There is no doubt that we need to reduce energy demand. However our work is also set in the complex context of debates around how this might be achieved. These debates are led by political and governmental agendas, by climate science and also by social scientists and humanities scholars from different disciplines –such as anthropology, sociology, human geography and psychology.
Our work has focused on households and their energy demand at home. However we are of course aware that the “problem” is much bigger than reducing energy demand in homes amongst householders. While domestic homes are significant consumers of energy, this does not automatically mean that convincing householders to use less energy is the only answer to the “problem” – or, it is important to stress, that the householders themselves were the problem to start with. Therefore scholars from different academic disciplines are advancing not only arguments about energy and how people use it, but also arguments about how they understand society and how it works. This creates a complex context to navigate, and indeed it needs to be critically navigated — in order to understand what each approach can contribute to an interdisciplinary way of understanding how and where energy use is impacting on the world and how and where we might best make changes.
Our approach to energy demand is rooted in an interdisciplinary way of using social anthropology research and theory, to understanding the home, energy and digital media. This means that as well as using our expertise in anthropology to understand the ways in which people live out their everyday lives, and to get under the surface of what initially appears obvious, we also draw on research and approaches in human geography, design scholarship and practice and engineering research.
Applied anthropology research shows us that often research questions need to be addressed indirectly. This means that it might not be by directly studying energy or asking people about how they use their energy that we can best understand energy is used or how to reduce energy demand. Instead we need to start off by seeking to understand the experiences, activities and environments in which people ‘need’ to use energy, and how they feel about and engage with these. This is why we began our research with the question of how people create the atmosphere of home, rather than the question of how people consume energy. We were always interested in energy, but only in the context of its use always being part of the wider configuration of things, persons and processes through which everyday life is lived in the home.