Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate
Chapter 18: Revealing the invisible: sociology, energy and the environment
Elizabeth Shove INTRODUCTION James Thurber’s grandmother ‘lived the latter years of her life in the horrible suspicion that electricity was dripping invisibly all over the house’ (Thurber, 1962: 168). The idea that electricity might leak from empty light sockets is both bizarre and at the same time strangely plausible. Delivered in a variety of forms - gas, electricity, oil, coal, wood and so on energy permits countless services and is embodied in almost everything we find around us. Both everywhere, and nowhere, energy remains a mysterious if not magical feature of everyday life. So the image of leaking light sockets is appealing, not just because it is a quaintly ridiculous idea conjured up by a confused old lady, but because it precisely articulates lingering uncertainty about the intangible qualities of this most pervasive resource. Taking the practical and theoretical invisibility of energy as a point of departure, this chapter explores alternative sociologies of energy and the environment. In its invisibility, energy has much in common with other subjects of environmental concern. After all, CO2 emissions and levels of biodiversity are no easier to detect with the naked eye. In each case, knowledge is made and mediated through modelling and measurement and, in each case too, scientific expertise is on hand to document and explain what is going on. Although the technologies of domestic energy measurement are simple and familiar - meters tick and dials spin silently behind the cupboard doors - it requires as much of an act of faith...
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