Demanding energy in everyday life: Insights from wood heating into theories of social practice

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2015-12-11
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Degree programme
Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 197/2015
This thesis takes a practice theoretical perspective on domestic energy use. In doing so, it follows the emerging research approach in which energy use is examined in relation to mundane social practices.  Drawing on studies on everyday life and material culture studies, this thesis contributes to the practice theoretical discussion by exploring the role of materiality and temporality in social practices. The thesis comprises of four research papers that focus on domestic space heating, and in particular on the small-scale use of solid firewood in Finnish detached houses. Each of the papers foregrounds the dynamic aspects of heating by drawing attention to issues of flexibility and inflexibility, active and dormant, and novel and existing engagements.   The study draws on two sources of empirical material: on a pre-existing diary archive, and on interviews conducted in Finnish households on two distinctive events, power cuts and moving house. As a methodological contribution, the study exemplifies how language-based methods such as diaries may be used to study materiality and expose practices not as pre-given entities, but as emerging in the everyday.  While the literature on social practices has strongly emphasized the importance of practicality, convenience, and comfort in human action, questions of inconvenience, uselessness, and ineffectiveness are less frequently touched upon. Highlighting the material and temporal aspects of practice extends questions of practicality and 'doability', which are often stressed in practice theory, to include evaluative, a-teleological, and aesthetic engagements. The findings of this study speak against the general societal interest in increasing convenience, and suggest that demanding practices (such as domestic wood heating) are valued for the achievements they yield in and between performances. Relative and negotiated convenience is introduced as a notion to demonstrate how time-demanding and laborious tasks become valued, and persist ingrained in everyday life.  This study suggests that existing material arrangements are important backbones for new hybrid heating solutions, and are relevant in exploring the ways in which new material elements, meanings, and competences are introduced to practices, such as domestic heating. In finding new ways to realize sustainable forms of practice, the challenge of policy-making is to better understand the materialities and temporalities of energy use.
Thesis advisor
Lovio, Raimo, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Management Studies, Finland
Jalas, Mikko, Dr., Aalto University, Department of Design, Finland
social practice, everyday life, materiality, temporality, convenience, energy service, energy technology, diary studies, wood heating
Other note
  • Rinkinen, J., Jalas, M. and Shove, E. (2015) Object relations in accounts of everyday life. Sociology, 49(5): 870-885.
  • Jalas, M. and Rinkinen, J. (2013) Stacking wood and staying warm: Time, temporality and housework around domestic heating systems. Journal of Consumer Culture, 1-18.
    DOI: 10.1177/1469540513509639 View at publisher
  • Rinkinen, J. (2013) Electricity blackouts and hybrid systems of provision: Users and the ‘reflective practice’. Energy, Society and Sustainability, 3(25): 1-10.
  • Rinkinen, J. and Jalas, M. (unpublished essay) Dynamics of heat: Houses, new dwellers and the formation of heating practices.