The socio–technical ecology of everyday life and energy systems
Understanding everyday life is a precondition for introducing and successfully implementing any schemes for major social changes, such as substantial reductions in household energy use. Everyday life involves many different subjects, objects, practices, and activities that are sometimes interconnected and sometimes disconnected from each other. This research focuses on subjects in units, subjects such as households and landlords, and objects constituting interfaces between these units, such as the energy systems for heating, hot water, and electricity.
This paper presents results of research into the everyday life of ordinary renters. Everyday life is fascinating when examined in detail, and ordinary renters are in many ways extraordinary. The empirical research examines the everyday activities and practices performed by households and by landlord representatives. Thirty-two household members guided the researcher through their homes and were then interviewed about their domestic activities, including the use of energy. Six professional landlord representatives were interviewed at their workplaces, and discussed their jobs in relation to the energy system and renters. While households have routinized many of their domestic activities, their landlords must deal with anomalies and disruptions caused by energy system failures. To become more efficient, landlords also try to routinize their activities and practices in connection with technology failures. The material structure of the household living environment can guide people towards more energy efficient practices. For example, access to a communal laundry room can induce household members to wash full loads of laundry. When professional landlord representatives include renters in some of their work tasks, their jobs become more efficient and renters acquire some basic energy system knowledge.
The results are analysed using the theoretical framework of socio–technical ecology: “socio-technical” emphasizes the interconnections and reciprocal influence between humans and technology, while “ecology” emphasizes the systemic nature of everyday life and its connections with the environment. Movements in time and space are central to socio–technical ecology, so activities and practices are explored as processes. These processes might be hindered by various constraints, such as physical and mental abilities, access to tools and technology at the right time and place, and lack of control due to rules and regulations. Doing laundry is an everyday activity strongly influenced by how renters and landlord representatives set up physical entities and technology, and how doing laundry is not only routinized but also automatized and largely controlled.