Developing a relational approach to energy demand: a methodological and conceptual guide

Lucie Middlemiss, Mark Davis, Donal Brown, Ruth Bookbinder, Iain Cairns, Giulia M. Mininni, Marie Claire Brisbois, Matthew Hannon, Anne Owen, Stephen Hall

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In a recent review of research on the role of social relations in shaping energy demand, authors documented increasing interest in relational approaches to energy [1]. Relational approaches to energy conceive of human behaviour as produced and reproduced by social relations and interactions, placing relationships at the centre of inquiry, as well as understanding these relationships in the context of infrastructure and the built environment. In this paper, we build on a relational approach in new economic sociology, and on our research project about the social relations of energy retrofit, to offer a methodological and conceptual guide to those working on energy demand topics. We detail the ontological and epistemological starting points of our relational approach, and articulate how research can be designed to capture the role of social relations in shaping decision-making on energy, as well as to offer innovative insights for policy-makers and practitioners. We use our experience in a research project on energy retrofit as a case study, reflecting on the practical aspects of this research approach to provide suggestions for research design for those interested in doing similar work. This includes defining key concepts and the way they interact in a conceptual framework for a relational approach to energy. We also offer some conceptually driven research questions as a starting point for energy research projects. We finish by discussing the potential for further application of these ideas in research, policy and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103441
Number of pages8
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Early online date31 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jan 2024


  • social relations
  • energy social sciences
  • retrofit
  • relational work
  • affiliations
  • interactions
  • energy demand


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