I have published a new chapter on the dynamics of energy demand over the lifecourse in the exciting new book ‘Demanding Energy: Space, Time and Change’ (edited by Dr. Alison Hui, Dr. Roise Day and Prof. Gordon Walker’). “Demanding Energy: Space, Time and Change critically engages with an important but rarely-asked question: what is energy for? This starting point foregrounds the diverse social processes implicated in the making of energy demand and how these change over time to shape the past patterns, present dynamics and future trajectories of energy use.”
Understanding the patterning of energy demand in different spaces, and at different scales and temporalities is essential for understanding how and why our everyday practice has changed. An important but under-researched temporal scale of analysis for energy demand is that of biographical time. In Ireland and beyond, radical changes in social, cultural, political and material landscapes have transformed the way everyday life is experienced and performed over the lifecourse, with major implications for how energy is demanded in the household. However, to date our understanding of how and why patterns of domestic energy demand change over biographical time within the context of wider changes in society remain poorly understood.
My chapter in the book explores the value of a biographical scale of analysis for revealing insights into complex experiences and processes of change. Here I argue that a biographical, retrospective scale of analysis that considers individuals’ energy practice as dynamically evolving through the lifecourse in the context of a changing socio-technical landscape offers immense potential for improving understanding of the ways in which lives, practices and contexts intersect in energy systems change. Adopting a biographical perspective that involves looking back over individuals’ lives to explore how their conduct has changed over time, I investigate the question of how wider structural processes, including changes in societal institutions and ‘non-energy’ policies, interact with patterns of consumption and energy demand. In doing so I present data that highlights a web of institutional changes, such as family structures and gender policies, that have shaped how we do things and the energy implications that arise from them. I demonstrate how changes in the biographies of men and women and the gender structures of society were made possible by concurrent changes in the technological and material landscapes shaping our everyday lives. Changes associated with the technologisation, and increasing resource intensity, of daily life, have altered women’s lives most significantly and the evolution of contemporary domestic and work schedules.