Challenging conventions towards energy sufficiency: ruptures in laundry and heating routines in Europe
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Sahakian, Marlyne, Naef, Patrick, Jensen, Charlotte, Goggins, Gary, & Fahy, Frances. (2019). Challenging conventions towards energy sufficiency: ruptures in laundry and heating routines in Europe. Paper presented at the eceee 2019 Summer Study Presqu'île de Giens, France, 03-08 June.
This contribution proposes to address a central question in social science approaches to household energy studies: how do conventions around energy services evolve, how do they alter over time, and how can they be changed once they are cemented? (Sovacool 2014: 19). Drawing from a social practice theoretical framework, we posit that energy usage at the household level is tied up with forms of routinized and habitual activities in and across consumption domains, embedded in socio-cultural, and technical and material arrangements. We begin by proposing a definition of energy sufficiency which accounts not only for absolute reductions in resource usage, but also changes in everyday and habitual practices which implies challenging collective conventions around energy usage in the home, as well as setting upper limits to consumption. Drawing from the ongoing ENERGISE research project (H2020), with its focus on laundry and heating, we then provide an overview of the literature on collective conventions related to these two consumption domains, noting the lack of a systematic review and easily accessible data. We follow with a review of over 1,000 initiatives aimed at reducing energy usage in the home or promoting renewables, relating these initiatives based on a typology that reflects our conceptual framework around the notion of sufficiency . We discuss how and why energy consumption continues to be framed in terms of individual action and technological change, often blind-sighted to social norms and collective conventions necessary towards achieving the normative goal of sufficiency. In a fourth section, we outline the ENERGISE Living Lab approach, designed towards setting upper limits to consumption and engaging households in a participative process towards creating ruptures in everyday routines with an explicit focus on collective conventions. On this basis, we conclude with a discussion around the need for further developments around conspicuous and symbolic consumption, towards amplifying social change. We consider the opportunities that this represents, and how such an approach to uncovering, contesting and amplifying challenges to collective conventions can be relevant to practitioners and policy-makers alike.