Interview: Prof Elizabeth Shove, ahead of #Manchester lecture on #energy demand, Weds 9th Oct

eliz_shoveProfessor Elizabeth Shove, Co-Director of DEMAND and Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, will be giving a seminar on “The Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand” on Wednesday 9th October. Organised by Tyndall Manchester, free and open to the pubic, it takes place in room C1, George Begg Building, Sackville Street) at 4.00pm. Professor Shove will “introduce some of the core ideas that underpin the DEMAND Research Centre. The Centre is designed to tackle fundamental questions about how the demand for energy and mobility, arises, varies and changes.”
Ahead of the event, she kindly replied to MCFly’s questions…

Where did the demand for the DEMAND centre come from (sorry, couldn’t resist)? That is, what gap is it trying to fill, for who? Policy-makers, fellow academics, practitioners?
In one sense, the DEMAND for DEMAND came from research funders and policy – there has been so much effort on energy supply and so little on demand that it was an obvious gap, hence the six End Use Energy Demand Centres funded by the Research Councils UK. In another sense, and more fundamentally, we are having to work quite hard on building DEMAND for DEMAND in that there is no ready made ‘home’ in policy or business communities for debating and engaging with fundamental issues about what energy is for, and how that changes. The ‘need’ for energy is usually taken for granted.

Can you give us a couple of examples of how “social practices and energy demand are shaped by infrastructures and institutions, and that these systems reproduce interpretations of need and entitlement, and of normal and acceptable ways of life.” Would one such example be the deliberate destruction of streetcar/ trolley car systems in the United States in the 30s and 40s, to get people to buy cars?
Possibly – but there are other more obvious cases. For instance, how has the ‘need’ for home heating evolved alongside central heating technologies? How has the ‘need’ for a car become established? In both cases we’re interested in how changing concepts of what constitutes an ordinary/acceptable way of life develops alongside the technological and institutional systems of provision – all of which have implications for the total amount of energy consumed.

What overlaps/synergies are there between the work of DEMAND and the Multi-level Perspective/Transition Management of Frank Geels et al?
We are also interested in systemic changes, and there are different ideas about how this works across DEMAND. From my point of view the MLP remains an account of technological innovation (even if that is socio-technical). As such it prioritises processes and relationships that would not be prioritised if the focus was on the dynamics of social practice. Across DEMAND we are not following ‘niches’ and ‘regimes’ – nor are we working with a notion of micro, meso and macro in the same kind of way. Rather than focusing on innovation we also interested in how practices and technologies disappear; and we are concerned to understand intersecting systems and infrastructures in their own right – not only as the context or outcome of some particular innovation process. There is more to say but that is a start.

What are the challenges we – as both an advanced Western society but also as a species – face in “confronting basic issues about what energy is for“?
A first challenge is that this is not a normal question to ask. And because of that, a range of related also far-reaching questions about well-being and the energy resources ‘required’ to participate in society are also not asked. ‘Need’ seems to be non-negotiable. Bringing that topic back into view would bring other issues into view too – including issues of equity, justice etc. According to the WWF model of one planet and what it can sustain, European societies in the 1970s were within that limit. So the challenges are to figure out how the demand for energy – what energy is for – or more generally energy-demanding practices might be reconfigured in a more sustainable way: not by going back to the 1970s, but by going forward with new patterns of demand.


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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1 Response to Interview: Prof Elizabeth Shove, ahead of #Manchester lecture on #energy demand, Weds 9th Oct

  1. gille liath says:

    Thumbs up for all of that.

    (Just thought I’d leave a positive comment for a change!)

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