What questions and frustrations does this text leave you with?


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James Adams's picture
January 25, 2021

Jessel et al. note that their goal was "to comprehensively understand the predictors and outcomes of energy insecurity" (2019, 13). They also remark that the literature "demonstrated a clear lack of cohesion and systematic guidelines around research on household energy," which, according to the authors, posed a "formidable challenge" to their ability to "synthesize the literature and draw conclusions from it" (2019, 13).

I find these commitments to comprehesiveness and synthesis be in contradition to the authors commitments to intersectionality and to the fact that "energy insecurity is a complex problem, and it does not occur in a vacuum" (2019, 10). Despite all of their rich documentation of diversity, here at the end they seem to fall back on the scientistic idea that scholars need to develop a single, comprehensive logic that encompasses this diversity in order to be able to move forward. This drive for uniformity neglects the feminist observation that "there is no singular or uniform social timespace in contemporary capitalism" (Bear et al. 2015). The world is an inextricably messy place; but this messiness is actually a resource, rather than a problem. It provides us with potential "lines of flight" that help us escape the compunction for enclosure, territorialization, and totalization (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). And ethnography, styled as "thick description" is a method of tapping into the transformative potential of that resource. As JK Gibson-Graham point out, "The revolutionary contribution of thick description and weak theory is to help make these otherwise hidden pathways apparent" (2014, 151).

James Adams's picture
January 7, 2021

Once again, one of the things I think this article is missing is an appreciation for what everyday energy users might know that the experts do not. Much like proponents of modernization theory, Dwyer pitches culture as a problem to be overcome, instead of appreciating cultural differences as a resource for crtitical insights. People aren’t behaving rationally, or they are simply ignorant: “Therefore, a concerted effort is needed to change the US culture to an emphasis on sustainability” (132). There definitely is a desperate need for energy education and certain cultural changes also need to happen, but I have doubts in this sort of top-down approach. I am curious to know how the energy system is already negatively affecting people in unexpected ways. What about enlisting critique as a way of promoting energy literacy? And that includes a critique of models of sustainability as well as fossil fuels.

I want to flip this approach to energy literacy on its head. Instead of developing a criteria of what counts as being energy literate, then testing the population and/or seeing if you can imrove their score, let's hold our definition of energy literacy in abeyance. Or, better yet, assume people are already energy literate in different ways. Let's then try to understand the diversity of ways in which diverse communities are energy literate and bring that knowledge back to our conception of how energy systems work. You know... like ethnography/anthropology.

James Adams's picture
January 7, 2021

One immediate problem I had with this article was the overly positivistic approach. They seem to have set up this pilot study as an experiment to test 4 propositions (or hypotheses). For them, the survey acted as a “test” of the respondent’s knowledge (the level of which, not the content, was the actual data) as much as it served as an elicitation device. And passing this test amounted to providing the “correct” answers to their questions. This marks a sternly etic approach to social science. In other words, they didn’t approach their survey or their respondents as potentially having valuable knowledge or insight into the energy system. Instead, the researchers already knew what is to be known about the energy system, what they did not know was the degree to which the public knew that system, and how in/correct this knowledge was.


This simply overlooks the potential for their respondents to provide valuable criticism of the energy system. They purport to be studying “energy attitudes” but lack the sort of hermeneutic approach that is necessary for getting at such an object of inquiry. Indeed, their only hesitance in their conclusions stems from the fact that this was only a “pilot study.” Thus, more data and a larger, more diverse sample would be grounds for improvement. By contrast, I would head the other direction (like we are doing), taking a subset of those surveyed and conducting more in-depth interviews.


Take the following excerpt:

 “Although it seems logical that consumers that are better informed about the need for an energy transition and the technicalities of energy supply and distribution would be more willing to engage in energy saving practices or alter their behavior, that finding is not supported by our sample of survey respondents, who, despite having a preponderance of educated people living near the part of Denmark (Jutland) most populated with wind turbines, were unable to state even basic facts about the Danish energy system” (313).


Being educated, in the general sense, and living near turbines doesn’t necessarily mean they are necessarily better informed about climate change and the technicalities of energy. However, you would expect that they know the nuance of the experience of living in this type of energy system much better than whoever is writing the author’s energy textbooks or hosting their “renewable energy technology demonstrations.”  Indeed, the fact that “repeated exposure to wind turbines can diminish acceptance” is a super interesting find. But the conclusion to be drawn is not that people should be kept in the dark!?!?! It simply begs the further research question “What are their reasons for disapproval, and what can we do to incorporate their feedback into a more accommodating energy system?”

Alison Kenner's picture
January 5, 2021
I think my main question here is, to what extent energy literacy can be understood as energy knowledge? I do think it's important for us as scholars to engage with the terminology of the present subfield, but what could we do by bringing in some of the literature of lay expertise? I don't know that it's worth it for this paper, but we'll have to see how the writing goes I guess.