people shifts over time – and the implications of these stories for extant readings of nuclear risk and nuclear politics.
Imagining Fire: Wood-Sheds, Smoking Chimneys and Spatialities of Urban Heating Practices in Latvia
Kristīne Krumberga (University of Latvia, Latvia)
Dāvis Valters Immurs (University of Latvia, Latvia)
Wood fuel burning is one of the most common and long-lived heating practices that, especially in seasonally cold climate areas, gains a significance of survival strategy. Although technological advances of energy industry have contributed to urban development and fashioning the image of “city lifestyle”, the historical path-dependant characteristics are still present. In this paper, we focus on the habitual nature and grounds of people, particularly in two neighbourhoods of Riga, Grizinkalns and Agenskalns, which both emerged in the late 19th century as working class districts and where around one-third of inhabitants still engage in and accommodate wood fuel burning practices. We are peculiarly interested in the stories being told, relations built and spatialities created, to unfold how these routines shape one of the multiple ways of living with energy in a post-industrial and post-Soviet city. This also means to reveal how these practices confront environmentalists’ concerns of sustainability and energy market dynamics thus curling the story about the relational materialities convoluting around wood metamorphosing into smoke and controversies between individual and collective imaginaries of fire as essential, romantic, threatening and governable.
Co-creating stories of energy, place and everyday lives in South Wales
Rosie Day (University of Birmingham, UK)
Mel Rohse (University of Birmingham, UK)
South Wales is a region on a journey from fossil based fuels towards a future powered largely by renewable energy. The policy ambitions and rhetoric are resolute, but large scale energy transition projects can encounter difficulties in engaging wider publics. The Stories of Change project works with the device of stories and narratives to engage diverse communities to explore and express their everyday relationships with energy in the past and present, and to conceive of their future. Working in partnership with creative practice professionals, using a variety of creative techniques including digital storytelling and creative writing, researchers co-create with communities stories of how energy shapes their everyday lives. We reflect on a selection of the emerging stories, discussing themes that emerge about place, identity, energy vulnerability and security, and energy justice. We also consider how we as social scientists can work with the narratives emerging through creative practice, and what they can reveal about energy and society relations.
Trans-missions: walking an energy story along the powerlines of Herefordshire
Jess Allen (Independent Artist)
Trans-missions is a week’s solo walking performance that follows the electricity pylons (transmission towers) as they cross the county of Herefordshire. Carrying a rucksack of low-energy lightbulbs, the performer gifts one to each person who offers to talk to her – about our relationship to energy, both what we consume and what we possess – and in doing so offering an anonymous message or ‘energy story’ to pass on to the next person encountered, in an unbroken line of transmission. Each bulb is an open invitation to attend an intimate performance gathering in a traditional orchard at the end of the walk, where these bulbs and stories will be (re)connected in a solar-powered art installation.

As part of the ongoing performance research practice I call tracktivism – walking in rural landscapes as dialogic eco-activism – Trans-missions is about using unexpected performative interventions to facilitate a space where otherwise contentious conversations about energy production and consumption can unfold more openly.

What I offer for this session are reflections on and a (scholarly) dissection of this performance, drawing variously from Guattari’s ‘three ecologies’, Foucault on power and Ranciere on ‘emancipated spectatorship’ to arrive at the possibility of an ‘emancipated environmentalism’ through the ‘power’ of creative conversation and energy narratives.

trans-missions.org.uk (see also tiltingatwindmills.org.uk)