Creating energy citizenship through material participation

Soc Stud Sci. 2018 Apr;48(2):283-303. doi: 10.1177/0306312718770286. Epub 2018 Apr 12.


Transitions towards low-carbon energy systems will be comprehensive and demanding, requiring substantial public support. One important contribution from STS is to highlight the roles of citizens and public engagement. Until recently, energy users have often been treated as customers and passive market actors, or as recipients of technology at the margins of centralized systems. With respect to the latter role, critical or hesitant public action has been explained in terms of NIMBYism and knowledge deficits. This article focuses on the production of energy citizenship when considering public participation in low-carbon energy transitions. We draw upon the theory of 'material participation' to highlight how introducing and using emergent energy technologies may create new energy practices. We analyze an ongoing introduction of new material objects, highlighting the way these technologies can be seen as material interventions co-constructing temporalities of new and sustainable practices. We argue that artefacts such as the electric car, the smart meter and photovoltaic panels may become objects of participation and engagement, and that the introduction of such technologies may foster material participation and energy citizenship. The paper concludes with a discussion about the role of policies for low-carbon energy transitions on the making of energy citizenship, as well as limits of introducing a materially based energy citizenship.

Keywords: emergent technologies; energy citizenship; issue-oriented politics; material participation; public engagement.