Harold Wilhite: Insights from social practice and social learning theory for sustainable energy consumption

Published in Flux                                                                                           Volume 96, Issue 2, 2014


About the author

Harold Wilhite is a Professor of Social Anthropology and Research Director at the University of Oslo’s Centre for Development and Environment. He has published widely on energy consumption, sustainable energy use and globalizing consumption, with articles ranging from theoretical approaches to applied research and policy applications. His most recent book monograph is ‘Consumption and the Transformation of Everyday Life: A View from South India’ (2008 Palgrave MacMillan). He has worked at bridging the gap between research and policy, including consulting to the IEA, OECD, UNEP and to Norwegian Ministries. He was one of the founders of the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ECEEE) and has been active in its development.


The research domain aimed at theorizing a transformation to low energy use has suffered from weak representations of the social and material contributors to energy consumption. In the dominating theory that informs policy, consumption is theorized as an exercise done by sovereign individuals who deploy cognitive knowledge in economically rationale ways in order to achieve instrumental ends. Over the past decade, a number of social scientists from differing academic disciplines have contributed to the development and application of social practice theory to an understanding of everyday energy consumption. This theory has promise for renewing energy consumption theory and providing a basis for new directions in energy savings policy. This article lays out promising theoretical insights from social practice theory and give examples of new categories of polices for stimulating low-energy practices. Special attention is given to how practices form and change, as well as the relationship between practice transformations and experience-grounded learning.

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Published Sep. 23, 2014 2:10 PM - Last modified Sep. 23, 2014 2:24 PM