Accepted paper:

Creating energy encounters with experts: a cultural probes-based approach


Nick Pidgeon (Cardiff University)
Karen Henwood (Cardiff University)
Christopher Groves (Cardiff University)

Paper short abstract:

Expert interviews in STS are often used to elicit implicit imaginaries and values. In relation to expert interviews around anticipated energy transitions, we show how the use of 'cultural probes' can not only help elicit assumptions about values, but also encourage reflexivity towards them.

Paper long abstract:

The sociology of expectations has helped us understand how future visions of socio-technical transitions are shaped by implicit value assumptions. Exploring these assumptions can help actors to be more conscious of how future visions can exclude values held by other social actors, and thus create justice concerns.

We report on an approach developed by social scientists on the Flexis project in Wales ( that allow expert interviews to open up broader discussion of which energy values may be pertinent to the future energy system. Based on concepts of 'aesthetic reflexivity' (Lash and Urry 1994), this uses methodology inspired by a 'cultural probes' approach (Gaver, Dunne, and Pacenti 1999) to provoke reflection from experts on how energy relates to more personal and interpersonal dimensions of experience. Interviews to explore imaginaries of the future energy system were conducted with 20 experts (including principal investigators, senior researchers and delivery partners from the public and private sectors) involved with the Flexis whole-systems energy project.

A postcard task preceding the interview explored personal experiences that gave rise to hope and anxiety about the future. Subsequently, the postcards were used within interviews as material 'souvenirs' (Gordon 1986) of affectively-coloured reminiscences. The interviews then explored how such artefacts can help enlarge the meaning of anticipated energy transitions by evoking 'lived futures' (Adam and Groves 2007) within more professionalised discussion of future visions. We suggest that traditional modes of value elicitation can thus be enhanced by using affectively-charged materials that enhance opportunities for reflexivity.

panel A11
Encountering energy in systems and everyday spaces