Curious energy consumers: humans and nonhumans in assemblages of household practice

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In international energy policy, programmes and consumer research, a dominant ideal consumer is emerging. This consumer is typically a human adult who has the agency to make autonomous, functional and rational decisions about his or her household's energy consumption. This article seeks to disrupt this dominant anthropocentric conceptualisation of the consumer and provide new ways of knowing and potentially intervening in the lives of energy consumers. Drawing on qualitative research conducted with householders living in Sydney, Australia, and theories of practice, materiality and agency from sociology and science and technology studies, we seek to understand consumers as human and nonhuman actants operating in distributed assemblages of practice. We explore the implications of conceptualising non-traditional consumers of energy, such as babies, pets, pests and pool pumps, as performers of or materials in practices that consume energy. Our analysis provides new ways of potentially intervening in patterns of energy consumption. We argue that policy makers need to refocus their attention on finding routes into assemblages of practice to achieve change. We conclude by calling for further exploration and recognition of the myriad curious consumers found in households.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-780
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • assemblages
  • Consumers
  • distributed agency
  • energy consumption
  • social practices

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