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‘Home is where the hearth is’: Traditional material arrangements and cultures of energy use across Europe
Theories of consumption have shifted in the past two decades from a focus on individual consumers towards the cultural, material and economic structuring of consumption (Shove and Spurling, 2013). Within this paper we are interested in exploring the material and cultural elements of domestic energy use across Europe, specifically the practices of heating and laundry. The paper undertakes a cross cultural analysis of material arrangements and trends in vernacular architecture across Europe and their impacts on household energy consumption. This paper reports on findings from the ENERGISE Living Labs (ELLs) that were implemented in over 300 households across 8 countries in Europe. ELLs are small-scale targeted interventions that aim to engage households and communities in co-creating and experimenting with new energy practices. The ELLS employed practice-based approaches to reduce energy use in households while co-creating knowledge on why energy-intensive practices are performed and how they depend on the context in which they are performed. Based on the empirical results generated, this paper provides a precise characterisation of household energy-related practices and explores how they are influenced by cultural differences in the built environment which may be then sustained over time. The analysis highlights the differing experiences (including emotional attachment to traditional practices) of participants that currently reside in homes with varying infrastructure (e.g homes with and without central heating, district heating, and homes with an open stove or fireplace present). For example in the case of Ireland we find that current practices of laundry and heating are often configured by the needs of the past, with culturally specific traditional material arrangements moulding current heating and laundry practices. The paper concludes with a review of the policy implications of this work.