Article: What is energy for?: energy demand and social practice

Shove, E. and Walker, G. (2014) What is energy for?: energy demand and social practice.Theory, Culture and Society, 31.5. doi: 10.1177/0263276414536746


Energy has an ambivalent status in social theory, variously figuring as a driver or an outcome of social and institutional change, or as something that is woven into the fabric of society itself. In this article the authors consider the underlying models on which different approaches depend. One common strategy is to view energy as a resource base, the management and organization of which depends on various intersecting systems: political, economic and technological. This is not the only route to take. The authors develop an alternative approach, viewing energy supply and energy demand as part of the ongoing reproduction of bundles and complexes of social practice. In articulating and comparing these two positions they show how social-theoretical commitments influence the ways in which problems like those of reducing carbon emissions are framed and addressed. Whereas theories of practice highlight basic questions about what energy is for, these issues are routinely and perhaps necessarily obscured by those who see energy as an abstract resource that structures or that is structured by a range of interlocking social systems.

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