Understanding energy futures through everyday life observation following an ethnographic approach

Sarah Pink, Yolande Strengers, Marta Fernandez, Amalia Sabiescu

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperResearch


This paper argues for an ethnographic approach to developing new types of knowledge about and designing for sustainable forms of energy consumption and demand in homes. Such an approach offers: 1) in-depth insights into the sensory and usually unspoken aspects of everyday householder experiences, which are nevertheless fundamental to understanding energy consumption and demand; 2) enables new understandings of how domestic routines, habits and activities develop in relation to the contingencies of everyday life including new and emerging ‘smart’ technologies; and 3) has implications for how we might best design for environmentally sustainable energy use as we move on into the future. In this sense it provides understandings of the relationship between what might be technologically possible and imagined, and actual lived everyday realities.

The paper will draw on examples of how this methodology was designed and applied in two discrete projects. The first is the video ethnography strand of the UK-based Low Effort Energy Demand Reduction (LEEDR) project. LEEDR was a four-year interdisciplinary EPSRC-funded project (leedr-project.co.uk), which included the production of ethnographically informed digital design interventions and the Energy and Digital Living web site (energyanddigitalliving.com). The second is an ongoing study (2015-18) on the ‘automated smart home’ funded by the Australian Research Council. This study involves in-home interviews, photography and tours with Australians who are living in, designing and/or building smart homes. Finally, the paper calls for further research-based interrogations of how and where energy futures figure in the imaginations of everyday domestic energy users.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication41st IAHS World Congress on Housing Sustainability and Innovation for the Future, September 13 to 16, 2016
Subtitle of host publicationAlbufeira, Algarve, Portugal - Proceedings
EditorsAntónio Tadeu, Vitor Abrantes, Derin Ural
Place of PublicationAlgarve Portugal
PublisherInternational Association for Housing Science
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9789899894945
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes
EventIAHS World Congress on Housing 2016 - Albufeira, Portugal
Duration: 13 Sep 201616 Sep 2016
Conference number: 41st


ConferenceIAHS World Congress on Housing 2016
Abbreviated titleIAHS
Internet address


  • Ethnography
  • Domestic energy consumption
  • Smart homes
  • Sustainability

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