Adapting Infrastructures


House type B24: redrawn from the Herts County Council Archive

Adapting Infrastructures for a Lower Carbon Society was part of the DEMAND Centre research programme. The project focussed on the complex relationship between energy demand, infrastructure and social practices. Theoretically, the project was concerned with conceptualising infrastructures in theories of practice. We looked at a range of questions such as ‘How do changes in the details of daily life interact with technologies and institutions of supply?’, ‘How does planning regulation and legislation accumulate and endure across time?’, ‘What are the implications for present and future possibilities?’


Photographs from the J R James Archive, University of Sheffield.

To explore these questions we  developed an innovative methodology comprising of historical and contemporary empirical research in Stevenage, Stocksbridge and London. I worked on the Stevenage case with Anna Carlsson-Hyslop (University of Manchester). Lenneke Kuijer (University of Sheffield) worked on a parallel case in Stocksbridge.

We worked with Elizabeth Shove, Matt Watson and Frank Trentmann on this project.


Outline of the Stevenage Work
The figures below visualise the different aspects of the empirical work. The figure indicates that demand (for energy, including energy implicated in transport) has increased across the period of the study. Infrastructures (and technologies) of homes and transport have changed across the period too (the middle line of images), as have the patterns and characteristics of everyday life – what people do (the figures across the top).  We combined archival work (figure 1) with oral history interviews (figure 2) and desk-based work on past and present planning documents (figure 3). Outputs from the whole project will be available on the DEMAND website.


Figure 1: Archive research focussed on the changing infrastructure of Stevenage homes (Anna Carlsson-Hyslop) and assumptions in planning documents (Nicola Spurling) between 1950-1970


Figure 2: Oral history interviews collected accounts of patterns of practice and redrawn plans of the same homes.


Figure 3: Desk-based work focussed on assumptions of demand in contemporary strategies and plans.


Journal Article

Shove, E., Watson, M. and Spurling, N. (2015) Conceptualising Connections: Energy demand, infrastructures and social practices, European Journal of Social Theory, v.18, 274-287.


Spurling, N. (2016) Electrifying practices and the changing rhythms of daily life, Liverpool University, 17th March.

Spurling, N. (2015) National policy, local plans and household energy demand, Energy Technologies Institute workshop on Options, choices, actions on low carbon energy for local authorities, Loughborough University, 14th December.

Spurling, N. and Shove. E. (2015) If The Walls Could Talk: histories of homes, daily lives and domestic energy use in Stevenage, Stevenage Museum, 13th November. Part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

Exploring the Peaks: energy demand and the changing rhythms of daily lifeUniversity of the Third Age Cumbria Network, Energy Conference, Rheged, Penrith, 9th October.

Shove E. and Spurling, N. (2015) Pathways to central heating: insights and lessons from past transitions, Energy Technologies Institute, Birmingham, 28th July.

Spurling, N. (2015) Rhythms and Patterns of Daily Life from 1950-2000: The changing qualities of energy demand, ECEEE Summer Study, 1-6 June, Toulon, France

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