New project: Energy vulnerability and alternative economies in Northern Greece

The 15th of July will see the start of the EVENT project (Energy vulnerability and alternative economies in Northern Greece), which aims to explore how experiences of domestic energy deprivation in this country are underpinned by the social and spatial infrastructures of everyday life. The endeavour is funded by the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers and is co-ordinated by Dr Saska Petrova at the University of Manchester with the assistance of Dr Alexandra Prodromidou from Panteion University.

The core of the project consists of an ethnographic study of energy practices among 30 households in the inner city of Thessaloniki – the country’s second largest urban area. We will gather information about the householdsʼ domestic energy, economic, housing and social conditions, as well as their housing careers and personal biographies. At the same time, direct energy measurements will be used to collect data about the energy efficiency of the heating system, appliance stock, and the loss of useful energy through the built fabric of the surveyed homes.

The institutional background of fuel poverty will be scrutinised with the aid of semi-structured interviews with policy-makers in the energy, social welfare and housing sectors, located in Athens and Thessaloniki.

The project aims to address a wider knowledge and policy gap: Not only has been very little academic research about fuel poverty and vulnerability in this part of the world, but the economic crisis in Greece has brought about an unprecedented collapse of modern energy provision in the country. Coupled with the rapid rise of income poverty, this situation has brought into light the complex technical, social and economic relations involved in sustaining the modern ʻtechnological sublimeʼ (Nye 1996, Graham 2002).

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The new set of circumstances has augmented antecedent problems, whereby much of the population in the country lives in poorly-insulated homes, often finding itself in built, institutional and/or ownership arrangements that do not allow for improving the efficiency of the housing stock, or switching towards more affordable fuels (Santamouris 2007, Katsoulakos 2011). Households have developed a range of strategies and tactics to deal with their increasing vulnerability to domestic energy deprivation, often utilising informal support networks nested in communities of place and interest. The everyday articulation of such non-capitalist forms of economic provision has involved practices of social (re)production that challenge the imposition of neoliberal norms and policies (Knight 2012, Jones 2011). Thus, Greece provides a unique chance to study the extent to which alternative economies (Gibson-Graham 2006) play a role not only in terms of ameliorating poverty, but sustaining the rhythms of everyday life more generally.

The project forms one of the initial steps in what, we hope, will become a central research endeavour in the years to come: The introduction of research focusing on community transitions, social resilience and alternative economic practices to the mainstream understanding of energy vulnerability.

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