RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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87 Examining energy consumption and communities: The social, cultural and political dynamics of energy system transformations (1)
Affiliation Planning and Environment Research Group
Convenor(s) Frances Fahy (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
Stephen Axon (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
Chair(s) Frances Fahy (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 207
Session abstract Given the need for radical transformations to the ways in which energy is produced and consumed to address climate change, energy systems are transitioning from a centralized fossil-fuel based infrastructure towards a more diversified, low-carbon, and decentralized production model. While energy transitions are frequently framed as processes involving social and material consequences, such radical changes also constitute discursive dimensions involving debate, idea exchange and implementing low-carbon innovations. This transition involves potential for fundamental social, cultural, and institutional shifts in individual, household, and community assumptions about energy consumption as well as new opportunities for ownership, engagement and control of energy production.
Linked Sessions Examining energy consumption and communities: The social, cultural and political dynamics of energy system transformations (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Resisting the transformation: geo-political dynamics of nuclear communities in France after Fukushima
Teva Meyer (University of Paris VIII, France)
The French presidential elections which followed the Fukushima disaster in 2011 constituted the first major shift in the country’s atomic policy. While 75% of France’s electricity comes from nuclear power, the newly elected parliament led by the socialist party passed a law planning to lower this share below 50% by 2025. During the campaign, President François Hollande pledged to close the country’s oldest nuclear power plant installed in Fessenheim (Alsace), causing the formation of a pro-nuclear associative movement in the region. While our knowledge of the local politico-geographic dynamics of atomic energy is narrow, these events revealed the existence of “nuclear communities” in France understood as “municipalities which are economically heavily dependent on and politically interrelated with the operations of the nuclear industry” (Litmanen et al., 2010). Any move toward a renewable-based system in France might trigger conflicts in these nuclear communities if not addressed beforehand, thus potentially endangering the national energy transformation. Based on an extended fieldwork done in Fessenheim’s area, this paper aims to discuss the construction of nuclear communities in France. Results show that the local pro-nuclear movement is led by elected officials coming from few municipalities around the NPP. We identified, through interviews, that the dependency relation between the community and the nuclear industry relies on the way the NPP has politically, culturally, economically and demographically structured its hosting territory. If the French geographic and legal context has fostered these dynamics, the dependency relation was also strategically sustained by Electricité de France, through different meanings, in order to maintain its control over the territory.
Energy Biographies: exploring the intersections between lives, practices and contexts
Mary Greene (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
Contextualised approaches to understanding how and why patterns of domestic energy demand change over biographical time remain underrepresented in consumption research. Drawing on practice-theoretical and socio-historic lifecourse concepts, this paper investigates how individuals’ everyday energy practices, including food, mobility and laundry practices, intersect with processes of biographic and socio-technical change. In a European context, Irish exceptionalism in terms of the rate and pace of recent structural change offers a unique context in which to explore the processes under examination. A multi-modal reconstructive biographic-narrative methodology was employed with a sample of Irish participants to advance a holistic, contextual and experiential means of analysing processes that have hitherto been overlooked by deductive and temporally limited research designs. Findings reveal that individual agency is shaped and constrained by social context. Energy practices are strongly patterned according to institutional roles and commitments, with variance in modes of performance observed according to life-course circumstances, in particular, gender, age, employment status, and parenthood. The processes shaping dynamics are complex, operating at a range of interacting scales, from an individual’s emergence through the stages and phases of gendered life-courses, to the broader societal structures that frame this process. Engagement with energy is intricately bound up in continually evolving identities, roles, social contexts and relationships. Further, wider socio-technical developments, including technology, infrastructures, economic and policy advances, have intersected to steer careers towards increasing resource intensity. The paper concludes that these findings have important implications for policy, suggesting sustainable consumption requires a much more fundamental challenge to social contexts than is recognised by current approaches.
An empirical analysis of energy saving measures from a household perspective
Veronique Vasseur (Maastricht University, The Netherlands)
Understanding household behavior is a prerequisite for understanding how to motivate or encourage pro-environmental behavior. For the majority of the time, energy use of households is invisible and our energy consuming behavior is mainly based on habits and routines. For example, we leave our thermostat on or leave the television on standby when nobody is home without having to think where the energy comes from or what the environmental consequences are. This behavior is formed by the characteristics of the building and the energy using appliances, but more importantly because they are influenced by a range of internal and external factors, such as our personal characteristics, values and attitudes, behavior of friends and family, and various economic incentives. Many studies have focused on social or psychological factors related to energy saving behavior, however, little is known about the effects of these and other characteristics on the success of adopting these measures. A relevant question, therefore, is why do households consume their energy in the ways that they do and what factors shape and constrain their choices and actions? To answer this question, it is necessary to open the black box of households behaviorism, and to analyze in a detailed manner why and when households behave in a certain (pro-environmental or a prosocial) way and how more sustainable behavior can be motivated or encouraged. Such analysis should allow us to pinpoint key determinants that block or induce their pro-environmental behavior. Insights in these determinates is necessary to design policy arrangements that can efficiently deal with these blocking or inducement determinants, in order to speed up the adoption process of this pro-environmental behavior. For this study, we have data collected via an online questionnaire which took place in May 2016 in the Netherlands for a sample of 800 households.
Analyzing the impact of sufficiency measures in urban neighbourhoods
Ann-Kathrin Hess (University of Basel, Switzerland)
Attempts to reduce energy consumption often do not achieve the optimal reduction level—a phenomenon which is known as the energy efficiency paradox. One explanation for the paradox might be the repetitive and habitual way with which everyday Energy Consumption Behaviors (ECBs) are performed. Everyday habitual ECBs are less likely to be driven by informed decisions but are influenced by different psychological and socio-technical determinants. This presentation focuses on the analysis of one initiative (cargo bikes) to reduce household energy consumption, specifically car-usage, in Basel-city’s (Switzerland) districts. Specifically, the project will investigate whether the supply and usage of shared cargo bikes will lead to a quantifiable reduction in private car-use in households within Basel city. The initiative is seen as changing the system of provision and possible associations to changes in perspectives, values and preferences will be analyzed. In order to shed light into explanatory variables of modal shift, a practice theoretical perspective is appropriate to capture the socio-technical elements in which short distance mobility is embedded. However, theories from social psychology are expected to provide meaningful insights regarding norms, values, self-efficacy, and habits. The presentation will provide first results of the analysis of the cargo bikes-initiative. The study is aimed to answer a broader set of research questions; some of them requiring a longitudinal approach (i.e. what is the potential of the initiative to change routinized ECB), and another one focuses on the barriers and enablers of these changes. That means, to answer the latter question people who might live close to a cargo bike rental station but who do not use the service will also be asked about their reasons.