CURE researchers had a strong presence at the 2017 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference in London. Alongside presentations given by Stefan Bouzarovski, Caitlin Robinson and Neil Simcock, the EVALUATE team also convened a session on “Energy poverty and vulnerability: developing a global perspective” that allowed worldwide participation via a webinar format, whilst Caitlin convened and chaired a session on postgraduate research into energy geographies.
Stefan opened our contribution with a presentation on ‘Air as an agent of social exclusion: interfacing the boundaries of home’, undertaken in the Thursday morning session on ‘Just air? Spatial injustices, contestation and politicisation of air pollution’. Stefan’s talk explored the ability of air to act as a social and physical agent of deprivation and injustice, via its role in the rise and experience of the multiple vulnerabilities associated with energy poverty. By unpacking the ability of air to permeate the socially constructed binaries of ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’ space, Stefan also challenged political and institutional imaginations that approach the indoor and outdoor via separate policy registers.
On Friday morning Neil then gave a presentation entitled ‘“Some people are really poor and some of them are lazy”: the role of (mis)recognition in the experience and reproduction of energy poverty’, in a session on ‘Governance, energy and injustice‘. Drawing on interviews, conducted as part of EVALUATE, with decision-makers, experts and vulnerable households in Poland, the core thesis of Neil’s talk was that a lack of due respect (‘misrecognition’) toward the energy poor – manifesting both as ‘non-recognition’ and ‘stigmatisation’ – is central to both the constitution and lived experience of domestic energy deprivation.
In the same session, Cait presented on ‘Composite fuel poverty indicators: Revealing, concealing and creating spatial injustices.’ Cait’s talk interrogated how the spatial distribution of energy poverty in England varies depending on the definition and indicator utilised, with different indicators both hiding and revealing specific and geographically contextual forms of vulnerability. She then discussed the implications of this in terms of distributional and recognition forms of (in)justice. In addition, on Thursday afternoon Cait co-convened and chaired a session on Energy Geographies Postgraduate Research. Featuring the latest in PhD and postgraduate research in the domain of energy geography, the session included a number of interesting presentations on, among other things, energy democracy, energy justice and the temporal dimensions of public attitudes toward wind and solar energy.
On Friday afternoon, the whole EVALUATE team then convened a session focused on conceptualising energy poverty as a truly global phenomenon. The session was connected to a forthcoming book edited by the team, ‘Energy poverty and vulnerability: a global perspective’, which will shortly be published by Routledge. It was also funded in part through the Global Development Institute’s conference support fund.
Alongside those attending the session in person, we also made it freely available to a worldwide audience through a webinar organised by Harriet Thomson. A further 35 people engaged with the session through this method, hailing from countries as geographically diverse as Mexico, Israel, Indonesia, India, Spain, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and the USA. As well as listening to the debate, webinar attendees could also send in questions and comments that Harriet fed back to the room.
In the first half of this session, Neil chaired a panel discussion with a group of experts featuring EVALUATE’s own Saska Petrova, Marilyn Smith from the Energy Action Project, Jiska de Groot from the University of Cape Town, and Irena Connon from the University of Dundee. In a rich discussion, the panellists debated core conceptual and empirical issues in the study of domestic energy deprivation, including the difference between ‘energy poverty’ and ‘energy vulnerability’, the kinds of theoretical tools that are useful in understand the persistence and emergence of poverty and vulnerability across diverse geographical settings, and the differentiated and unequal experience of energy poverty in different socio-spatial settings. As well as the panellists, the discussion also included input from several audience members and those listening via the webinar, making for a lively and productive debate. The second part of the session took the form of an informal gathering, where we discussed the unanswered and emerging questions for energy vulnerability research going forward.