Making energy publics workshop

making energy publics posterAs part of the Open University’s Publics then now and beyond network‘stravelling seminar series,3S and the RealisingTransition Pathways project will be hosting a day-long workshop at UEA London, 3rdApril, on how publics are made through and around the energy system.3S members are gearing up for the ‘Making Energy Publics’ workshop which will be held at UEA London on April 3rd 2014,organised in conjunction with the Open University Network ‘publics then, now and beyond’. The workshop has been convened by 3S members Helen Pallett and Jason Chilvers, and will feature two 3S speakers, TomHargreaves and Noel Longhurst, alongside the other guest speakers Andrew Barry (UCL), Alison Mohr (University of Nottingham) and Linda Soneryd (University of Gothenburg). Our Open University colleagues Nick Mahony and Hilde Stephansen will act as respondents and co-facilitators during the workshop, alongside our invited respondent Noortje Marres (Goldsmiths).

The main aim of this workshop is to consider the potential academic and practical value of adopting a perspective on energy publics as emergent and co-produced. What it would mean to take seriously and properly account for emergent publics through and around energy systems, how they are mediated, their diversities and inherent uncertainties – for theory, our modes of study, and policy/practice.

It is not so long ago that centralized energy systems developed by industrialized nation states through the20th Century seemingly left little role for publics, other than as ‘passive consumers’ and everyday practitioners, removed from the governance, materials and infrastructures of energy production and supply. However, the past two decades have witnessed thoroughgoing changes in the relationship between energy systems and their publics. Transformations in how energy is governed and produced, including theneoliberalisation of energy markets and the slower rise of more distributed forms of energy production andrenewables, have multiplied the roles that publics can and do take up in relation to energy. In addition, the looming energy crisis that accompanied the dawn of the 21st Century means that publics are now simultaneously sought out, implicated in, and actively seek out their place in ‘the energy transition’. This includes diverse forms of public engagement through consultation processes, opinion polls, behaviourchange programmes, social marketing campaigns, social media, planning protests, activism and public demonstrations, lobbying, investment decisions, the co-design of energy technologies, participatory energymodelling, visioning exercises, open innovation processes, citizen science, hacker spaces, smart energy technologies, eco-homes, community energy schemes, other grassroots energy innovations, and so on. What publics think, know, say and do has become an important concern of energy research, government policy, corporate strategy and social movements.

Yet for all these efforts and developments in ‘extending’ energy systems to bring the public in, it is the contention of this workshop that most of the aforementioned approaches – including many of those from within the social sciences and humanities – articulate a simplistic view of energy publics. They tend to imagine an external public existing in a natural state waiting to be revealed, engaged, or mobilised by science and democracy. This is a popular and enduring view of energy publics in (social) science, policy circles and wider society. Yet, constructivist theories in science and technology studies (STS), geography, political/democratic theory, anthropology and cognate disciplines see publics as actively brought into being by the very ways actors seek to know and move them – whether that be through practices of opinion polling,behaviour change, protest movements, open innovation, and so on. Any understanding of publics, theirknowledges, and actions, thus cannot be separated from the ways in which they are mediated and configured in particular settings. With this in mind, we hope to explore three main themes during the workshop:
  1. How different academic approaches understand the making of energy publics, and whether there is scope for sharing and comparing conceptual frameworks
  2. The methodological and empirical diversity of these different academic approaches, and what their practical and political effects are
  3. How academics and others can go about reconfiguring theirs and others’ practices around the making of energy publics