Anything blog about an event with change in the title twice (“Changing Institutions in a Changing Climate”) needs to start with this;
Audley Genus is a professor of innovation and technology management at Kingston Business School, Kingston University. He straddles the boundaries between academia and activism (which can be time-consuming and frustrating – neither fish nor fowl etc). You can see his publications list here.
Today in Manchester he talked about theories of society, energy use, trying to change energy use, and studying it all. Bullet points of what was said (or rather what I jotted down) and [square brackets for asides, of graded s(n)arkiness]
[Yes, this is another blog post about the grandest societal challenge. The one we have been resolutely pretending to solve for 25 years now. The reality principle is beginning to impinge. So it goes.]
He gave a brief intro of himself – PhD on North Sea gas and energy/technology policy, then a shift towards nuclear power and most lately on renewables, technology appraisal and ”community engagement” – including Transition towns projects [do NOT start me talking about them].
He took us through (quickly – we were at the Tyndall Centre) the basics of increasing carbon dioxide emissions [an enormous increase since 1950 – Great Acceleration and all that]
Talked about ‘policy resilience’ [as distinct from policies which would increase our resilience] and all the fine word commitments from Rio Earth Summit 1992 onwards.
He pointed to the limits (theoretical and practical) of ‘top-down policy making.
His central claim [Or rather, the one that leapt out at me because I agree with it whole-heartedly] is that there is an invisibility to energy ‘demand’ and assumed ‘need’ – [i.e. you can never question the 24/7 always now, always just-in-time economy. To speak of rationing, or even a slow-down in the speed-up, is to seem a “luddite”]
He moved on to neo-institutional theory and the stability bias of those theories [they explain better why things stay the same than why they (sometimes) change]
He brought in his own work on discourses and the importance of discursive battles/storylines, legitimising strategies, though this is distinct from the Discursive Institutionalism of Prof Vivien Schmidt et al. For a debate between her and an Aussie called Stephen Bell, see here and here)
Role of critical discourse analysis for thinking about all this-
government plus which other actors are speaking (go beyond pure focus on state/bureaucracies) [As per advocacy coalition framework!]
think about how language is mobilised to defend and attack positions, and the relationship between language, power and institutions. (Imagine Gramsci and de Saussure had a love affair and no contraception…}
Discourse around participant-observation academics, but also the way that the motivations/legitimising discourse around this or that discourse (battles between activists, social entrepreneurs and local authorities about whether the project is “about” energy saving, regeneration, fuel poverty whatever. [And- crucially – this shifts over time, in the wider context of what is hot for funding bodies, what words are needed in the titles of grant applications THIS year as opposed to three years ago. Donald Schon, Beyond the Stable State, was good on this. The book was written in what, 1972?]
The role of “institutional entrepreneurs” – people and organisations who try to shift/destroy/renew the underlying assumptions (cognitive, emotional, regulatory) of what keeps things keeping on – is crucial to challenge the ‘stickiness’ of our (high-carbon) habits of living.
He said some stuff about an ongoing project in three EU countries (I think it was three) about energy usage, consumer norms etc.
Questions were mostly good (the first one went on forEVER – there really ought to be a klaxon to shut middle-aged men up). Couple of articles were suggested by participants –
Seyfang, G. Park, J. and Smith, A. 2013. A thousand flowers blooming? An examination of community energy in the UK. Energy Policy, Volume 61, , Pages 977–989.
Abi Ghanem, D., Mander, S., & Gough, C. (2016). I think we need to get a better generator”: Household resilience to disruption to power supply during storm events. Energy Policy, 92, 171–180. DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2016.02.003. Publication link: dfed6e95-6c12-41f1-8872-421d9ad3499a