Accepted paper:

When institutions do not help: making and mending sustainable energy systems at home


Alice Dal Gobbo (Cardiff University)

Paper short abstract:

In the context of decarbonisation, institutional energy systems' change lags behind the inventiveness of everyday life assemblages. Here, practices of creative rediscovery, recycling and care produce "primitive technologies" that are low-carbon but also enable affectively rich experiences of energy.

Paper long abstract:

Many debates today centre around how people's lives might be impacted by, and react to, infrastructural changes in energy provision systems towards decarbonisation. I consider the somewhat opposite case: when institutions lag behind and actors concerned with the environmental sustainability of their own energy practices come up with household-level creative solutions. With the help of ethnographic material from my study on everyday energy transitions in the North East of Italy, I reflect on how practices such as repairing old appliances, care for objects, inventive make-do with recycled materials, re-discovery of traditional energy systems, etc. are deployed to reduce environmental impact. These "primitive technologies" (partially) compensate for the unsustainability of grid energy (mainly based on non-renewables) and resist entrenched carbon-intensive energy consumption and a culture of disposability. Yet arguably, they also offer an alternative to a certain blind chase towards "greening" technological innovation (e.g. "smart technologies") - whose efficacy is nowadays still contested/-able. In the perspective of "assemblages", I investigate primitive technologies as they dynamically emerge out of a coalescing encounter between the affordances of human beings, objects, embodied cultures, systems of meaning - all of which are actualised in a present at the crossroads of past and future lines of becoming. I would also like to reflect, in a psycho-social vein, on how these micro-energy systems become doubly precious as their proximity to the singularity of each livelihood makes them not only sustainable but also affectively intense and therefore a source of enrichment for daily experiences of energy.

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Encounters between people, things and environments
Encountering energy in systems and everyday spaces