This is what some of our visitors have to say about the experience of working with DEMAND
Mandy de Wilde
Josep Capsí Martí
Anne-Marie Tyroll Beck
Visiting DEMAND – Revisiting density
While I could write about how great it was to visit DEMAND – chatting with people in the corridor, playing floorball, attending seminars, tasting cheese, watching movies, cycling and hiking the area and sharing beers in pubs – I would rather use this space to ‘test’ a new outline of a paper I have been working on with Elizabeth Shove and Jenny Rinkinen during my fellowship. In the paper we take a critical look at the urban density debate.
The starting point is the observation that many discussions about sustainable cities (or sustainability in cities) focus on ‘density’. As cities with low densities are often highly car dependent and energy inefficient, increased density is often seen to be a ‘good’ thing. Although the literature that tries to prove this is very extensive, it is also inconclusive. Importantly, these debates seem to stick with a specific way of framing density: that is, as seen ‘from the air’. There is little consideration of what happens behind the doors of houses and offices or of what people actually do. Moreover, there is a tendency to abstract findings from specific places, thereby stripping them from their history and context.
In response, the paper aims to make two key contributions. One is to focus on flows and circulations through the urban system, that is, on how people, objects and consumables move through houses, offices, supermarkets, etc. The second is to think about how infrastructures and technologies in cities ‘script’ what people do, and the flows of resources that follow.
The paper explores these issues with reference to two houses (and households) examined in our study of consumption and demand in Hanoi. (see DEMAND linkage project). The two houses are both located less than 7 km from the urban core of the city. Both are situated in high-density areas (as measured by the number of people per km2), but are otherwise quite different. The first (A) is a typical narrow house, built in 2001, with three floors and two (main) bedrooms. The interviewee is a pensioner, living with his wife and daughter. He keeps the front of the house open to allow a flow of air and because he likes interacting with people outside. He owns quite a lot of appliances, but doesn’t use them very much. Air conditioning is used very sporadically in the bedrooms when it’s very hot. In other rooms the family uses different types of fans. Their washing machine is covered with plastic, as they usually wash their clothes by hand. They hang their clothes in the traditional ‘open space’ on the roof of the house, which also helps to cool the upper floor. Their kitchen has both a gas stove and an electric one, but they prefer to cook on gas. According to him, their monthly electricity bill is stable at around 700,000 VND (22 GBP) in a typical winter month and 1,200,000 VND (38 GBP) for a summer month.
The second example (B) is an apartment in a big 16-storey block built in 2006 in Linh Dam, a newly developed area with lots of apartment blocks constructed on top of a former swamp. The apartment has two bedrooms, a living room, a bath room and a small kitchen. It is occupied by a brother and sister, who are mostly away at work during the day. The sister, who is a teacher, occasionally uses the living room to give extra classes. They have one air-conditioning unit in the living room, which they turn on when it’s too hot at night or during the day, leaving their bedroom doors open. When the sister is teaching at home, she uses it as well. They always have fans on when they are in a room and at some point they might install air conditioning throughout (the infrastructure is already there). They use their washing machine a few times a week and then put their clothes in the dryer, as there is no space anywhere in the flat. They have an induction plate for cooking, as no gas is allowed in the apartment building. In 2011, their electricity bill was less than 100,000 VND (3 GBP) in February 2011 (winter), but has been steadily going up since then, peaking in August 2015 (summer) at almost 800,000 VND (25 GBP).
These are two examples of different houses with different people and different patterns of living. What they have in common is that both are part of the same ‘dense’ urban area. How do these cases relate to the density debate? First, while both are in similarly dense urban areas, the histories of these two homes are very different. Apartment B is newer and was developed to get the maximum value out of a plot of land in the vicinity of the city centre. House A is not that much older, but was built and developed by the owner himself. While some energy demand is ‘hardwired’ into both buildings, it is more so in building B than it is in building A, where there are no opportunities to dry clothes and where there are fewer options for cooking and cooling. Bills from B are still lower for the moment (for the household as a whole at least), but this may change if the occupants decide to acquire more air conditioning units.
Second, the configurations of spaces (densities) within each of the houses is different. Unlike A, the kitchen in B is a small. Only electric cooking is possible and because there is only limited ventilation the brother and sister do not cook what they consider to be spicy or smelly food.
What does this comparison reveal about the relationship between density and resource use? Perhaps not so much, as the examples are not necessarily representative and do not give conclusive answers to which place uses more energy.
On the other hand, they do draw attention to some of the reasons why the density debate is inconclusive; it does not focus on the (history of) design inside, it doesn’t take shifts in production and consumption into account (such as eating out), and it usually ignores the importance of different histories and contexts. For these reasons, it is not density itself that matters, but density-in-action, and the ongoing interaction between urban density (as viewed from-the-air) and the ways of life and patterns of production/consumption that actually flow through the ‘dense’ architecture of the city.
My visit to DEMAND lasted three and a half months, between October 2017 and February 2018. I enjoyed my time in Lancaster very much, and will definitely miss DEMAND and its researchers.
The reason of my visit to DEMAND was mainly to write a paper with Elizabeth Shove about the Japanese behaviour / social practice change policy dubbed “Cool Biz”, and to contribute to the “invisible energy policy” project with Elizabeth and Jan Selby. After having analysed the transnational circulations of policy knowledge related to behaviour change in the field of energy and climate change in my PhD thesis, I was also looking forward to learning more about the social practice approach and the research conducted in DEMAND.
I consider that on many counts my visit to DEMAND was very fruitful. Indeed, Elizabeth and I drafted and submitted the paper we had planned to write. I had a chance to present our work and collect interesting comments when I gave my seminar at DEMAND, and also when we met two other members of DEMAND in London (Jan Selby and Sarah Royston). This was very useful for improving the paper, and also helped me prepare a Research Insight for DEMAND (currently in process). On top of that, we also drafted a conference paper approaching Cool Biz from the perspective of the transnational circulation of policy and non-policy related practices.
But my stay in Lancaster was also great thanks to the many social events organized by people in DEMAND. While most seminars and meetings took place on the campus, the “Ant-eater” reading group was organized monthly in town at Elizabeth’s house. We would have a delicious dinner first, made of food cooked by Elizabeth and some cheese and other delicacies brought by the guests, and then discuss a paper. We also had lovely Christmas and birthday parties and had a few days and weekends out, with people from DEMAND and with other visiting researchers. Camping in the Lake District in February, cycling to the Yorkshire Dales National Park, exploring Durham county, sawing wood and exploring Hadrian’s wall and discovering floorball were definitely great experiences.
As a Frenchman, I also particularly enjoyed the cheese tasting sessions following DEMAND seminars. I was lucky enough to attend the play-off session of the competition between all the cheeses tasted during the year. I thought that there was no decent cheese made in the UK, and I have to admit I was wrong: Lancashire cheese (creamy, crumbly, smoked, etc.) and mature cheddar were actually very good — I even brought back some to France!
I visited the DEMAND Centre from October to December 2017. After a warm welcome I took part in a variety of different events inside and outside university, including DEMAND seminars, reading groups and of course the weekly floorball matches.
It was great to work for a while in the inspiring environment that is DEMAND, to meet interesting people from different countries who are interested in similar questions and to take part in a lot of very interesting discussions. Especially the regular talks with Elizabeth on theories of practice and their relevance for my own work on communal living projects were great. Also I would like to thank everyone who took part in my DEMAND seminar for their interesting and helpful critiques. I really hope to stay in touch and get back to Lancaster one day.
My time at DEMAND was both fruitful and inspiring. I visited for a total of six weeks between October and December 2017, split into two visits to allow flexibility for my caring responsibilities. Thanks to Simone, logistically the visit was impressively efficient and comfortable.
While at DEMAND I have completed local fieldwork for a comparative interview study exploring energy use when (variously) working from home. After having time to engage with new literature and get some new ideas straightened out in my first visit, I then began the messy cycle of being back in the fieldwork and data, and reflecting on whether these were actually operationalised. I discussed this during my DEMAND presentation. I will be pleased to stay in contact with DEMAND researchers to further refine these ideas during the analysis of this work.
Of course, I also had time to meet socially with fellow DEMANDers and visitors, and try my hand at floorball. As a Centre, the DEMAND group have a comfortable and welcoming collegiality, and are generous with their time and ideas – making my visit useful, stimulating, and importantly, fun.
As a bonus, Gordon also introduced me to colleagues at the Lancaster Environmental Centre. Beccy Whittle and Nadia von Benzon were very supportive, arranging for me to give a presentation on my adventures in participatory energy research with young people.
I really appreciate my time at DEMAND, and look forward to staying in touch.
Mandy de Wilde
Visiting the DEMAND centre has been such an inspiring and stimulating experience. Thanks to all DEMANDers for being so welcoming and inviting me to engage with their work and for engaging with mine. A special thanks to Simone for organizing my visit and for making it such a smooth experience.
During my visit I worked on a research proposal concerned with how families enact home in zero carbon living. Most of my time consisted out of reading and discussing work on social practice theory and affects in an attempt to try operationalize the notion of ‘home’. I came here to learn more about the how, what, where and when of ‘practices’, and I left asking myself ‘why practices?’
I enjoyed Lancaster, especially my daily bike rides to the university campus across the canal, the meadows and the gardens with lovely bird songs along the way. Funnily enough these bike rides have contributed to my feeling at home in Lancaster; perhaps it was the routine of biking, the timing of it or the scenic route which reminded me of my commute to Wageningen University nowadays, but also of my daily commute to high school when I was young. Also, a month in the UK has sparked a fascination for hedgerows, they come in so many shapes and sizes! After my presentation at the DEMAND seminar it was suggested that buildings can also be operationalized as practices. If so, what about hedgerows…?
My five-week visit to the DEMAND Centre spanned the 2017 summer holidays – I was a little out of synch with the UK calendar! Fortunately I caught up with key researchers with an interest in my work before they took off and my visit was productive.
The purpose of my fellowship was to analyse existing research materials on household IT in Australia in order to understand the implications of IT proliferation and use for energy demand. The materials were collected for a larger research project focused on metals recycling and the household IT component was motivated by concerns around the consequences of rapid uptake and turnover of household electronics for increasing demand for minerals, and the need to promote reuse and materials recycling. The DEMAND Centre fellowship prompted me to consider the energy demand consequences of web-connected devices in households which, if current trajectories continue, could have even more significant environmental impacts than their material components. My interaction with DEMAND Centre researchers helped me to comprehend the energy demand consequences of domestic IT and its supporting infrastructure of data servers and networks. Janine Morley and Mike Hazas, in particular, broadened my understanding of energy demand and IT infrastructure. This influenced not just the framing and focus of the publication from this work but also ideas for future research to examine the interaction of socio-technical change with life course transitions.
While I had interacted with DEMAND Centre researchers in the past, this visit helped me to get up to speed with more recent research and some of the new directions emerging from this important and productive research group. Reflecting on my fellowship experience, I now wonder whether it makes sense to consider just the energy or just the material demand consequences of evolving socio-technical systems, given the extent to which they are intermeshed.
Full report: Communications technology, life course transitions, and energy demand[.pdf]
The DEMAND Centre is a tremendously inviting and active academic community. With scholars working on a range of issues related to the dynamics of energy demand—including analysis of mobility, institutions, digital technology use, and much more—I was able to gain motivation for my own work while learning about the growing scholarship on social practice, infrastructure, and their interactions.
During my short time as a visiting scholar in May and June of 2017, I gained an appreciation for the need for further studies of infrastructure-practice relations, especially related to my current and past work on smart grids and urban infrastructure systems. I used my time to develop a workshop plan and grant application, wrote a draft manuscript on the failures of policy mobility in smart grids, and developed several new ideas for projects and collaborations. In particular, I have a short essay in progress on infrastructural connection and disconnection related to “off-grid” living in the digital age.
While writing up grant applications and manuscripts are often reclusive activities, I found that DEMAND researchers were extremely engaging, interested, and helpful. The overall sense of community at DEMAND made working extremely pleasant and productive. From reading groups and informal discussions, nights out for a pint, to seminar presentations, I found my entire experience exciting, thought-provoking, and extremely rewarding. I can’t thank the DEMAND Centre enough for their hospitality and support.
My 4-week visit to DEMAND between March and April 2017 was very fruitful. Though time did fly too quickly, I had a real opportunity to think about my fieldwork data from very different but interesting perspectives. After my seminar, I benefited a lot from the intellectual discussions with the DEMAND Centre researchers. I got the opportunity to think about my work using different analytical approaches. DEMAND provided me with a very friendly and intellectually stimulating environment to conceptualise my work on adaptation to blackouts in Ghana. Floorball was an invigorating experience. All visitors must look forward to it.
I visited the DEMAND centre between January and March 2017, and I had a great time. The stay was filled with writing, reading up on new topics, meeting new and exciting people in various forms, floorball, travels around Lancaster (with the DEMAND bicycle) and the UK, and visiting a local Ceilidh in Waterhouses Town hall. I was particularly inspired by the diligence people at the centre showed in their work, and in their feedback to me as a visiting researcher. There were several reading groups (one of them is called the ‘anteater’, and is held at Elizabeth Shove’s place), lunch talks, seminars (always with cheese and wine) and talks at the pub after work. What is more, every Tuesday at midday there was floorball, which was a lot of fun and a nice break from the work.
During the stay I was developing an approach to my postdoctoral project, which is about energy prosumers. After talking with, and getting written feedback from colleagues at DEMAND, my thoughts on this concept changed and I am more motivated to critique and develop the approach and ideas. All in all the stay was a great combination of personal and professional inspiration, and I would recommend everyone to apply to be a guest visitor at the DEMAND Centre. Read more about prosumption and energy demand.
I visited the DEMAND centre from November 2016 until February 2017. The timing of the visit was ideal because I was approaching an emerging topic and area of investigation – how current automated ‘smart’ technologies (e.g. highly automated vehicles and connected domestic devices) are reshaping daily routines and in particular the renegotiation of competences.
I knew from my previous short visit as a PhD student in 2011 in the department of Sociology at Lancaster University that being engaged in the DEMAND Centre, led by Elizabeth and Gordon, would provide me with abundant food for thought.
I had the opportunity to share reflections and receive feedback both in formal and informal occasions, such as my seminar, the writing of a piece of thought on the wider interpretation of ‘users’ of smart technologies, and in the DEMAND response[.pdf] to the BEIS call for evidence on A Smart Flexible Energy System.
Reading group sessions, chats over lunchtime or later in a pub, even quick encounters while brewing a tea triggered stimulating conversations, suggestions of valuable readings, and names of experts to approach.
All this helped me to better understand and reflect on my original thoughts, which I have now dramatically re-framed, especially thanks to the professional and friendly DEMANDers I met.
Finally, I – a Sicilian – enjoyed my time outdoors too; the daily bike commute along the canal, cycling in the countryside and to the sea, and particularly the Tuesday floorball games were fun experiences, even in the rain and in strong winds. Definitely an enjoyable formative visit.
Josep Capsí Martí
I’ve been in DEMAND as a visiting PhD student from September 2016 to January 2017. Lancaster University provides a fantastic environment with all the facilities you need to work, and Lancaster city is a historic and beautiful place to enjoy your free time.
My time in DEMAND has been an enriching experience in both an academic and personal sense. There have been lots of opportunities to be involved constantly in interesting conversations and debates with other PhD students, sharing ideas about research methods, discussing papers in friendly meetings around food and attending conferences.
Thanks to my time in DEMAND I have been able to focus on my thesis, analysing empirical material, writing the dissertation, and being supervised by Elizabeth who provided very valuable supervisions, new ideas and criticism of my findings, which helped me to organize the thesis and to draw out specific elements of my research.
But the best part of DEMAND is the people. It is an amazing group of people who made me feel as I have always been there since day one, and I will always be welcome there.
I visited DEMAND for a full 12 weeks during the late summer of 2016. As other demand visitors have reflected, the ethics of air travel and associated emissions to and from Australia (in my case, of 52 hours of flight time) are increasingly complex to negotiate. Staying longer at my destination seemed a sensible way to make those emissions ‘count’ in a positive sense! As the trip fell over summer holidays and conference season there were spurts and lulls to how often I saw people, but the friendly PhD cohort made sure I was well watered (or rather, coffeed), fed (cheese) and exercised (floorball).
I came to engage with Practice Theory approaches to the construction and maintenance of electricity supply systems. Electricity demand shapes the rhythms of these practices – and their lived physiological effects on workers in the form of heat stress, which is my area of focus. I spent some really enjoyable time working with Gordon Walker on this project, having interesting chats to Demand researchers and presenting an overview of my work to the Demand crew.
The length of the trip gave me time to meet the wider network in which they are embedded at Lancaster University, in particular allowing me to benefit unexpectedly from the generous and thoughtful conversation of Nigel Clark in Geography.
All in all I have left with an infusion of deeper philosophical and theoretical engagement with the area I am engaged in as well as the makings of a couple of papers and a book chapter reflecting on how thermal physiology and electricity are bound together and indeed exchanged in a myriad of practices. In the extreme environmental conditions of the region in which I work (Australia’s Monsoonal North) these render the significance of background flows of energy apparent and relate the economy of heat (thermodynamics, broadly conceived) to the economy of production and consumption in a profound way.
I visited DEMAND during the summer of 2016. I had a wonderful academic and personal experience. Besides being a leading academic centre on energy use and practices, DEMAND is composed by a warm and nice group of people. This made my stay very pleasant. On the first day I arrived, I was lent the DEMAND bike so I could move around the campus and Lancaster city on my own.
During my visit to DEMAND I did three things. First, I presented, discussed and worked on the empirical material of an ongoing research on heating practices. This discussion -which was very inspiring- happened along several formal and informal situations: DEMAND seminar, informal talks in the DEMAND kitchen and living room and the frequent visits of different DEMAND members to my office.
Second, I participated in several academic activities such as reading groups, group gatherings and meetings. These instances –along with the time I had a ramble to the library – gave me a very precious space for thinking about my current writing.
The third thing I did in DEMAND was learning to play floorball, which I enjoyed very much!
As a DEMAND PhD visitor from August until September 2015, I experienced the cycles of DEMAND activities, from the anteater reading group, floorball, seminars, walks and talks, clan-gatherings, lunch talks to a reading group on rhythm analysis. The DEMAND Centre is indeed a dynamic enterprise offering numerous ways to get involved. The people make the place and the research milieu is characterized by openness and mutual invitations. Several events stand out:
First of all the meetings and conversations with Elizabeth Shove that challenged ways to think through the sequencing of chapters in my PhD thesis on professional collaboration around system solutions. With her encompassing knowledge, it was rewarding to discuss the connections between professions, their jurisdictional boundaries and boundary objects as well as talking about the temporal dimensions of work, for example, the sequencing, synchronization and timings of coordinated work. I intend to accommodate different ways of working with sequences – the ideal sequences, resequencing of activities – and considerations about coordination that is not coordinated – when the sequences do not work, but the goal is still accomplished.
Secondly, I will mention the anteater reading group at Elizabeth Shove’s place. DEMAND people meet and collaboratively make a dinner together before entering into discussions on the selected articles. The readings included an Elizabeth Shove article on “Condensing Practices: Ways of living with a freezer”. Subsequently discussing an article by Brannen et al. about “Families, meals and synchronicity: eating together in British dual earner families” whereby issues of domain simultaneity and time a synchronicity were pertinent. Offering insight into ways of theorizing social practices in everyday life affected by the temporal dimensions of, for example, time and synchronization. In my own work, I plan to address some of the temporal dimensions of practice, investigating how sequences come together and form certain kinds of synchronizations.
Revisiting the past and looking forward
Having spent the better part of a decade in Lancaster as a PhD student and researcher before moving to Canada in 2007, the opportunity to revisit the campus as an international visitor this summer was in part about rekindling connections. Within the revitalized energy research environment generated by the DEMAND Centre it was also a timely opportunity to explore some new research directions and collaborations. Arriving in the midst of last minute preparations for the ‘Energy Histories and Futures’ event there was barely time to reacquaint myself with the campus or reunite with old friends. From the opening moments of this event which showcased an eclectic and unusual collection of energy-related objects to exploring fragments of energy infrastructures past in the city’s back alleys, this was the classic Lancaster summer school experience – an intense combination of serious discussion with an equal measure of hands-on fun. As co-organizer of a series of similar events a decade or so ago I had a unique vantage point from which to observe how mainstream debates about energy demand have moved on under the influence of a sociologically informed agenda. Evident, among the wide range of interdisciplinary researchers represented at the event, was a tacit understanding of energy as being embedded within culture and society and of demand as reproduced through material infrastructures. This was exemplified in the routine reference to social practice and co-provision as foundational concepts for understanding energy demand dynamics. Furthermore, it was clear that notions such as comfort are no longer taken for granted but are more abstracted, problematized and culturally differentiated. This suggests that DEMAND’s role in reorienting European energy demand agendas has already been influential, but as highlighted in discussions there is still much work to be done in influencing energy policy discourses and in drawing in a wider circle of interdisciplinary and international collaborators.
After those first frenetic few days of my visit and as my jet lag finally abated, I was able to take stock and spend some quality time discussing my own research interests with the enthusiastic assistance of DEMAND researchers. The serious academic ambition of my visit was to explore new research directions on the theme of disruption and the dynamics of demand. As part of a newly established interdisciplinary team working on an AHRC project researching Material Cultures of Energy, I had been thinking a great deal about what we might learn about demand dynamics of the past. Specifically, what might analysis of past energy disruptions over the course of the 20th Century reveal about the long-term flexibility and obduracy of demand and about how everyday dependencies on energy are constructed? Such enquiries also have a forward thinking dimension in terms of understanding the role of disruption as a steering point for future sustainable or unsustainable adaption. Initial thoughts on this topic were presented at a DEMAND Seminar ‘Back to Normal? Demand in the Aftermath of Disruption’ and during subsequent research visits to DEMAND partners at in Paris, Manchester and London. Searching insights and feedback from these engagements with DEMANDers provoked more questions than answers. What constituted a disruption? How might historical disruptions be used methodologically to reveal shifting dependencies on energy? Which disruptions provide the most revealing insights about long-term demand dynamics? Now back home in Canada, my follow-up writing and networking to-do list is a lengthy one, inspired by the conceptually rich and intensely collaborative environment facilitated by DEMAND. My hope is to be back soon to continue these conversations and translate them into tangible project ideas. A last word of thanks goes to Elizabeth for introducing me the art of woodcutting!
My visit to Lancaster lasted six weeks, arriving in mid-June and leaving at the end of July, 2014. Those six weeks proved to be a great opportunity for learning, thinking, and writing in an almost ideal atmosphere for those activities. The DEMAND staff in Lancaster were thoughtful, stimulating, and giving in their assistance, time, advice, and ideas. During my visit to DEMAND the centre also hosted numerous other international visitors, Energy Demand research centres from across the UK, and held a Summer School drawing post-graduates and professionals from across the globe. The combination of the DEMAND Centre staff, outside visitors, and numerous conferences made for an incredibly vibrant and engaging environment, all focused on examining the dynamics of energy demand.
My time in Lancaster provided me with an opportunity to being transitioning from my doctoral work and into future research projects. In the several presentations I made of different aspects of my work, questions and comments supplied new leads and potential avenues for investigations. The different disciplinary backgrounds at DEMAND also sparked new ideas and the potential for collaborations.
Two particular ideas stand out. The first were conversations with Elizabeth Shove that attempted to think through the links between transmission wire technologies, forms of urban and regional development, and the types of energy demand this promotes. The second were conversations with Gordon Walker in which we attempted to think through the impacts of electricity demand curves: on electric utility operations and strategy, but also their obduracy, and most notably the way in which this particular method of measuring electricity consumption has led to attempts to produce certain types of electricity consumers.
I started first and was very fortunate to find my research period overlapping with the DEMAND Conference, which provided me with new contacts and inspiration for the fieldwork on small-scale energy storage. I then spent one week in Bristol and Oxford conducting interviews with people engaged in community storage pilot projects before returning to the DEMAND centre to hand over the work to Nick.
Read Think Piece: (Em)powering the household? Emerging energy practices around decentralised storage of solar energy by Sanneke, Nick and Robin.
My visit to the DEMAND Centre lasted four weeks, from July 11th to August 6th 2016. A few days after my arrival, I gave a seminar on complex systems and how an historical enquiry on instrumentality can allow understanding the current transition to renewable energies. This event gave me the opportunity to discuss for the first time with several and competent people about a constructivist approach to study complex systems and renewable energies that I am following. What I appreciated most were the interdisciplinary exchanges I could have during the days following my seminar. I could discuss with Elizabeth Shove, Gordon Walker, Bronislaw Szerszynski, Frank Trentmann, Stanley Blue, Elspeth Oppermann, Jarvis Andrew and many others. These exchanges have been very inspiring for me, as the people I spoke with were able to indicate a series of research directions which allowed me to explore several additional relevant implications of the approach I am applying to study complexity. During my stay at Lancaster University I also highly appreciated the hospitality of people working at the Demand Centre. I arrived at Lancaster with my wife and my baby boy of 12 months and the advice, the kindness and the company of the people we met made our visit very enjoyable.
My visit to DEMAND was inspiring in many respects. Not only had I motivating discussions on my own pieces of writing that focus on object-relations and temporality in the theories of practice, but also did I have the chance to follow and take part in the wide range of activities of this research centre: seminars, clan-gatherings, reading groups and other get-togethers. The way DEMAND manages to arouse, circulate, and develop ideas by bringing people together, is nothing but impressive. Being part of this group of critical, ambitious, and skilled researchers, who are spiced with a good sense of humour, was a lot of fun, too, and of course, as a Finn, the weekly floorball was a great source of joy for me.
While a DEMAND visitor in June and July, 2014, I participated in two principal events: a June workshop in Windermere on Demanding ideas: where theories of practice might go next and the July DEMAND Summer School in Lancaster on Energy Histories and Energy Futures. The two events were somewhat different with mostly dissimilar benefits.
The Windermere gathering was a kind of theory incubator in which key unaddressed issues and promising lines of approach were first discussed in precirculated texts and then verbally hashed out at the Alice Howe cottage. It was remarkable how common or complementary were people’s diagnoses of unresolved issues and how easy it was to circumscribe these issues: questions of scale and size, relations among practices and complexes thereof, power and influence, typologies, movement, circulation, and time, as well as the boundaries and limits of practice theory. One hopes that this convergence impels some participants to tackle these issues in future work and induces a larger group to produce some sort of collective manuscript on them. As a theorist, my work was already concerned with or tending toward some of these issues—for instance, large social phenomena—and the workshop was essential for gaining understandings of the wider theoretical landscape, of how issues relate, and of how different people would approach them.
The Summer School was a wonderful event. It excelled where summer schools shine, namely, in facilitating interactions among students and among students and faculty, most from different institutions. I always enjoy learning about and discussing people’s research at such events, and this one provided ample opportunity for this. The Summer School was memorable for several other reasons, including the inventive fieldwork that teams of participants were called on to conduct, the repeated emphasis on the contingency and variability of what happens in social life, and insights into the ambiguity of the spatial extension of what researchers study, unclarities about the concept of energy, and the idea that policy is disruption. There was also a memorable game of Twister as part of a future energy demand scenario. In addition, the Summer School highlighted the crucial nature of infrastructures, as well as the challenge that the phenomenon of infrastructure poses to practice theory. I plan to address this matter in future work, which should lead to refinements in the conceptual apparatuses of practice theories.
I also delivered a talk on Practices and Large Phenomena while in Lancaster. The discussion afterwards problematized the idea that actions can be properly thought of as forming chains. In my opinion, an action responding to a previous action sets up an unbreakable link between the two. Social life exhibits a myriad of action chains whose successive links are retrospectively laid down by later actions reacting to previous ones.
The first day I was warmly welcomed by the present staff, and joined in the weekly floorball session – very enjoyable. The rest of that day I caught up and discussed with Elizabeth Shove, Noel Cass, and my colleague Nick. The following days I worked to prepare the field work in the one of the PhD offices. The accommodation was comfortable, and the facilities on campus excellent. The rest of the research visit I went around the UK: Lancaster to Oxford, then London, then Cornwall, then back to Oxford and finally London again. I came back to Wageningen with a lot of interview material and inspiration to turn our research into an article.
Read Think Piece: (Em)powering the household? Emerging energy practices around decentralised storage of solar energy by Sanneke, Nick and Robin.
Visiting DEMAND was a whirlwind and jam-packed trip. The intellectual alignment of so many people in one place made for an incredibly stimulating and rewarding experience. Lancaster already feels like a second home to me, so it was easy to settle in to my ‘usual’ routine of weekly Floorball games and drinks on the canal with new and old friends and colleagues. Highlights included playing Mousie Mousie, impressing people with my Apple and Rhubarb Crumble, and joining DEMAND Theme 1 researchers on an ‘Away week’ at Jordan’s Youth Hostel. Lowlights included getting lost on the way to the hostel, in the rain, without mobile reception, with a dodgy map. Luckily Elizabeth came to the rescue and there was a cup of English tea at the end.
My visit involved giving quite a few talks about my recent book ‘Smart energy technologies in everyday life’, including to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, who are doing some interesting things with smart meters. A key activity was a workshop convened with Ben Anderson and Mike Hazas on ‘Shifting Routines, Changing Demand’. In true DEMAND style, the workshop participants graciously allowed us to experiment on them with a range of demand management interventions, alongside interesting discussions and activities that provoked reflection on conventional demand management programs and practice, and imagined new ones. Ben, Mike and I are plotting possible publications and activities from this work.
As an Australian working on energy demand research, an unexpected outcome of my trip was that it prompted reflection on the role and need for international travel in academic practice. While I look forward to returning to DEMAND again in the future, it will probably be in several years. A talk I gave on pets and energy demand also sparked further reflection on the role of non-humans in practices, and whether pets can perform practices in their own right. A further outcome of this presentation is that my partner and I now have a dog.
The three weeks I spent in the UK have been instructive, fun, interesting and relaxing with nice exchanges with DEMAND staff. In my first week, I found it interesting to experience the Roses sports event between York and Lancaster, a rivalry we don’t see in Dutch universities. Soon after I moved on to Glasgow to attend the All Energy conference and exhibition, which was quite the experience. The atmosphere of business and opportunity reflected the idea of imminent take-off for many technological developments. At the same time, the exhibition was lacking storage devices and offers. Storage was only discussed in the context of grid-management, and not as an something for households or communities to engage in. After spending some days in Edinburgh for an interview I returned to Lancaster for another week, which was quite relaxing and offered time to finish up an article and enjoy the nice weather.
Read Think Piece: (Em)powering the household? Emerging energy practices around decentralised storage of solar energy by Sanneke, Nick and Robin.
The most memorable, useful, and remarkable aspects of a visiting research fellowship at the Demand Centre are intangible – getting to know the faces behind the essays from Gordon, Elizabeth and others that were read before arrival, while sharing a few minutes while having tea and a biscuit. The immense pleasure and privilege of stepping out of daily life and into a new scholarly environment, where distance from home campuses allows new ideas, new projects to germinate.
In 2015 I spend about half of February and most of July at the Demand Centre, in February getting situated with what researching the energy demand of digital, mobile connectivity and the Internet might entail. I gave a talk on the early findings of this work at the end of the first visit. In July I conducted some fieldwork on charging mobile phones and laptops while in transit, on trains between Lancaster and Manchester and between Lancaster and London. The research and theory-building progressed throughout the month, and I also gave a talk at the summer 2015 workshop. This research became an essay presented at the Demand Conference in April 2016, titled Demanding Connectivity. Additionally at the conference I led an infrastructural walkshop, documented here.
The Demand Centre’s fellowship gave me the time, space, and support to craft new scholarship and contribute to the interesting, important work on energy coming out of Lancaster University today.