RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016

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193 Beyond the triad: exploring the drivers of domestic energy deprivation (2)
Affiliation Energy Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Neil Simcock (The University of Manchester, UK)
Harriet Thomson (The University of Manchester, UK)
Saska Petrova (The University of Manchester, UK)
Stefan Bouzarovski (The University of Manchester, UK)
Chair(s) Saska Petrova (The University of Manchester, UK)
Timetable Thursday 01 September 2016, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Session abstract Domestic energy deprivation – which has often been recognised via the terms ‘fuel poverty’ and ‘energy poverty’ – is gaining increasing acceptance as a significant global policy issue. Commonly, the causes of energy poverty are considered through the ‘triad’ of high energy prices, poor housing efficiency, and low incomes. Recently, however, this theorisation has been critiqued as too simplistic, ignoring factors such as cultural norms, the dynamic and evolving nature of household needs and circumstances, and underlying socio-technical, spatial and political issues that shape housing efficiency and energy prices. Recent uses of relational geography (Buzar, 2007), assemblage thinking (Harrison and Popke, 2011; Day and Walker, 2013), and vulnerability frameworks (Bouzarovski and Petrova, 2015) to theorise energy poverty have been useful in highlighting more complex and nuanced issues, and indicate fruitful directions for further research. This session seeks to build on such research and explore new approaches to understanding the drivers of domestic energy deprivation, drawing on studies from across the world.
Linked Sessions Beyond the triad: exploring the drivers of domestic energy deprivation (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Energy poverty in an intersectional perspective: on multiple deprivation, discriminatory systems and the effects of policies
Katrin Grossmann (University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, Germany)
Most definitions of energy poverty cling to the triangle of low incomes, high energy prizes, and low energetic quality of dwellings. This coincides with a search for the best quantitative indicators to detect energy poverty among households and to measure the extent and dynamics of the problem, using income and (potential) energy costs as the main predictors. From a point of view of social structuration theory, this is a rather simple understanding of a complex situation of deprivation. The presentation explores to what extent the intersectionality approach to social status and oppression or deprivation can stimulate a more complex understanding of how households fall into energy deprivation. The main claim of this landscape of social theory is that intersecting characteristics of people facing systems of discrimination experience enhanced disadvantages, which do not just add up but deepen at their intersections. Also, it explores how policies work along the lines of such discriminatory systems. Using the example of the housing market, I will shed light onto how this is interesting for energy deprivation research and conceptual work.
Cold as a private matter: an urban political ecology of domestic energy deprivation in Porto
Lise Desvallees (University of Paris Est, France)
This paper applies an urban political ecology framework to a study of domestic energy deprivation in the city of Porto. While showing high levels of energy poverty indicators in European statistics, Portugal has been largely overlooked in the literature, and the issue has received little attention from Portuguese media, politicians and civil society. Drawing on qualitative interviews with social workers, affected households and institutional stakeholders, I argue that domestic energy deprivation situations are the result of both historical socio-political processes, and norms and standards that standardize low levels of domestic comfort. My work focuses first on processes that have shaped domestic vulnerability to the actual increase of energy prices. The city of Porto is characterized by four decades of capital accumulation in residential buildings and domestic equipment. Until 2006, little before the economic crisis put an end to this unprecedented urban growth, energy efficiency regulations were inexistent or not fully applied. I then argue that national policies do not define access to heat and energy as a right, keeping domestic energy deprivation in the domestic sphere where only poorly designed social tariffs can partially enter, and constraining the possibility for it to become a public matter of wider interest. In this absence, affected households develop individual coping practices and resort to overwhelmed social services for paying their bills.
Contextualizing fuel poverty: insights from New Zealand
Fatima McKague (University of Otago, New Zealand)
Fuel poverty occurs when households go without the energy they need, or cut back on other expenses in order to afford energy. The existing literature predominantly focuses on the technical and economic aspects, failing to take into account the wider social impacts of fuel poverty. As a result, it does not adequately reflect the dynamic behavioural and social interactions associated with this phenomenon. To address this gap, we use the Energy Cultures framework and its extension, the Practice-based energy-cultures framework, to focus on the dynamic nature of fuel poverty. We explore the potential of these frameworks in the fuel poverty context by applying it to in-depth interviews analysis carried out with households living in energy hardship in New Zealand. We conclude that an integrated framework would greatly contribute to better understanding the experiences of fuel poverty by linking the technical aspects with the practices and choices households make when faced with energy hardship. This paper provides a holistic outlook of fuel poverty, and contributes in identifying key interactions and opportunities for change in the quest to alleviate fuel poverty in New Zealand.
Transcending the Triad: Political distrust, localised cultural norms and reconceptualising the drivers and effects of domestic fuel poverty in the UK
Irena Connon (University of Dundee, UK)
Although increasing attention has been given to the role of cultural norms as a driver of domestic fuel poverty in the UK, little attention has been devoted towards how local cultural worldviews intersect with socio-political histories of place-based relationships with national government to further influence both the production of fuel poverty and resistance to new policy developments to alleviate its causes. This paper draws on qualitative empirical-based, ethnographic research conducting within four case study sites in Scotland and England and explores how local cultural norms operate at the local scale and affect perceptions, drivers and effects of domestic fuel poverty in different ways across each of the specific sites, as well as revealing how attitudes towards a long history of tension encompassing Government, energy companies and local agendas play out in personal experiences of resilience and vulnerability to fuel poverty and resistance to adaptation of new policy initiatives that aim to combat the immediate material drivers of domestic fuel poverty. The paper will conclude by revealing how both local cultural norms as well as the complex history of the 'gulf of distrust' between energy suppliers, governments and local community members needs to be directly acknowledged and addressed by policy makers in the development of fuel poverty alleviation measures.
Discussants
Catherine Butler (University of Exeter, UK)
Russell Hitchings (University College London, UK)
Discussants