Reading Group: 22 October 2013

We discussed a draft of ‘What is energy for? Social practice and energy demand’ by Elizabeth and Gordon, currently submitted to theory, culture and society.  The discussion spun off in many directions – generating a long list of topics to think about more.  One had to do with the politics of intervening in ways of living: if practices do underpin energy demand, then who has what right/scope to influence what people do?  Part of the argument was that governments do shape practices (e.g. reproducing the status quo), but what if this role was more explicit? How could or should  public and private rights and ’needs’ play out in this context? Would it be possible or useful to think about scenarios of practice – is it just a swamp of open-ended possibility or is there some order to how practices interact and develop: there may not be driving factors but are there some tracks across the marsh?  How can theories of practice help understand the whole energy system, including forms of supply-and-demand? What about the different types of materiality at stake in shaping practices – from ‘micro’ to ‘macro’ infrastructures – and how flexible is this relationship?  Could we re-read or read back the industrial revolution (in energy supply) in terms of implications in and for practices and social organisation? And could we use such an exercise to think similarly about future practice/energy systems?  We circled around the topic of how to think about capitalism in the context of such issues: from the detailed making of markets type studies through to process of accumulation and past practices that shape future possibilities.  Most impressive of all, skype worked well.

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