Adapting infrastructure for a lower carbon society

Timeline: May 2013 – May 2017

Our team includes: Anna Carlsson-Hyslop, Catherine Grandclément, Allison Hui, Lenneke Kuijer, Magali Pierre, Elizabeth Shove, Nicola Spurling, Frank Trentmann, Matt Watson

These are some of our key questions:

  • How do changes in the details of daily life interact with technologies and institutions of supply?
  • How can experiences from past visions, planning, and provision inform infrastructural adaptations in the future?
  • How does planning legislation and regulation accumulate and endure across time, and with what implications for present and future possibilities?
  • How can traditions and patterns of demand be reshaped at a societal scale?
  • How can thinking across cases of transport and energy provide new perspectives on the challenges and processes of infrastructural adaptation?

And these are some of the ideas we want to develop:

Matt Watson talks about infrastructures, institutions and demand

While infrastructures are clearly central to energy and transportation planning, there is a tendency to focus on the technologies involved and on supply-side issues. This project is different in that it concentrates on the relationship between infrastructures and the patterns of demand which they enable and upon which they depend. Our aim is to show how existing infrastructures have been adapted, modified, and layered on top of one another, and to identify possible paths for the future adaptation and reconfiguration of both infrastructures and end use practices.

We draw on methods and ideas from history, sociology and geography in order to capture and analyse changing relations between infrastructures and practices over time and at different scales.

Anna Carlsson-Hyslop and Frank Trentmann use historical methods to examine the changing infrastructures (design, equipment, fuel systems) of council housing between 1920 and 1970.  Their research focuses upon Stocksbridge, Stevenage and London, showing how councils and tenants negotiated the possibilities of access to gas, coal and electricity, for example through the installation and use of different heating systems.  They consider the types of appliances and technologies involved, looking at how and why provision changed over time, and how the infrastructure of the home relates to changing practices and patterns of energy demand.

Lenneke Kuijer and Matt Watson are also looking at Stocksbridge, but with an emphasis on how spatial politics, planning, and previous visions of the future have led to current configurations both of infrastructures and daily lives. This research will inform a programme of more future oriented work, considering the scope for infrastructural adaptation and adjustment and the implications of such change for the routines and habits of those who live and work in the area. Nicola Spurling will take a similar approach but to Stevenage.

These place-based studies bridge between analyses of past, present and future and provide a distinctive perspective on the changing relation between supply and demand.

Allison Hui, Magali Pierre, Elizabeth Shove and Nicola Spurling engage with similar themes of infrastructural transformation, planning, spatial politics, and future vision in the realm of lower carbon transportation. At different times and places, visions of a low-carbon future have included radically different ideas about how cycling and electric vehicles might be integrated in daily life and about how deeply changes in the mode of transport modifies the meaning and the organisation of the travelling.  In this part of the project we consider a selection of past and present initiatives, showing how professionals and experts design and re-design material infrastructures (roads, cycle ways, charging points etc.) and how these infrastructures condition the use of a lower carbon transport. We also analyse the extent to which more widespread use of electric vehicles and bicycles requires transformations in these systems and in travelling routines.

Catherine Grandclément’s work addresses the relation between energy supply and demand as revealed through a series of smart grid trials.  This work helps show how smart grid systems enable the commodification of non-consumption or ‘negumption’: reversing the identities of consumer and provider.

In combination, these lines of enquiry address core questions about how demand is ‘made’ by infrastructures of supply at different scales; how infrastructures and systems of provision accrete, are adapted and develop on top of each other over time; how local variation translates into ‘universal’ provision and what past and present configurations mean for future flexibility and potential to develop lower carbon systems and practices.  We consider these topics with reference to issues of energy and transport, taking account of professionals and users, and of past histories and future visions.  This is an ambitious project which promises to generate evidence, ideas and insights relevant for those involved in planning future systems of provision and in introducing and promoting lower carbon technologies and practices.

Featured results

Whilst the easiest way to browse our materials is via the Project 3.1 tag, we have collected a few key outputs below:


Key Dissemination Events