• Lecturer in Sustainable Development

    University of St Andrews

  • School of Geography & Sustainable Development

    My research centres on sustainable consumption and theories of change, focusing on everyday life, domestic energy, and higher education institutions. My interest is in exploring how expectations of everyday (home) life evolve and become increasingly resource intensive. How can we steer these practices to be more sustainable? How do low-carbon technologies 'fit' into normal rhythms and systems? How does the understanding of home comfort differ temporally and spatially? I am beginning work on Transition Universities and linking practice with research in higher education institutions, partially informed by the Living Labs agenda.

     

    I have an undergraduate degree and PhD in Sustainable Development, both from the University of St Andrews. Much of my research is characterised by innovative methodology, whole-household interviews, house tours and online methods to inform socio-technical investigations of practices.

     

    Previously I worked as Research Facilitator for Transition University of St Andrews (October 2016 - February 2017) on developing a Living Labs programme that links research and teaching with practical sustainability activities in the local community. I was also a Research Fellow at the Centre for Housing Research at the University of St Andrews (October 2015 - February 2017), supporting research on prosumption and the smarter homes? projects using online methods.

     

    My PhD research centred on domestic energy and low-carbon living; investigating how lifestyle expectations influence, and are influenced, by the physical features of the home. This approach is informed by a growing body of literature on social practice theory and the importance of a socio-technical perspective. Thus, my research moves away from ideas of behaviour change, informed by social-psychology, to thinking more broadly about what energy is for, and in particular asking what comfort means in Scottish homes. Indeed, the meaning of comfort has become an important concept in order to critique the dominant techno-economic approach to meeting demand, yet this is mainly focused on thermal comfort and no research in this context has aimed to empirically study this concept. Thus, my research employed qualitative methods to ask about the meaning of comfort, including the use of household interviews, house tours and drawings. The research was based on speaking to residents of ‘low-carbon’ homes in Fife, Scotland.

    Transition University of St Andrews

    An active community member

    I work with Transition University of St Andrews to better embed sustainability initiatives at the University and ensure greater cross over between action and research, including a stronger link with the School of Geography and Sustainable Development. If you have any ideas for collaborative projects with Transition please get in touch!

     

    Being active in practical sustainability projects, I helped set up a Transition Initiative in St Andrews in 2011. I was coordinator for two years (Oct 2010- May 2012) and I am still a member of the Steering Group. Through my involvement with this Transition Initiative I have been lead and co-author on numerous successful funding bids as well as a member of multiple interview panels. From 2012-2016 I focused on a local bike project, which I founded and coordinated, to create a rental scheme and offer free classes on bicycle maintenance. My most recent 'pet project' is marketing and distributing flour for Scotland's smallest flour mill (get in touch if you want to try it!)

     

    I have been active at the University in other capacities beyond research. I was PG representative for my department (2014-2015), a tutor in the Sustainable Development programme (2013-2015) and an Assistant Warden at the University’s largest hall of residence (2013-2016). I have organised a Sustainable Development seminar series (2011) with over 12 presenters and some interactive formats (fish bowl, world cafe) and set up a 'writing group' (following from #AcWriMo and #SUWTuesdays) where we work for two hours regularly writing in the same room as a way to protect writing time and keep up to date on what our colleagues are working on (2014).

  • My Blog

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  • My Research

    Energy

    Home

    Comfort

  • Energy

    Storage heater, Energy Prosumption

    Sustainable Consumption & Prosumption

    I am interested in theories of transition and change towards sustainable lifestyles, sometimes branded 'low carbon living'. This began with a focus on theories of behaviour change which generally places agency on individuals and their choices to move us towards a more environmental and equitable future. However, the behaviour approach, supported by social-psychological theories, has been widely critiqued (such as Shove's (2010) seminal piece on 'Beyond the ABC') and there has been an increase in scholarship concerned with trying to understand change as the result of socio-technical systems or social practices. The practice approach moves away from the individual as the basic unit of analysis (their values and choices), instead focusing on the 'social organisation of normality' (Shove, 2003) or how everyday practices become established, disappear or evolve. My research is inspired by practice theory (and this leaning was more firmly established by my attendance at the DEMAND Energy Summer School in 2014). Hence, my research asks about what energy is for and how it is embedded in our understanding and expectations of 'normal' everyday life.

     

    Moving away from thinking about behaviour and choice encourages broader consideration of the energy system and how it shapes our practices and expectations. This has led me to take part in research developing and expanding the concept of prosumption through empirical research on energy prosumers (households or communities that are both producers and consumers of their own energy). Indeed, the processes of production and consumption always interpentrate (Ritzer, 2014). The utility of bringing this conceptualisation to the context of energy research is clear when considering a rapidly increasingly amount of micro-generation which challenges an out-dated distinction between energy producer and consumer.

  • Home & Comfort

    Researching home energy, drawing of ideal room

    Methods & Researching Home Energy

    The housing sector is an important area in energy research, accounting for up to 45% of a nation’s energy consumption. Domestic energy demand is a topical policy issue, with implications for climate change, energy vulnerability and security. Furthermore, to me, the home presents an intriguing locus of analysis. In sustainability research, the household has been praised as a meso level in which 'macro level change can be observed and micro level activity can be contextualised' (Reid et al., 2010). Moreover, the majority of domestic energy research is dominated by a techno-economic approach which focuses on improving design, technologies, or other physical aspects of domestic buildings and the concept of home can be used to challenge this dominance because it is more than simply a physical unit. The home is both a social and physical unit and there is a considerable body of interdisciplinary academic work that could enhance and inform research on domestic energy (see Blunt and Dowling (2006) for a useful review and critical geography of home research). Hence, the motivation for my first publication on 'Home-ing in on Domestic Energy Research: 'home', 'house', and the importance of ontology'.

     

    Comfort has become a topic of interest in energy and sustainability literature initially sparked by Shove's (2003) book on Comfort, Cleanliness, and Convenience, however the concept has narrowly been defined in terms of thermal comfort. While this is sometimes explicitly explained, generally because space heating is the largest percentage of energy demand in the home so thermal comfort is the focus of investigation, others (implicitly) suggest that comfort is synonymous with temperature and the ‘comfort zone’. Broadly, this has resulted in other aspects or meanings of comfort being largely ignored. Just like my call to move away from domestic energy research focused on the 'house' as only a physical unit, I also argue that our conceptualisation of comfort needs to be expanded away from being narrowly defined.

     

     Comfort is intuitively linked to the concept of home; furthermore comfort is not universally definable, meaning different understandings are connected to different lifestyle expectations (which is important to consumption). Our expectations of comfort vary historically and geographically, indoor temperatures in the UK have risen and instead of heating one or two rooms in the home we generally expect to heat the whole house. Talking to householders about comfort-making and expectations of home comforts can suggest where increasingly energy-intensive expectations are headed or interventions that are not simply about encouraging low-energy 'choices'.

     

    Similar to my interest in a greater attention paid to clarifying the locus of analysis for domestic energy researchers, I also wish to see more reflection on appropriate methodologies to research the home (and domestic energy) extremely interesting (and lacking in the academic literature). Housing researchers are not the only ones guilty of limited methodological reflection, this criticism arguably extends to researchers of sustainable practice as well. I hope to write more on methodologies for researching home life and practice, including whole-household interviews, home tours, and drawings of ideal rooms in the home.

  • Sustainability in Higher Education Institutions

    comfort, energy, home

    I am beginning work on Transition Universities and linking practice with research in higher education institutions, partially informed by the Living Labs agenda.

     

    Watch this space for an update in the near future

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